By Sam Maracic
Whether you’re remotely intrigued by the notion of taking up yoga or a fan of the couple of classes you’ve tried, it’s never too late to learn more about this practice or the various styles it includes. From hot and sweaty to meditative and spiritual, the great thing about yoga is that it offers something for everyone. However, for those unfamiliar with its many forms, the diverse range of class options can seem a bit overwhelming. To make things a little less confusing—and hopefully more approachable—here is a breakdown of just a few of the common class types you may find.
Ashtanga is a rigorous and ordered yoga system that focuses on integrating physical movement and the breath to both create heat and detoxify the body. Within this style there are six dynamic and established pose sequences that students follow as they progress within their practice. In Mysore (a subset of the Ashtanga tradition) students are free to flow through the sequences at their own pace without the ongoing verbal cues of a teacher. This can be more challenging for yogis new to Ashtanga. For more on Ashtanga and Mysore, check out this interview with well known teacher, Tim Miller.
Founded by controversial yogi Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga has gained a massive following for its hot and sweaty flow. Practiced in rooms heated to nearly 105 degrees, each class within this system includes the same series of 26 poses. If you’re someone who likes to know what is coming next or simply enjoy feeling the heat as you move, this may be a class worth trying.
As described by Yoga Journal, the term Hatha “simply refers to the practice of physical yoga postures,” which means that many styles in the West, including most of the ones on this list, are technically considered types of Hatha Yoga. So what does it mean if you see a Hatha Yoga class being offered at your local studio? Well, the term itself is often described to mean the yoga of balance, translating as ha for “sun” and tha for “moon.” Therefore, you can look at this system as a path for aligning the mind, body and spirit. These are the fundamentals of yoga, making Hatha a great class option for yogis of all levels, especially beginners.
Although Bikram is often considered the most common type of hot yoga, heat-infused classes have certainly expanded to include other styles. For instance, a Hot Vinyasa Flow will certainly make you sweat, but without the specific sequencing native to Bikram. In this way, “hot” can be considered more of a descriptor than an actual system of yoga.
If you’re the detail-oriented type, this style of Hatha Yoga is most certainly for you. With an emphasis on correct alignment of the body in each pose, Iyengar promotes the use of props such as blocks, blankets and straps. Its precise nature is great for keeping students safe as they progress through poses in a way that works for their individual needs. Within this practice, hands-on adjustments are common.
Often referred to as the “Yoga of Awareness,” Kundalini is a deeply therapeutic and meditative style of yoga. Translated to mean “a spiritual energy or life force located at the base of the spine,” the practice of Kundalini is compared to the uncoiling of a snake, awakened as you move the energy up and through to the crown of the head. In addition to a beginning chant, Kundalini classes often incorporate extensive breath-work, poses that engage the naval, the application of yogic locks of energy (also known as bandhas) and mantra meditation. Another fun fact: If you’ve ever walked past a studio filled with yogis in white, chances are what you were seeing was Kundalini. Traditional Kundalini students practice in all white attire to signify expansion. (However, they will not turn you away if you show up in something else.) Think Kundalini is for you? Well, if you’re not afraid to dig deep, engage the breath, do some chanting and maybe shed a tear, this celebrated and transformative practice is definitely worth the try!
Similar to Yin Yoga (which we will touch on later), Restorative Yoga seeks to quiet the mind and relax the body. However, what sets Restorative Yoga apart is its emphasis on rest. This mellow practice is ideal for anyone who wants to slow down, be it a busy mom or a professional athlete. It is not rigorous and typically only covers about six postures, though sometimes even less. These poses may include anything from a comfortable hip-opener to a gentle spinal twist. In addition to promoting better sleep, Restorative Yoga is helpful for individuals who are feeling anxious or uneasy. Because this style often utilizes props, many of its roots can be traced to the Iyengar tradition.
As another umbrella term, the word “Vinyasa” is used within classes to describe a sequence of poses. Translating to mean “arranging something in a special way” Vinyasa refers to the flow of the body from one pose to the next. Therefore, many styles (including Ashtanga) can be considered a form of Vinyasa. As one of the most popular class types in the United States, Vinyasa is typically vigorous, flowy and heart pumping. These classes do not follow a specific series or sequence and are approachable for practitioners eager to move.
With a focus on long positional holds, Yin Yoga is more of a passive system than some of the other styles. A majority of the class is often spent on the floor, and requires students to relax for extended periods of time into each posture. In allowing both the mind and body to slow down, Yin Yoga focuses on a meditative approach to connecting with the body more deeply. This tends to produce an incredibly cathartic release for yogis on both a physical and emotional level. For more information on the history and benefits of Yin, check out this piece by Hope Zvara.
While each class type has something significant and unique to offer, do not feel that because “you’re a beginner” or “not that spiritual” that a specific style won’t be for you. Yoga is meant to be communal and inclusive! Plus, constantly switching up your regimen is a great way to work the mind, body and soul in fun and diverse ways.