The Many Styles of Yoga
Even the most hardened gym-rats have now heard of the term “yoga.” With Lulu pants and headbands everywhere you turn, you’d have to be living under a rock not to be aware of the growing lifestyle and exercise trend. However, “yoga” is, in fact, a very broad term, and not merely a "lifestyle."
When I started my practice nearly two years ago, I had no idea that yoga came in so many forms. My ignorance led me to a Bikram studio for my first official yoga class ever—what a big mistake! I had no idea what I was in for. Since then, terms like Ashtanga, Kundalini, and Vinyasa have passed my ears, but until I started my teacher training program two weeks ago, I didn’t really know what they actually meant.
There are more styles of yoga than one can count, but as far as the most practiced go, here’s the down-low:
Hatha really just means any type of physical yoga, but if a class is described as Hatha, you should expect a slow-paced, relaxed style. Different studios may have their own series of poses that they’ve developed and use in every class. The common trend is that you return to tandasana before and after every pose, allowing each asana its own space and time to deepen.
In contrast, Ashtanga is very fast-paced and intense. There’s a set series of asanas that’s performed every time, and the practitioner is constantly moving; flowing from one pose to the next. If a class uses Ashtanga poses, but not in their usual order, it can be described as “Power yoga.” Check out some of the seemingly impossible poses in the video below.
If you’ve been practicing for a decent amount of time, you’ve no doubt had exposure to Vinyasa. This style tends to link breath with movement, emphasizes flowing from one asana to the next, and is heavy on Sun Salutations. Individual instructors will design classes based on their own creative intuition and there’s a good balance between strength and stretch.
This style’s for the hardcore. Be prepared to spend multiple minutes in the same pose as you strive for perfect alignment. Students of this school go through a meticulous and rigorous exploration of each asana to get it just right. Iyengar teachers will also encourage the use of props such as blocks, straps, or blankets to make sure your body isn’t out of whack.
Not to be confused with generic hot yoga (which can take on many styles), Bikram is a specific set of 26 poses performed in a 95 to 100 degree room with a carpeted floor for 90 minutes. Sound specific? It’s meant to be that way. Founder Bikram Choudhury is very particular when it comes to his school, so much so that he won’t allow anyone to use the Bikram name unless they follow his precise rules. Its huge popularity is due to the heat’s effects on loosening the muscles and detoxifying the system.
If you want a class that leaves you feeling blissful, try Anusara. This feel-good style emphasizes a positive philosophy derived from tantric principles. At its core is the belief that all beings have intrinsic goodness that can be brought out through the art of yoga. It includes many heart-opening poses and is open to all levels.
Then there’s Kripalu, which is a holistic practice concerned with purification, discipline, and nature. Don’t forget Jivamukti, which is heavy on chanting, meditation, and spiritual teachings. And there’s Sivananda, Forrest, Kundalini, Moksha, Integral—the list goes on and on!
Finding the style that's right for you is simply a matter of personal preference. Ask yourself what you desire from your practice. If you want to sweat like crazy and really get in shape, Power, Bikram, or Ashtanga are probably the right choice. If you want to relax and calm your mind, try a Hatha or Anusara class. Or if you desire to delve into the spiritual element of yoga, deepening your understanding of the Kundalini or Jivamukti schools could be the way to go.
Even though much is made of these distinctions, it’s important to realize that most studios draw from several different styles in order to offer their students a holistic approach to the practice. There are definitely studios dedicated to one school or another, but in general, yoga studios are vibrantly diverse. By the same token, most practitioners explore all different kinds, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Personally, I suppose I’m a vinyasa girl. I like the creativity, the flow, and the element of pranayama. But I also love throwing in the occasional Ashtanga pose, chanting, and despite my initial experience, I even enjoy a challenging hot class every now and again.