With so many different styles and schools of yoga out there, it can be difficult to choose between them if you aren’t sure what to expect. This week’s blog will focus on breaking through the mystery of yoga types.
For clarification, it is important to know that yoga is a scientific system with 8 components or limbs. The postures that we are familiar with are only one of those components: asana.
The second thing you need to know is that all of the yoga that is offered out there is Hatha yoga. Iyengar, Bikram, Ashtanga, Vinyasa are all Hatha Yoga, the difference between them is what they focus on, what the masters who created the system found true within themselves and then, through their knowledge, established a system for their students to follow.
All types of yoga have their benefits, but not all may be right for you. Hopefully the following information can help demystify the core schools that are available and give you some guidance as to what will work best for you. The following is just the tip of the iceberg of what constitutes each of these styles of yoga. There are volumes of texts written about each style and we encourage you to find a style that suits you and dig in!
We’ll start with basic Hatha Yoga. When a school/class schedule states that they offer Hatha 1 or Hatha 2 classes. In most cases a Hatha yoga class will begin with a centering practice that will enable the students to let go of the chatter of the mind regarding past and possible future events so that they can settle into the moment and stay focused throughout the class. Gentle warm-ups will follow to loosen up muscles and ligaments and to bring awareness to the body. Depending on the teacher and the level of the students attending the class may or may not flow through sun salutations, but standing postures such as Lunges, Triangle, Warrior and Forward Folds are typical. Core work is a component of most yoga classes to keep the muscles that support the spine strong as well as flexible. Expect to spend time in a seated cross legged position as well as on all fours in “Table Posture” as these are all common in a Hatha Yoga class. The class will typically finish with a relaxation exercise, and some teachers add breath work and meditation.
Iyengar Yoga’s primary focus is alignment of the body in each pose. Through the use of props (blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, etc) the student finds the proper alignment of a pose for their own body’s proportions. It is possible that a student may experience only one or two poses in an Iyengar class. This does not necessarily mean that it is an easy class. The student will be challenged to deeply experience each posture, where they feel at ease in the posture and where their body is working to maintain the posture. Where they feel their body is working, they will then try to find the place where the body can release and settle into the posture with as little effort as possible. Once this is accomplished the student will maintain the posture for a set period of time as determined by the teacher.
Ashtanga/Power Yoga is a very demanding practice. It is important to have a strong understanding of the postures and the alignment of the body within the postures before moving into an Astanga class. This class is fast paced and does not lend itself to the teacher making adjustments or corrections. Ashtanga classes have a set series of poses performed in the same order every time. The student flows from one pose to the next in a fluid manner.
There are some studios that offer “Power Yoga” that do not follow the specified sequence or structure of Ashtanga Yoga. These classes are typically high paced, flowing Hatha Yoga classes. The difference will be the variation of poses and sequence in which you flow through them.
Bikram is much like Ashtanga in that there is a set series of 26 poses that are always performed in the same sequence. However, Bikram Yoga is done with the room temperature set between 95 and 105 degrees. The purpose of this is to allow the muscles, tendons and ligaments to loosen in order for the students to experience more challenging postures as well as to encourage sweating out toxins through the combination of the heat and physical exertion. Don’t forget your towel and water bottle for this class.
As Power Yoga is to Ashtanga, Hot Yoga is to Bikram – Hot Yoga takes the concept of using heat and exertion to release toxins through sweat, but the postures and sequence can vary from class to class.
Vinyasa Yoga has the student move through the postures in coordination with the breath. Breath awareness is important for all types of yoga, but Vinyasa Yoga cannot be fully experienced without proper breath awareness. In this style, the movement is synchronized to the breath, meaning that the student moves through each pose with either and inhale or an exhale. Almost as if the breath is moving the body. This can be challenging for those who don’t have a strong cardiovascular system.
The student can expect to flow through several Sun Salutations as their warm up and then move into more challenging postures.
Yin Yoga focuses on stretching the tendons and ligaments around the joints. The students will hold each pose for several minutes in order to discover where they are able to release and let go while maintaining the posture. Students practicing Yin Yoga are working with the deep tissues and energies of the body. Even though there may only be a few postures experienced in with a class, the effect can be powerful.
Restorative Yoga is yoga for those who want to let go of the outside world for a while. This style uses passive stretching to release tensions and stresses within the body. Most poses are done wither lying on the back or in a seated position with the body supported by bolsters, blankets, blocks and straps. This relieves the student of unnecessary straining so that their body and mind can surrender and release.
Kundalini Yoga is yoga done specifically to work with the energy that resides at the base of the spine. A basic knowledge of the systems of yoga, such as Chakras and energy channels are helpful, but not necessary in practicing this form of Yoga. Just as in Bikram and Ashtanga, the student is led through specific poses in a set sequence. However, there are many different sequences (Kriyas) depending on how the practice will affect the energy systems of the body. A student attending a Kundalini Yoga class should be aware that it is very different than any of the other styles listed above. The postures reflect the common Hatha Yoga postures, however there are some postures that you hold for several minutes or particular movements that you will flow through for several minutes. Kundalni also integrates various styles of breath work and chanting mantras into the kriyas for the purpose of moving the energy through the body.
In addition to the types of yoga listed above there are also traditions, or schools, of yoga that have a direct lineage to the Himalayan and Indian Masters that established them and brought them to the West. These traditions focus on yoga as a scientific system of overall health and wellness. They see yoga as a lifestyle and the asanas as just a portion of the work we do to improve our lives. Our school, The Himalayan Institute, is one of those as well as Kirpalu, Integral, and Sivananda.
We highly encourage you to try different types of yoga and different teachers. Even teachers with the same training background will bring their own style and personality to the class. So if you go to a class and like the movement but are uncomfortable with the speed or level, don’t give up, pick another class.