With my first weekend of Yoga Teacher Training approaching fast I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the type of classes I will hopefully one day be teaching. Yoga comes in so many different shapes and sizes and even for a self-confessed yoga addict myself, I have to admit, I’ve no idea what some of them are or the difference between them! There can be some confusing terms in the world of yoga classes so I put my study hat on and did my research and came up with this ‘Beginners Guide to the Various Styles of Yoga’.
Hatha – In simple terms, Hatha refers to the physical practice of yoga. The type of practice where you move the body into various asanas (postures). This term gets many people confused as most of the styles of yoga listed below are forms of Hatha yoga. In contemporary terms, if a yoga class describes itself as Hatha, you can expect a more gentle, basic class without the flowing link between the various poses.
Vinyasa – The definition of vinyasa is ‘movement syncronised with breath’ and again this is a term which is widely used to describe many different yoga classes. This is quite the opposite to the above mentioned Hatha as each posture is linked to the next through a controlled movement combined with either an inhale or exhale. Vinyasa classes are often refered to as ‘Vinyasa Flow’ due to this continuous movement and you can expect to get bendy, strong and sweaty! Consider taking a towel!
Ashtanga – Ashtanga translates as ‘eight limbs’ so the traditional Ashtanga style of yoga incorporates more than just the asanas (which are one of the eight limbs); it asks for self-purification and morals, basically a lot of more of yogic philosophy. However your typical yoga class which calls itself Ashtanga will be the asana aspect of this practice. There are 6 series, with each series being a set sequence of postures which are always practiced in the same order. Its quite face paced and intense so go expecting a tough workout! And if you’ve practiced a while and have memorised the primary series a Mysore Style class is one where the students work through the sequence at their own pace without instruction with a teacher roaming the room offering hands on adjustments.
Iyengar – This is a slower paced class which focuses intently on alignment. Postures are usually held for longer than in your typical vinyasa style class and props such as bricks, straps, bolsters and wall ropes are often used in order to facilitate the perfect alignment of the pose. For this reason Iyengar is a popular choice for those with injuries or very poor flexibility as the props allow the full benefit of the asana. But that’s not to say this is an easy class or one only the broken go to, expect your body to have to weeeeerk to stay in alignment and to get some serious flexibility gains!
Yin – Oh Yin! How I love thee. Yin yoga is a very slow paced asana practice where postures are held for around 5 minutes. The idea of yin is to focus on the connective tissue of the body rather than the muscles themselves and create flexibility through improved circulation to the joints. The idea is to keep a calm mind and breath through the tension and discomfort and if you’re looking for flexibility gainzzz, I suggest you get some of this in your life!
Jivamukti – This style of yoga takes influence from Ashtanga and combines it with Vinyasa to provide a particularly physically intense class. Each and every ‘open’ class is different and classes often include chanting, meditation and pranayama (breathing technique). Uplifting and inspirational music is played throughout and some variety of inversion practice is always included (yay!) Unlike most other yoga classes, Jivamukti classes include an aspect of spiritual teachings and often the teacher will read you something at the beginning of the class which really makes you think, and really makes you want to be a better person. These classes often use more Sanksrit terminology than others, but just copy the people around you and you’ll be fine.
Bikram – This is more than just yoga practiced in a hot room. This form of practice was created by Mr Bikram himself and is a set sequence of 26 postures which are repeated twice each. The room is set to 40C, prepare to sweat! This is very different from ‘Hot Yoga’ which is simply a vinyasa based class practiced in a hot room.
Forrest – This is a relatively new style of yoga which is intensely physical with an aim to heal psychic wounds, building mental strength alongside physical. It is well known for focusing on abdominal core strength as well as numberous standing poses. Special attention is paid to keeping hands and feet active to maintain awareness in the mind and supported through the earth.
Dharma Mittra – Created by Sri Dharma Mittra himself, this style of yoga has roots from all kinds of different yoga styles. These classes have a strong essence of arm balances and inversions linked together with vinyasa flow.
Snowga – Any of the above, practiced in SNOW!
So go forth and find your nearest yoga class! I hope this has helped shed a little light on what can be a confusing world of yoga. Don’t be put off by a description that doesn’t quite sound like your perfect cup of tea, as most often what makes or breaks a class is the teacher rather than the style. So here’s hoping I make a good one!