Yoga is a form of exercise that combines movement, building strength, and stretching through an ancient system of poses developed in India thousands of years ago. Traditionally, yoga is made up of asana (meaning poses), pranayama (meaning breath work), and meditation (or controlling the mind). In the modern day practice of yoga in the United States, how to incorporate these three aspects of traditional yoga practice is often up to the discretion of the teacher or school of yoga. Many different styles of yoga have emerged as it has become popularized as a form of exercise. If you are a beginner, it can be confusing to navigate all of these different yoga styles and terms. This article will provide a breakdown of some of the different classes you might often see, and hopefully will help you choose a style that is right for you.
Hatha is an umbrella term that includes many styles of yoga. It means “sun” and “moon” and refers to the balancing of masculine and feminine, or hot and cold, energies within us. Hatha yoga classes at a yoga studio typically have a blend of gentle movement and stretching, breathing, and a focus on relaxation. Poses can vary based on the teacher or studio. This style of classes can be great for all levels. Holding poses for longer gives a chance to focus on alignment. Beginners may find this to be a good, low-pressure place to start, because they may not feel as rushed as with other styles.
A “vinyasa” is a method of movement that links breathing with transitioning between poses. A vinyasa yoga class is a class that uses this concept, emphasizing linking deep breath work as you move from pose to pose. These classes may also be referred to as a “flow” class. Vinyasa classes tend to emphasize more strength building and movement. Most people find these classes to present more of a workout than hatha classes. Vinyasa classes could be heated or not heated, depending on the studio and teacher. With most vinyasa classes you can expect to move and sweat. One of the great benefits of vinyasa is the creativity of the sequencing and the experience of moving and breathing simultaneously.
Ashtanga yoga is a style developed in the 20th century, with emphasis on the repetition of certain series of movements. Every class begins with five repetitions of Surya Namaskara A and B, a series of movements and standing poses. This style combines postures with breath, and typically classes are pretty structured when it comes to the poses practiced. Ashtanga yoga is known to be challenging, with a clear progression from beginner, to intermediate and advanced levels requiring knowledge of proper alignment, discipline, and strength.
Hot or Power Yoga
“Hot” or Power Yoga includes a number of different yoga styles, most of which have been popularized recently in the United States. Two of these schools of yoga include Bikram and Baptiste. The names of these styles refer to their founders.
Bikram yoga is practiced in a humid, 104 degree Fahrenheit room. Classes are ninety minutes, and consist of the same 26 poses each time. This could be categorized as a heated hatha class. There are detoxifying benefits to practicing in this kind of heat, and the longer holds for the poses build your balance and strength. Some people may find these classes to be too hot, or the poses too intense for their joints, while others love the experience of intense sweating and challenging poses.
Baptiste yoga is a heated vinyasa style. It is called “power” yoga, because there is a combination of flowing movement, and poses that require strength and deep breath work. There are usually different options when it comes to the temperature of the class, based on your level. Teachers have more creativity when it comes to sequencing, but the style is based in the repetition of certain sequences in each class. This style will also make you sweat and detox, build your strength, and your balance.
There are many other styles of “power” or heated yoga, with variations depending on the studio and teaching style. Usually you can expect an emphasis on getting a good workout, building strength, movement, and sweating in these classes.
Yin yoga is a style based in holding poses for three to five minutes, or longer, in order to facilitate stretching of the muscle fascia. It always depends on the teacher, but usually the emphasis is on seated or lying postures with props like pillows, or blocks, to help support you in these longer holds. This kind of deep stretching can help improve circulation to the joints, and improve back or hip pain. Just because they are seated poses, don’t think you are getting off easy—the sensations can be intense in these stretches! A more meditative style of breath and relaxation is usually used. Some teachers may be trained in concepts of Chinese meridian points and cultivating organ health through yin poses.
Restorative yoga is another slower style, but the focus is more on deep relaxation and gentle stretching, rather than the intense stretching of yin. In restorative yoga, complete relaxation is encouraged by reducing movement to soothe the nervous system. Poses are usually held for longer with pillows, bolsters, or blocks. This is a great style of class when you need to de-stress, meditate, or just let go.
While classes always differ from studio to studio, being familiar with some of these styles can help you to feel more prepared as you pick what class to attend. There is a style of yoga for everyone, and if you had one bad experience in the past, don’t be completely discouraged! Trying classes is the way to find a teacher and style that works for you.