Yoga is an ancient and complex practice that goes a lot deeper than many people realize. In fact, many of the styles that are widely practiced in the West are vastly different from the more traditional forms that you’re likely to encounter in India. While this might make an already complicated system seem more intimidating, this variety of forms brings with it a significant benefit: options.
Simply put, there’s a yoga style for everybody. In reality, there are more styles than we can possibly cover here but we’re going to take a look at the six most common forms to help you decide which is best for you.
Before we get into the styles, there are other factors you’ll want to consider when selecting a yoga class. Essentially, you want to find a class – and instructor – that makes you feel comfortable and will help to keep you motivated. As you will hear very often, yoga is a practice and requires regular, consistent effort. If you don’t like or respect your instructor, you likely won’t attend classes with any regularity.
Similarly, the classes should be scheduled at a time that you will be able to get there and stay focused. Most people find that performing their yoga – or any exercise – first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day.
Again, this is not a comprehensive list. These are simply the most common styles that you are likely to see advertized in the West. They vary not only in difficulty but also in purpose and overall approach to the practice.
Vinyasa – The most common form of yoga practiced in America, vinyasa is a physically demanding practice that is choreographed to flow smoothly from one pose to another. Unlike some other forms that we’ll consider, vinyasa does not follow a set sequence of poses and therefore gives plenty of variety. A prime example of this is ashtanga yoga which is similiarly demanding but uses the same poses in the same order each time.
Bikram – Founded by Bikram Choudhury, this style of yoga is practiced in artificially heated rooms designed to make you sweat. Bikram yoga also follows a specific sequence of poses each class. You may find classes labeled as “hot yoga,” as well. These are held in a similar environment as Bikram yoga but do not use the same set of poses.
Hatha – Technically speaking, the term “hatha” refers to just the physical poses of yoga – with a diminished emphasis on the breathing and meditative aspects. In the West, though, hatha has become a sort of generic term for a physically-oriented class that is designed to give students a basic introduction to the yoga poses.
Iyengar – Perfect for new students or those recovering from an injury, Iyengar yoga uses a host of props to support your body and make sure that your poses are absolutely flawless. Instructors of this style are required to undergo extremely comprehensive training and are extremely well-educated.
Kundalini – With a strong focus on the meditative portion of yogi, kundalini tends to have a greater emphasis on breathing and chanting then other forms of yogi with the goal of activating the root chakra – or center of spiritual energy located at the base of your spine.
Jivamukti – Incorporating the flow nature of vinyasa with meditative chants and breathing exercises, Jivamukti is both mentally and physically challenging. Jivamukti instructors also encourage a vegetarian lifestyle.