Hatha. Vinyasa. Iyengar. Kundalini. Power.
There are so many different styles of yoga, and each has its own benefits. You really won’t know what kind of style will mesh for you until you show up, and even then, whether you enjoy a class has a lot to do with the teacher, how you’re feeling on a given day… a whole host of things.
You may be surprised which style(s) you wind up taking to. I’ve known people who want to take HARDCORE WORKOUT WOOOO classes and then fall in love with yin. I know people who just want a gentle stretch but then realize that a flow class suits their needs.
I’m sharing a few of the styles of yoga I’ve personally practiced, my opinions on each, and some things you can expect.
Bikram/Hot 26 – So, it’s a well-known fact that the founder of Bikram Yoga is a piece of shit. THAT BEING SAID… the Bikram series, also known as the Hot 26 series for those who are not certified by Bikram himself, is a series of 26 poses – the same 26 every single time. Each pose is held for several breaths and performed twice, so it’s good for beginners because it’s easy to follow along. Each pose is easy to modify for your level of experience and/or comfort. Also, the sequence is supposed to be done in a very hot and humid room. I actually don’t think that much heat is necessary, but you do get used to the heat after a while. That being said, I either rest on the mat or step outside if I start to feel too hot, because safety is always first. DRINK ELECTROLYTES – you’re going to be sweating a lot. I really love this series because my body feels amazing afterward, and it’s a very popular practice for athletes.
Power – This style was what I was formally trained in. It’s a physically intense practice, and each class is structured similarly; however, the poses will differ from class to class. Generally, the class is structured as follows: Sun salutations, warriors, balancing, core, backbends, stretching. The first half of class is very movement oriented, and expect to be engaging your muscles. Power is usually held in a heated room. Many people are drawn to power because it’s cardio intensive and creates a great workout, but power has really helped my meditation practice. Power is considered a “moving” meditation, but it has also helped me calm my mind in my still/silent meditation. Something with the name POWER yoga can sound intimidating, but it can be modified for any level (including chair yoga!). If you’re concerned about whether it can be modified to your level, I recommend talking to a teacher before taking the class.
Ashtanga – Similar to power, you start with a series of sun salutations. Similar to Bikram, there is a set order of poses. However, in Ashtanga, there are six separate series, and you can only move onto the next series after you have mastered your current series. Traditionally, you work with a teacher who decides when you can advance. Classes can be led by a teacher or done “Mysore” style, which means you do the class at your own pace but with the guidance of a teacher who assists students in getting into poses. Now as for the poses themselves… have you ever see pictures of yogis who have turned their body into pretzels? They’re probably Ashtanga yogis. I tell people that this is the class for the physically gifted. Yes, it can be modified… but if you have certain physical limitations, you will not be able to advance past the primary series. That has really been a point of frustration for me. I know my frustration is partially rooted in ego, but I don’t believe that I should be stuck doing the same poses my entire life just because the way my hips are rotated. That being said, what I really like about Ashtanga is that there are poses in the series that aren’t typically done in other types of yoga, and it’s a practice that requires its students to get on the mat every day. I got into Ashtanga because I really liked the teacher who was teaching the class locally, and I try to study with a master teacher once a year.
Kundalini – Here’s my advice for you – DO. NOT. TRY. KUNDALINI. UNLESS. YOU. HAVE. AN. EXPERIENCED. INSTRUCTOR. Seriously, don’t do it. Kundalini has to do with working with energy in your body, and you can seriously mess up some things if you aren’t working with someone who is properly trained. Okay, now that being said, Kundalini can be an awesome and powerful practice if you’re working with a person who knows what they’re doing. There’s chanting, there’s movement, there’s holding of poses. If you’re unaccustomed to this type of practice, it can seem surreal at first, but you can have a wonderful experience if you can let go of reservations.
Yin – I used to hate yin yoga. Haaaaaate it. Now it’s my favorite. Yin is a very, very slow practice to be done when the muscles of the body are cool. The science explanation of the benefits of yin yoga is that it manipulates the fascia (connective tissue) in the body. The Eastern explanation is that it stimulates the energy meridians in the body. Anyway, the reason I used to hate yin is that slow practices are supposed to be comfortable and relaxing, right? Well, yin is pretty intense. No, you’re not folding or twisting as intensely as you would in a power class… but hold that post for five minutes, and you’re not going to be feeling like you’re floating on a cloud. Once I understood that the practice wasn’t meant to be gentle, I was able to appreciate the practice and adjust my poses accordingly so they could be intense but without the pain. Power classes are a moving meditation, but in yin, you just have to sit there with whatever is going on in your mind and your body. It’s a very powerful practice.
Restorative – Restorative is what I thought yin was supposed to be. Restorative is like yoga naptime, with lots of props including bolsters, blankets, and eye pillows. This class is designed to be relaxing. You’ll be holding poses for several minutes, but the poses are not meant to be as intense as yin poses.
I’ve barely scratched the surface as to all of the styles of yoga. The only way you can find what works for you is to go explore!