What Is the Best Type of Yoga for Me?
Yoga is a popular philosophy that cultivates unity between the body, mind, and spirit. Originally from India, Yoga has made its way all over the world. Traditionally a student would have studied with just one master teacher. This teacher would understand his or her students’ needs and prescribe appropriate practices. In the modern world, however, studying individually with a master teacher is not always possible – or practical. Thankfully, contemporary Yogis are blessed with a variety of styles and teachers from which to choose.
Hatha means “Sun – Moon.” It is intended to help practitioners balance action with stillness, effort with ease, and the masculine and feminine polarities within the human body. Nearly all physical Yoga is actually Hatha Yoga that has been interpreted and codified by different teachers. Typically, Hatha Yoga classes focus on safe alignment, Asanas (postures or “seats”) to increase strength and mobility, deep breathing, and subtle energetic practices such as Pranayama (breath control) and Bandha (energetic seals). Because of the focus on correct alignment and working at one’s level, these classes tend to be accessible for all levels of students who want a precise, safe, and holistic approach to the practice. Beginner’s especially benefit from taking a few Hatha class before the flowing classes.
B. K. S. Iyengar established this form of Hatha Yoga in the 1970s. It focuses on precise alignment and specificity. Iyengar teachers often use a variety of props such as straps and blocks, and detailed instruction to ensure each pose is practiced correctly and efficiently. These classes tend to move slowly, with a great deal of verbal, demonstrative, and hands-on instruction for each pose. They are great for beginners and advanced students looking to deeply understand proper alignment. They are also helpful for elderly or injured students, as well as students with a therapeutic needs or specific ailments. They are not for people just seeking a workout or a flow. As Iyengar teachers must study for a minimum of two years, and many study for a decade or more, they usually work from a depth of knowledge that exceeds some other styles.
Codified by Sri Pattabhi Jois, Astanga Yoga is a style exemplified by a systemic, regimented approach to the practice. There are three main sequences that are rigorously followed by practitioners. Students traditionally learn the sequences by attending early-morning “Mysore” classes, where a group of students are each practicing at their individual pace. The teacher will instruct new students as needed, and give guidance and subsequent poses to continuing students as their practices develop. Astanga Yoga is best for healthy, fit individuals who already understand how to practice many Yoga poses safely, and want a vigorous and repetitive practice.
Vinyasa simply means movement that is coordinated with breath. These classes are based on Hatha Yoga, but move faster with connected sequences that are designed to build internal heat. They are also sometimes called Power Yoga. There may be some alignment instruction within the flow, depending on the instructor. Vinyasa classes are usually best for reasonably fit people with no injuries who want a mindful workout.
Restorative Yoga balances the internal environment by pacifying the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System – the “flight or fight” response) and awakening the PSNS (Para-Sympathetic Nervous System, the “rest and relax” response). Restorative Yoga classes consist of passive, fully supported, comfortable poses that are held from 2 to 20 minutes. These poses reduce stress levels, can help one recover from illness or injury, and reduce the likelihood of developing stress-related diseases and obesity. They are a relaxing complement to active practices that is suitable for any person of any skill level or body type.
Based on the Chinese Meridian system, Yin Yoga consists of passive poses that are held for 3 to 5 minutes. The poses are designed to activate certain lines of energy within the body that correspond to various organs and systems. Unlike Restorative Yoga, Yin poses are often mildly uncomfortable, as they are sometimes stretching connective tissue or using passive-resistance to open an area of the body. They are usually safe for most people, though sometimes modifications are needed if one has back or neck injuries. Yin Yoga is helpful for anyone who wants a more subtle class and/or needs to find stillness and inner quiet.
Bikram Choudry established this sequence of Vinyasa Yoga. It is usually practiced in extremely heated, carpeted rooms. The same 26 poses are practiced in every class, and every Bikram teacher is required to use the same verbal script for each class. These classes are best for fit beginners who want a repetitive workout. They are often helpful for recovering addicts and other people that need simple structure.
There are nearly as many types of Yoga as there are Yoga teachers. There is Yoga for Bikers, Yoga for Runners, Curvy Yoga, Hip-Hop Yoga, and Yogalates, just to name a few. Most studios have class descriptions on their websites, and teachers should be able to explain their classes if asked. The best style for you will be the one taught by a teacher that inspires you. Feeling safe, seen, encouraged, and motivated by a particular teacher is far more important than the name of the class.