If you’re new to it, you probably don’t realize how many different types of yoga there are. It has been around for 4,000 years and many styles have developed over that time.
It’s good to try different types of yoga to see what you like the most, but here is a basic overview of some of the most common styles people practice. The best part about knowing all these variations is that you can use them as needed. For example, if you’re sore or feeling stressed, you can do restorative yoga. If you want to increase your energy and lose weight, vinyasa and hatha would be a great choice.
This article will give you a handle on the lingo of yogis so you don’t feel as lost. Yoga also builds strength and tones muscles, it is not just stretching and this is a common misconception. And if you think handstands with your toes to your head are easy, then yes, yoga is easy.
To be clear, yoga is actually much more than physical poses, it’s a philosophy of bringing your mind and emotions into harmony with life. It’s not a religion, just a systematic approach to overcoming obstacles in the mind. The poses (also called asanas) are just a part of the whole picture yoga presents.
The word yoga actually translates as connection or union. Now, more than ever, the sedentary lifestyles of smart people need to be paired with movement to stave off depression and health problems. This is one of the best options and it’s no secret, yoga is quickly becoming an integral part of our culture.
This is still the most common type of yoga class and I think of it as a bridge to the more traditional types of yoga. Many times a Vinyasa class will feel a little like a workout class with louder music and a faster pace. You can expect to do sun salutations and sweat in it.
Vinyasa means breath to movement and you will learn how to breathe while you move, which is very valuable for your health, muscle and bone strength. If I could summarize the point of this type of yoga I would say it teaches you to remain present and let go of things. The added bonus is you lose weight and become stronger and more flexible.
I like vinyasa yoga because of the emotional focus. Teachers of vinyasa might not always be the skinniest or the most impressive physically but they will make sure you leave with a smile, which might be more valuable.
A Hatha yoga class is an ever changing series of static postures. In my personal opinion, it’s the fastest way to build strength and flexibility. As you get to learn the poses and the anatomy of the body, the focus usually becomes less about moving fast and more about getting your body into alignment to safely build strength and flexibility.
This type of yoga is, from my experience, safer than vinyasa yoga. It teaches people how to develop flexibility without becoming hypermobile and helps students understand body mechanics. It’s for you brainiacs, you will enjoy this scientific approach to yoga.
3. Restorative/yin/gentle yoga
This is also one of my most favorite types of yoga and it’s quickly becoming popular in the United States. It’s popular with all age groups because it actually helps to decrease muscle recovery time and because it reduces soreness. These three terms: restorative, gentle and yin yoga are often interchangeable, although there are some slight differences between them.
Yin yoga is basically done on the ground without flexing muscles. It’s a very scientific approach to taking care of your body. When the muscles are not flexed but held in gentle stretches for 3-8 minutes, the connective tissue which covers the muscles, called the fascia, release and allow flexibility to increase. Restorative yoga has been known to help with insomnia, depression, injury recovery, fibromyalgia and stress.
This is a great yoga style for people that have trouble stretching or aren’t ready for a really demanding class. It’s great for people that are going through an emotional healing and I have used restorative yoga to get through tough situations in my own life.
If you like structure and discipline, this is the yoga for you. Ashtanga is a traditional type of yoga that has a set sequence. Actually, it has five sequences that build upon each other. Pattabhi Jois was the father of ashtanga yoga, and today, people that studied with him are teaching what they learned from him.
I like to refer to this type of yoga as pretzel yoga because that’s where it leads you. Hard core ashtangis practice 3 hours each day and I highly recommend it for those looking for a lifestyle change and wanting to add some discipline into their lives. It’s also great for your health. Your digestion will become ultra-regular because of how you wring out your torso and get stuff moving along.
Your skin will improve as you get rid of toxins and you’ll reduce your risk of injuring yourself in other activities when your joints become flexible and your muscles are less tight. Mostly, I love how this keeps pain and stiffness out of the neck and back. How many of us walk around holding tension in the shoulders? You can say goodbye to all of that if you practice regularly.
This is probably one of the most popular types of yoga in the west. It was developed by a man named Bikram and is a set series of postures done in a very heated room. This is a very distinct type of yoga and many people will be surprised to find how different it is than the other types. This is the one that will make you sweat and get your butt kicked.
