There are several styles of yoga on offer in the West these days. While no one type is better than the others, there may be a style that best suits you.
People practice yoga to increase flexibility or strength, improve posture, or assist in injury recovery. For others, yoga is a complementary practice to sporting endeavors. Still, more people gravitate towards yoga to escape the frantic pace of life – to relax and re-focus.
With many different styles of yoga, and people seeking many other things from their yoga practice, knowing where to begin may be difficult. Additionally, it does not help that the titles of yoga styles are often in Sanskrit, the yoga tradition’s language.
This is a concise overview of a handful of the yoga styles accessible today.
Pronounced “hah-ta” and directly translated as “sun-moon,” hatha yoga aims to balance the body. Hatha yoga is a broad word that refers to various practices—all forms of yoga that include physical postures, breathing techniques (pranayama), and often meditation.
Generally, courses labelled “Hatha yoga” are very mild. They will assist you in developing flexibility and strength gradually and will encourage a sense of relaxation.
The four styles of yoga listed below fall into the broad category of hatha yoga but can be more physically demanding than traditional Hatha classes.
Iyengar Yoga is
Pioneered by BKS Iyengar (known by his students as “Guruji”), “Iyengar yoga” focuses primarily on physical postures (asanas).
Iyengar yoga is differentiated by the extremely close attention paid to alignment and props, which have been instrumental in making yoga accessible to stiffer Western bodies. According to the official Iyengar yoga website, “the use of Guruji-designed props such as wooden devices, belts, and ropes assists the practitioner in attaining perfection in any asana.”
Iyengar yoga can be physically demanding, but the slower pace and long holds of the asanas mean it is suitable for all students. Students with special requirements, such as injuries, may be given modifications and variants.
Sri K Pattabhi Jois established Ashtanga Yoga. It is a dynamic, faster-paced style of yoga best suited to people who have a reasonable level of fitness or are hoping to increase their fitness. Be prepared to sweat!
Ashtanga yoga is divided into six set series of postures, and students are strongly encouraged to master each set before moving on to the following series. The degree of difficulty even in the Primary (or beginner) series means that only quite committed students move beyond this sequence.
Traditionally, Ashtanga is practiced ”Mysore style” (Mysore being Pattabhi Jois’Jois’ home city). That is, pupils go through the sequence at their own rate. Teachers move around the room to assist where necessary. It requires the students to be familiar with the series.
Additionally, most Ashtanga studios provide “guided” sessions in which the instructor guides students through the sequence.
Vinyasa Yoga (Flow Yoga)
Vinyasa is a beautiful, flowing form of yoga in which the breath guides the transitions between asanas. It can vary in intensity; some Vinyasa classes are fast-paced and sweaty, others are a little more down-tempo.
Not connected to a single lineage, vinyasa teachers draw from different styles to create fluid sequences that will change from class to class.
Smooth, steady movement during the transitions between asanas is as essential as alignment in each asana. If you like an unexpected practice and enjoy movement, Vinyasa is definitely for you.
Bikram Yoga (Hot Yoga)
Bikram Yoga, founded by Bikram Choudhury, consists of a set sequence of 26 asanas that are practiced in each class. Classes begin and end with breathing exercises.
The most distinctive feature of Bikram yoga is the heat: Bikram studios are heated to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a towel and a bottle of water with you, and dress appropriately for the heat.
Other Styles of Yoga
Styles of yoga that have a focus other than the physical include:
Raja Yoga (primarily concerned with meditation).
- The Yoga of Karma (the yoga of action or selfless service)
- Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion).