Confused by all the types of yoga styles there are? Yeah I feel ya, there are a ton to choose from and so many benefits can be reaped from each one. What you can and should do, is find a style of yoga and stick to it — starting from the basics of understanding proper body alignment, knowing which muscles to engage and which ones you’re working, and how to properly increase the intensity of your flow as you progress through your practice.
If you’re reading this, you’re either a beginning yogi who is interested in learning basic movements to develop into a practice (see my post on 5 Key Yoga Poses to Do Everyday) or you’re an intermediate yogi wanting to define your practice into a specific yoga style. And if you’re neither one of those, well hi anyways and welcome to understanding yoga styles 101 🙂
Pretty much every form of yoga taught in the West is Hatha yoga, which refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Basic, right? When a class is marketed as “hatha”, it generally means that you will get a basic introduction to the most basic yoga postures such as downward dog, tree pose, sun salutation, etc. You probably won’t work up a sweat in a hatha yoga class, but you should end up leaving class feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed.
Oh this style is SO challenging to master. It’s physically demanding, one of the hardest, and will make you question whether or not you even have muscles. It uses a series of poses that are done in a precise order and is designed to get more difficult over time, while increase your strength and muscle endurance. Ashtanga yoga is often referred to as “power yoga” in the West, however it is not the same as a power yoga class (though power classes sometimes borrow Ashtanga poses). Authentic Ashtanga yoga follows a specific system that slowly acclimates the body to more difficult poses through progressive endurance, and is for intermediate to advanced yogis.
Like Ashtanga yoga, Bikram follows a specific series of poses, but is done in a H O T room. Why?
SO YOU SWEAT OUT ALL YOUR WEAKNESSES AND SUBMIT TO THE HEAT GOD to burn more calories, of course 🙂 Sometimes I joke to myself that I’m doing a solo Bikram class in my house when I practice because we don’t have AC…..
If you’re going to teach or take any type of yoga style, Iyengar should be top choice due to the fact that this style holds proper alignment and posture in poses at the highest level of importance. This style uses a variety of fun yoga props like blocks, straps, blankets, etc. to ensure that proper alignment is being taught and learned. Why would you even do yoga if you’re not going to bother learning and teaching the fundamentals of proper alignment! 😉
Probably the second most popular form of yoga next to bikram, combining fluid poses that flow into one another with music. This style is very relaxing and can be similarly challenging to Ashtanga practice, depending on how hardcore your instructor is (one-legged dog to handstand to chaturanga dandasana, anyone? Oof).
Now that you’re aware of all the different yoga styles there are, which one are you going to commit to? By deciding to stick to one style at a time, you are teaching your body how to move and grow in movement and flexibility, as well as disciplining yourself to engage with one type of yoga rather than a bit of all types. I mean you can totally incorporate a hot yoga class into your practice once a week if you’re sticking to Vinyasa for example, there’s no rule against that 😉 But it’s best to pick the one style that works best for your body NOW, and grow in it. Later, you can build upon your practice and transition into another style if you want.
Personally in my own practice, I began with Iyengar (like I said, best one to start with), transitioned to Vinyasa once I was confident in my alignment, and am now working my way through Ashtanga to challenge myself and build upon my practice.