For years before my first yoga class, I was one of those people who kept saying »nah, not for me« before ever even stepping on the mat. I just didn't see yoga as something I could be a part of---I wasn't always positive and cheerful and couldn't put my leg behind my head. I mean, how could I ever be a yogi if I'm not any of those things, right? (Joke, none of that matters.) Well, turns out, it only took me quite randomly moving to Morocco, working in a surf camp and ignoring yoga for another year to actually come to my first class.
But when I did...oh my. I guess you could call it love at first, erm, posture. I'm not sure how or why but I just knew I had to continue going. And I did. For the next year or so I was going to yoga almost every day at the surf camp I was working at but it wasn't really until I really got into it that I realized there were actually soooo many different kinds of yoga out there. Who knew? There was no Kundalini yoga or Ashtanga yoga or Bhakti yoga or Bikram yoga or any of that where I practiced. I just knew »yoga,« period.
Luckily, I had a few amazing teachers so all the types of yoga they taught resonated with me but I know my yoga story could have ended quite quickly had I gone to a yoga class that was something that I wasn't ready for or even interested in at the time. Which is why I think it's good to have a basic understanding of different types of yoga and choose the one that resonates with you the most.
Here a few of the most popular or wide-spread styles of yoga in the West:
If you've never been to a class before, this might be the way to start your yoga journey. It's a slower paced practice with few-breath long holds of postures so it's perfect to get to know the asanas and a little bit of philosophy behind the practice. In many studios, this is regarded as gentle yoga but in fact, hatha in Sanskrit means any physical practice of yoga, which means that all yoga styles are technically hatha yoga.
Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, this type of yoga primarily focuses on alignment and precise movement using different props (blankets, blocks, straps) that allow the student to get deeper into poses safely and holding them for a few breaths. If you're into details, anatomy, and movement, this is your jam.
It is a physically demanding style of yoga founded and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois that synchronizes breath and movement, with its ultimate goal being the purification of the body and the mind. There are five Ashtanga asana series and each student must master poses of the first series before moving onto the second one.
This style stems from Ashtanga but it's a bit less strict, meaning there are no set sequences so there's a bit more space for creativity. It's probably one of the most popular yoga styles around but I wouldn't recommend it to a complete beginner---get familiar with the poses first and how to execute them safely, then dive into this more dynamic style.
Did you know there's a coiled serpent living at the base of your spine? According to Kundalini Yoga, that's your energy, your life force, and Kundalini classes are all about releasing that energy so you can expect a lot of breathing exercises, invigorating postures, and core work. This kind of class is as physical as it is spiritual.
One sequence, 26 poses, two breathing techniques. Bikram Yoga is hot yoga practiced in a room heated to 35 – 42 degrees, where all the postures are repeated twice and the usual class is 90 minutes long. If you love to sweat and know what's coming as far as sequencing goes, this it the class for you.
In the majority of the yoga styles mentioned above, we work on the physical part of the practice, on our muscles and strength, whereas in Yin yoga we focus on stretching the connective tissue and fascia. Yin class consists of seated and supine (on your back) poses held for a longer period of time and is the perfect antidote to our fast-paced lives (and yoga classes).
Similar to Yin Yoga when it comes to longer holds of poses and using props but Restorative Yoga doesn't bring you to your edge and stretches your connective tissue, it focuses on complete relaxation and helps you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system.
Yoga Nidra, also known as yogic sleep, is a state of consciousness between sleeping and waking. In this kind of class, laying on the back in savasana or corpse pose, the student remains in a state of light withdrawal of the five senses (pratyahara) and only the hearing still connected to the instructions from the teacher. The goal of this practice is samadhi or meditative consciousness.
My yoga journey started with hatha and vinyasa yoga classes but the longer I practice and the crazier life gets, the more I enjoy yin classes and yoga nidra where my body (and my »monkey mind«) gets the chance to really slow down and come back to this present moment.
What's your favorite type of yoga class?