Yoga is a cleansing and refreshing activity for your mind, body, and soul. While I was living in a van, yoga poses were how I kept my body limber and ensured I got some type of exercise in such a confined space.
If you’re new to yoga, it can be difficult understanding what you’re getting yourself into. All the talk of dristi, pranayama, bandha, asana, mantras, and chakras can quickly overwhelm a newcomer.
On top of this, a yoga studio’s schedule can have some confusing terms. You need to understand what type of class you’re signing up for.
This guide is meant to help differentiate between the different styles of yoga and explain what to expect when attending a session.
Acroyoga is among the newest branches of yoga and is often considered a trend by yoga purists. Instead of one person focusing on their inner chi, acroyoga incorporates three people into the practice. One (typically the male) is the “base,” while another (typically the female) acts as a “flyer,” and a third person assumes the role of a “spotter.”
The base provides stability while holding the flier off the ground. The flier assumes a dynamic pose in midair, while the spotter ensures there are no injuries in case of an accident.
While acroyoga does require much of the same strength, focus, and flexibility as traditional yoga, it’s more for show. Yogis and shalas need ways to stick out in a sea of yoga pictures flooding social media, so they resort to acroyoga to create a more visually appealing display.
2. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga was popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois in 1948 and is considered a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. Rather than focusing purely on the physical poses, it requires students to study the eight limbs of yoga.
There are six sequences or series of poses in Ashtanga, and one must be fully completed before moving on to the next. The Primary series is very difficult and can take several years to master.
A traditional Mysore class is typically held earl in the morning. Students show up and begin with five repetitions each of Surya Namaskara A and Surya Namaskara before moving into their series. The teacher is there simply to provide adjustments or occasional assistance getting into posture, but the series must be memorized by the students.
Ashtanga is very disciplined and often involves chanting, speaking Sanskrit, and meditating before and after practice.
3. Bikram Yoga
Bikram yoga is easily the most popular form of yoga in the United States. It’s also responsible for the proliferation of “hot yoga” classes in gyms from coast to coast. Bikram is a form of hatha yoga, and actually has competitions.
Not all yoga is Bikram yoga, however, and if the classes don’t follow the Bikram style, they’ll simply be called “hot yoga.”
Whereas yoga shalas are typically a positive environment, Bikram is notorious for shouting, berating students, and sexual assault. Still, the hot yoga craze is one that permeated the culture, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a gym or community center that doesn’t offer hot yoga classes. Whether they’re authentic Bikram or not is inconsequential these days.
4. Hatha Yoga
Image SourceHatha yoga is the name of the physical branch of yoga you typically consider “yoga.” When a class is described as hatha yoga, it’s most likely a beginner class that will use basic poses and sequences like sun salutations.
The goals of hatha yoga are to improve stamina, flexibility, strength, and quality of life. Breathing exercises are often taught, as are chakras, mantras, and asanas. You’ll learn to focus on posture and proper execution of yoga poses and transitions.
5. Iyengar Yoga
Much like in Ashtanga, Iyengar yoga focuses on precise details and specific sequence progressions. It also focuses on the eight limbs of yoga. Developed in the 1970s by B.K.S. Iyengar, this style of yoga also uses props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets to assist with poses.
Traditional yoga typically only involves a mat (or even gloves) to avoid slipping on the ground and a towel to wipe up sweat. However, all yoga studios in the west will have the same props to assist students. They’re just more popularly associated with Iyengar, as he pioneered their usage, much like Bikram is often associated with hot yoga.
Iyengar yoga classes are often labeled as “restorative yoga.”
6. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga is associated with an awakening of energy at the base of your spine. Whereas most yoga styles involve holding poses for long periods of time, kundalini has you almost constantly moving.
The point is to energize your body, making kundalini an ideal practice for mornings. It’s also more spiritual than a typical gym yoga class, involving mantra chants and focusing on increasing happiness and consciousness.
7. Vinyasa Yoga
Also known as “flow yoga,” vinyasa yoga involves a constant transition from one pose to the next. Yoga classes typically focus on the pose itself, but vinyasa focuses on the transitions. Both are actually important, but there’s only so much you can get in a yoga class, you know?
Vinyasa classes are also often labeled “power yoga,” and it’s one of the most popular styles of yoga in the U.S. Instead of sticking to a set sequence like other styles, vinyasa yoga is essentially a free-form class that depends on the individual teacher. This means every class is vastly different within and across studios.
8. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga focuses on holding poses for long periods of time. Whereas a typical yoga class may only have you hold a pose for 30-60 seconds, yin yoga poses are often held for 5 minutes or more. The point is to focus more on meditation and patience, as it’s the least active of the yoga styles.
That doesn’t mean it’s any less effective, however. Yin yoga is great for seniors, pregnant women, and people with injuries. It’s also useful for anyone looking to increase their mental dexterity and mindfulness.