Now mainstream, you can find a yoga studio in almost every city. It is no secret that there are numerous health benefits that come along with a regular yoga practice, including easing anxiety, increasing flexibility and even lowering blood pressure. If you are a new practitioner you may have questions about where to start or even what style of yoga is right for you. One important thing to call out is that Yoga is philosophy and a lifestyle. The physical practice is know as the asanas or postures. With over 20 variations of yoga practice styles, the good news is you are sure to find one that will fit your vibe. Here is my guide to 9 styles of yoga that are popular and easily accessible.
Aerial yoga is also known as anti-gravity yoga. In this style, you use a silk or fabric that is attached securely to the ceiling. You utilize the silks as you move through the yoga postures. It is less flow than a traditional yoga class but it does have it’s own benefits. Apart from moving past the initial challenge of overcoming the fear of hanging from the silks, this practice has also been known to improve flexibility and increase strength. Many of the postures that are not accessible in traditional yoga, may be accessible for you with the silks. Think handstand and even wheel. Physically it can help stretch the spine and back, to reduce pain and help improve balance over time since you are working with gravity to stabilize yourself. Where to practice? I love Trilogy Sanctuary in La Jolla, Ca. The teachers are great and the vegan cafe is delicious!
Anusara yoga was founded by John Friend and translate to “following your heart.” With the spiritual focus or centering thought being focus on the good. It emphasizes the “Universal Principles of Alignment” that is a guide on how to best open your body up by finding your center, which also allows you to practice poses safely. Modern day teachers teach a vinyasa-type posture flow with special attention paid to holding key poses. Classes infuse meditation techniques, chakra balancing and connecting your breath to movement is key in this practice. Good for all levels, there are no set routines; However classes are designed using the basic principles of sequencing.
Ashtanga yoga is a style of yoga introduced to the West by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. It translates to “eight limbs” which is representative of the path and philosophy of yoga. The focus of Ashtanga is to synchronize the breath with a progressive and set series of postures. The standard Ashtanga series includes an opening series, main series, back-bending sequence, and finishing set of postures. Mysore style is synonymous with Ashtanga yoga. This means that students moves through the practice at their own pace. However if you are brand new to yoga, this may not be the best style to start with. An energetic type of yoga, Ashtanga is practiced at a vigorous pace.And most Ashtangis practice 6 days a week.
Bhakti translates to devotion or love, so it is known as the “yoga of devotion”. It is deeply rooted in a direct connection of God and respect for Hindu deities. Bhakti is one of the one of three spiritual paths as described in the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. The practice often includes chanting, meditation, and creating altars for deities where you place offerings. In it’s purest form, Bhakti Yoga is using the mind and body as an expression of love.
Bikram’s official website describes this style of yoga as” twenty-six posture exercises systematically designed to move fresh, oxygenated blood to one hundred percent of your body, to each organ and fiber, restoring all systems to healthy working order, just as nature intended.” This HOT style yoga is typically 90 minutes long in a room that is 110 degrees. This powerful class is taught in silence to encourage focused connection to the breathe. One thing to note is that the class will always be the exact same. If you like routine, this is the class for you. Stretching the body in these same 26 positions has great benefits in increasing flexibility and strength rapidly. However if you like variation in your practice, I would stick to Iyengar, Hatha or Vinyasa.
Hatha yoga has ancient roots dating back to 1000 BC. It is not an exercise, but a methodology to direct energy within the body. In order to bring union, there is a holistic approach to the practice which focuses on breath, diet, and the exercise routine of asanas (yoga postures). I learned the word haṭha has a couple meanings. The first is “force” in Sanskrit, which I understand as energetic force. The second is explains “ha” to mean sun, and “ta” to mean moon. “Hatha” means the yoga to bring balance between the sun and the moon within us. So what is a Hatha yoga class like? It is a slow and steady set of postures. This does not mean gentle yoga, the postures can still be challenging. However to align the breath to movement, the pace may be slower than say a vigorous Power Vinyasa class.
Side note – I love me some Iyengar Yoga. B.K.S. Iyengar was the founder of this style of yoga.His teachings are grounded in the yoga sutras of Patanjali which is a text believed to be at least 2,500 years old and outlines the philosophy of yoga. The asana practice focuses on precise alignment to build strength, flexibility and stamina. The progression of the postures is aided by lots of props – chairs, bolsters, blankets, blocks, and the rope wall to ensure correct alignment within the postures. Because it is not a flow like Vinyasa, teachers can customize each posture to each student’s ability.
Restorative, also known as Yin Yoga is a relaxing form of the yoga asana practice. It is very slow paced; Typically it involves only five or six poses that are held for 5-7 minutes. A student’s practice is supported by blankets, bolsters, blocks and even aromatherapy, so you can completely relax. I learned that modern restorative yoga is derived from a style that was invented by B.K.S. Iyengar. Restorative is healing for both the body and the mind. It can help you reduce stress, fatigue, and even help heal certain injuries. For a simple restorative sequence for sleep, read HERE.
Vinyasa means “flow“, . Vinyasa yoga has become an extremely popular style of yoga as it provides a more vigorous practice. It is known for improving muscle tone, and boosting confidence. The sequences vary by instructor. Typically the sequence will build on warming up the body through sun salutations and specific stretches so that the body is open enough to achieve one main or peak posture that is more challenging. Many power classes are taught to music and in warm rooms to encourage flexible muscles and joints, as well as to encourage sweat.
Any yoga you practice will benefit your mind, body and soul. The reason it has grown in popularity so quickly is because yoga really does create positive changes in your life. The asana (or postures) are just the beginning, so open up, explore and dive in!
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