People will be wearing very little clothing and you will need two towels for class (one for your mat so you don’t slip and one to wipe your face). People often use this type of yoga to drop weight before weddings or vacations or use it to detox after a weekend in Vegas. Although, yoga aims to teach moderation and restraint, not giving you an excuse to party harder.
This type of yoga is often confused with Bikram yoga, but it usually is a variation of the Bikram poses. This is because Bikram has copywritten his sequence of poses. You will find large corporate chains such as CorePower Yoga that have fusion classes which combine different styles into one class.
You can be sure of one thing, it will be hot. Hot yoga makes inflexible people feel more flexible because their muscles are warm and hot yoga makes for a great date, seriously.
This has become my favorite type of yoga and it’s very similar to hatha. This is an alignment based yoga that focuses on anatomy and slows down the pace of the class. It is great for people interested in practicing long term without injury and learning how the mechanics of the body work.
You will definitely be challenged and learn a lot in an Iyengar yoga class. The name comes from the recently passed, B.K.S. Iyengar who was one of the fathers of modern yoga. You can still find teachers that studied with this man today.
Kriya yoga is said to be the original yoga and most people have no idea what it is. You’ll have to read the popular ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ to get a proper grasp of the idea of Kriya yoga. The goal of this form is enlightenment, which is essentially ‘at oneness.’
This is the name for the yoga that was passed from master to student for generations and this concept is diluted in commercial businesses representation of it. Kriya yoga is taught in India along with Mysore yoga. The yoga community in the United States knows that businesses have shaped yoga into something it wasn’t originally intended to be.
The question is, should it have changed or is it helping our culture more now that is has been adapted for mainstream consumers? The answer is not black or white.
Kundalini is the style of yoga which is focused more on meditation. Students mostly wear white and usually have a head wrap. This is a scientific type of yoga that affects the nervous system. The nervous system is like the wiring system of a computer.
Kundalini yoga charges your electrical circuits in a way. You will feel more creative and the goal is to open to spiritual understanding. Yogi Bhajan was the founder of Kundalini Yoga in the west which is popular among celebrities and spiritual aspirants.
Many communities that live alternatively follow the teachings of this type of yoga. You can expect to learn chants and have a gong played at the end of most classes. The kriyas (exercises) are very unique and usually repeated in numbers that have spiritual significance. You will definitely feel different if you adopt their practice of sadhana which is an early morning practice, usually from 5-7am.
Anusara yoga, Mysore, Lorest yoga, Laugh yoga, Dahn yoga, yoga Nidra, Acro yoga and Tantric yoga are all different types of yoga with their own distinct focus. I recommend researching which one best suits your needs before you go to class. If you are new to yoga and trying to get into it, just like anything else, it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into.
Yoga is not as simple as stretching and as you can see by the many different types listed here, there are thousands of years of discoveries about the mind and human body that have shaped what yoga is today. Some people stay loyal to one type of yoga their whole life and some switch it up. Some people find one teacher and follow them.
Once you find your endorphins are really kicking in, you’ll feel that yoga high that makes people say really nice things after class. It’s similar to when people are buzzed; suddenly everything is flowers and rainbows. It’s actually quite fun and the only precaution I can give you is that if you practice regularly, don’t stop.
If your brain gets used to that regular release of endorphins and you suddenly quit, it can cause depression and you probably won’t realize why you’re feeling down. So make it a lifelong commitment. I’m not saying that to scare you, but someone told me that, and I didn’t take them very seriously until I experienced it myself, and they were totally right.
It’s logical; don’t go from being really active to sedentary. Humans, bottom line, will be depressed and unhealthy if they are sedentary. The industrialized world has neglected that humans are not engineered to sit 8 to 10 hours per day. Don’t let the 9-5 culture get the best of you; get on your yoga mat, no matter how inflexible or intimidated you may be. It’s not scary, I promise.
Keep in mind that if you don’t like your first yoga class, it could be a mixture of things. Maybe you’re in a slow paced class when you were looking for a fast paced class. Maybe you just didn’t connect with the personality of the teacher or found them irritating. It took me years to find some teachers that I actually remembered and wanted to learn from.
Stick with it and try out different studios before you give up on it. It’s an amazing tool to use to keep yourself from getting sick and injured and gives you the ability to tap into the energy available in your body without having to be dependent on stimulants like Adderall, which are addictive.
Find a teacher that you want to be like and you will stick with it. Make an investment in yourself and others will invest in you.
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