Which Yoga Style is For You?
If you are new to Yoga or thinking about exploring other styles and you are just not sure what’s right for you, I’ve described the major styles below. It can be quite confusing to grasp the concept of styles, especially when Yoga teachers or gyms advertise a Yoga class as an unspecified “Yoga class”, and you end up in the most difficult or slowest class in your life, hating every moment, coming out of the class feeling frustrated at yourself and thinking Yoga is just not for you. Rest assured – there is a Yoga style for everyone, different times of the day, different personalities and different energy levels!
Here are the most common types of Yoga practiced today in studios:
Hatha is the oldest style of Yoga, it is the most classical one. Hatha Yoga is a strong and meditative practice (probably my favourite). Poses are held around 5-10 breaths allowing a deep stretch, relaxation, strength and concentration. The flow is slow-ish and you get to sit in Asanas (postures) for a long time, allowing you to deepen your pose and improve your alignment too. Hatha is for everyone, especially if you are a very energetic and active person with your mind running at 1,000 km/h, Hatha Yoga and Yin Yoga are for you. I am more of a slow but fiery type of person and I love it.
The most commonly-referenced and influential book is “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” by Swami Svatmarama, written in the 15th century CE. Hatha Yoga is therefore the source for all other types of Yoga (Ashtanga, Vinyasa and derivates).
Ashtanga Yoga is a challenging practice, focusing on breath and movement to produce an internal heat designed to purify the body. It consists of a few rounds of Sun Salutations A and B, followed by Asana series (there are 6 of them but most people will only do the Primary series in their lives) and a closing sequence.
Every pose is structured in a way that you have to finish one before moving to another one, so the sequencing is always the same. If you are looking for a challenge and you are a slow or fiery type of person, this is even more for you (provided you don’t come with the intention of competing)! Bear in mind, a typical Ashtanga class will last about 90 minutes.
Vinyasa is the alignment of movement and breath, turning static Asanas into a flow. Even if Vinyasa Yoga originates from Hatha Yoga, it has a closer link to Ashtanga Yoga. This is why nowadays Vinyasa Yoga is also called “Freestyle Ashtanga”, “Power Yoga”, etc. Because Vinyasa is a continuous flow, it focuses more on the energy and the breath, and less on alignment, unifying and energising the flow. But Vinyasa can also be a slow or intermittent flow (in the evenings for example), allowing you to be more aware of your alignment.
Vinyasa, as opposed to the strict sequencing of Ashtanga, allows for more freedom, creativity and flexibility in the sequencing. This style is for everyone (you can definitely use yoga props such as blocks to support you and help with your alignment) and you should check with your gym or your teacher which type of flow you are going for, depending on your energy level and the time of the day (shouldn’t be too energetic in the evenings).
Yin Yoga is a beautiful practice that works on the physical body, the mental body and the emotional body. Postures are held for a long time (between 2-10 minutes) focusing on elongating and strengthening connective tissue. Connective tissue is everywhere in the body, wrapped around muscles and organs or interwoven into the muscle tissues, or helping to hold muscles to bones.
Unlike the other Yang styles(intense), Yin Yoga is relaxing, calming, restoring (but shouldn’t be confused with Restorative Yoga). This practice brings patience, endurance and tests our threshold of resistance. Yin Yoga is a great way to educate our mind into progressively getting to a stage of surrendering.
Yin Yoga is for everyone and can be practiced at any time of the day; it’s especially great if you feel stressed, anxious, on a day of having low self-esteem, working on self-discovery, etc. It will feel like a deep stretch combined with a warm hug, especially since you shouldn't feel any physical pain so get yourself a bolster and a couple of blocks - you will need them all the time.
- Yin (like the moon) is reflective, receptive, slower to move, less visible, cooler and feminine.
- Yang (like the sun) is active, visible, heating dynamic and masculine.
Yin cannot exist without the Yang and vice-versa. Most Yin poses are done near the floor, in a seated position.
Aerial Yoga/Anti-Gravity Yoga is a new style of Yoga from New York, using a suspended hammock.
It is a mix of Yoga (either Vinyasa or Yin) and acrobatics, which can be really fun. You also get access to many poses you might struggle to do on the floor (handstand, downward facing dog, etc) and poses can be held longer. This practices teaches you to face your fears and your ego, trust yourself and work with your energy. Aerial Yoga helps to decompress the spine, works on the whole body, stimulates all the inner organs including blood circulation, and uplifts you emotionally.
There are of course other styles such as: Restorative, Bikram(albeit quite controversial now), Kundalini, Nindra, Tantra, etc.
Above all, do your research, try out a few classes, and from different teachers. Sometimes it takes a few shots before finding the Yoga style and the teacher that you click with. And don't forget to listen to your body and use props when needed!