I remember very clearly the first time that I was introduced to the idea that yoga could be more than just yoga: I was in an airport, flying down to Florida for the weekend, and had just started a very, very basic home yoga practice, so I brought my mat down with me, hoping to continue exploring my budding love for yoga. While waiting to board the plane, one of the flight attendants saw my mat and came up to me to talk about yoga… I don’t remember much from the conversation, except that she used a lot of words that I had never heard before, and that it ended with her drawling, “well, I myself am very well-practiced in ashtanga” and listing everyone that she had ever studied under. I’m pretty sure that my only contribution to the conversation was a lame, “oh, yeh, I mean, I really like down dog…” Needless to say, five minutes later I was planted in my airplane seat, frantically googling “different types of yoga” on my phone so as to prepare for that situation, should it ever occur again. Years later, I can safely say that I have a little bit better of a grasp of the various forms that a yoga practice can take, and would probably not run away in fear if sanskrit were ever to be dropped in a casual conversation, but that experience has always served as a reminder to me that sharing knowledge is only powerful when done out of a space of love!
That being said, here’s a short breakdown of the main, basic styles of yoga practiced, so that all you lovely yogis and aspiring yogis are well-versed if ever cornered by an over-zealous flight attendant. Namaste.
Anusara – literally means “to step into the current of divine will,” this is a very spiritually-centered style of yoga, and yet one that maintains a good level of physical challenge. There is as much of a focus placed on the proper alignment of the body as there is on the inner-goodness of the individual. An anusara class will certainly make for a beautiful fusion of mind and body, and will also tend to be fun and lighthearted. awesome for: learning proper alignment and putting you in an incredible mood.
Ashtanga – ashtanga yoga is one of the oldest styles of yoga practiced, but it was popularized and brought over to this side of the pond in the 70’s. An ashtanga class is based on six series of postures, which increase in difficulty as the class progresses. It’s a lot like vinyasa yoga, except that it follows a much more structured pattern – definitely still a super-sweaty workout. awesome for: some pretty serious strength building and body toning.
Bikram – translation: super, super, super sweaty yoga. One of the first yoga classes I ever took was a bikram class, and I honestly did not know that my body was capable of producing as much sweat as it did then. Bikram yoga utilizes a series of 26 traditional yoga poses in a specific sequence, and is practiced in a room that is heated to 105 degrees. Note on this: drink more water than you ever imagined consuming, both before and after class. Otherwise, you’ll experience what I refer to fondly as a “yoga hangover.” awesome for: in-freaking-sane weight loss, and a lovely system reboot.
Hatha – the word “hatha” is actually just used to describe the physical practice of yoga, and could be used as a blanket description for most of the yoga classes available today. A class labeled as “hatha” is probably going to be one that focuses more on the perfect forms of the postures, slowly moving from one to another. These classes tend to be a little more calm and gentle, but still provide a wonderful way to step into yoga, or to deepen your practice. awesome for: calming down and de-stressing.
Iyengar – this style of yoga could be summarized in two words: alignment and precision. In an iyengar yoga class, you’ll find yourself holding poses for a much longer time than in other classes… the idea behind this is to shift the focus of the class away from getting from one pose to another, and instead becoming increasingly aware of your muscular and skeletal alignment in each pose. You will also end up using a lot of yoga props, like blocks, straps, and even the wall. awesome for: learning some yoga fundamentals, and toning some beautiful muscles.
Kundalini – a yoga practiced that, according to Yogi Bahjan, is the path to everyone becoming “happy, healthy, and holy” – this style of yoga is a blend of breath, posture, and chanting spiritual mantras. A large amount of focus is placed on the awakening of the energy at the base of the spine, and spreading that energy through the rest of the chakra systems in the body. awesome for: building a beautiful energy in your body, while still staying grounded and focused.
Vinyasa – fun fact, “vinyasa” is actually the Sanskrit word for “flow,” and with good reason. The primary focus of a vinyasa class is to flow through various postures while connecting to your breath. Although the core of this class is breath and rhythm, don’t expect an easy class – vinyasa yoga can be quite a sweaty and intense mind-body workout! awesome for: a calm, focused energy, and a full-body workout.
Yin– yin yoga is a lot more of a slow and mindful practice, a serious exercise in meditation while also challenging your physical body. Yin poses are held for long periods of time (typically five minutes or more), and are targeted towards stimulating the flow of energy through your body. awesome for: meditation and a better understanding of your own body.