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Types of yoga: from easy Yin to sweaty Bikram

London yoga teacher practicing Ashtanga on lilah yoga mat

In the previous blog post, we took a quick trip through timeline of yoga to identify some of the origins of yoga. We learned that yoga did not start out as a physical practice. Instead, it was an oral philosophy that was taught in the Vedic religious rituals in India

Related article: History of Yoga - Timeline

We also learned that out of this foundation grew several schools of thought. Yoga moved from an unorganized, confusing, and often contradictory message to a structured and documented guidance toward self-knowledge and enlightenment. As things changed overtime, more thought was brought into this narrow view of achieving said enlightenment. This view broadened as the physical body (through movement and breath - Hatha Yoga) was thought of as a key component toward that achievement. These traditions carried forward into more structure and more organization; the result - different types of yoga. These styles incorporated breath work, movement to cleanse and purify the Mind, and rituals that keep the philosophy connected to its roots all with the foresight of bringing the individual practitioner closer to a greater sense of self and connection to the Divine.

In this article we will take a look at few styles of yoga that come out of these traditions. If we were to place the various popular styles of yoga on a scale ranking them from easiest to hardest, this is the order in which these schools of thought and practice can be placed. As you read through these styles, you will see how they relate to the origins and ancient traditions of the practice. Further, you can begin to note whether or not the practice fits your individual needs.

TAKE IT EASY

Pranayama

We begin with Pranayama breathing. Pranayama literally means breath control. We start here because in most styles of yoga practice, breath is the foundation. Whether you are sitting to meditate or attending a hot yoga class, breath is the basis of the yoga practice. Pranayama is not only an action that you perform - breathing - but you may find classes devoted entirely to this exercise.

Breathing may seem arbitrary, it's something that we do without thinking, but breathing is very important, especially in yoga

When one consciously breathes, that is, pays attention to the automatic mechanism of breathing, the yoga practitioner brings a greater sense of presence and awareness to the entire being. Let's go back to the yoga history lesson for a moment.

Remember Tantra Yoga? The yogis of the Classical Era claimed that the body was essential to living a yogic lifestyle. The human existence is fully related and connected to the non-physical realm, they also claimed. But in order to be in balance with the spiritual and ethereal world, one must cleanse and purify the physical body first. The breath and performing certain breathing exercises denotes the action humans need to take to purify and cleanse.

Breath is the essence of life, right? Well, that's exactly what the word "Pranayama" implies. The first part of the word, 'prana,' refers to the life force, or the energy that gives us life. The second part of the word, 'ayama,' refers to the action that we give that energy. Since breath is our life force, we can bring many actions to the breath: hold it, slow it down, speed it up, etc. With the various actions or breath work exercises, it keeps the yogi fully connected and alert. Our Minds tend to wander most of the time, often thinking about the past or the future.

Yoga teacher doing pranayama breathing on the best yoga mat

Mindful breathing, like Pranayama breathing, keeps the person in the present moment. That is what we are trying to achieve with yoga

Further, breathing exercises also stimulate a healthier body overall. They improve our blood circulation for a healthy heart and lungs and helps to regulate conditions like stress and anxiety. Most everyone wants these things and can certainly be a benefit when one practices yoga.

Just know that breathing, Pranayama, is an essential part of the yoga practice

In a way, it can be the simplest yoga to practice. All you have to do is sit comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on taking slow deep breaths. That's it! That's Pranayama in Yoga. That IS yoga!

Restorative Yoga

This type of yoga practice is designed for the practicing yogi to fully relax their entire body in various reclining yoga poses. The purpose and intention is to reduce and release tension in the body by holding easy poses for long periods of time, 3 to 7 minutes on average. The body is supported with yoga props like blankets and bolsters to create a sense of ease and comfort throughout the body. As mentioned above, breath is the foundation of most yoga practices, and that includes Restorative Yoga. The breath work here, however, is gentle, slow, and easy; the action of the breath is complimentary to the style of yoga that is being practiced.

Needless to say, this is a type of yoga that everyone can practice and definitely needs, especially with our very busy lifestyles

You don't have to have any yoga experience to practice Restorative Yoga. Any and all levels of yogis are encouraged to attend a class like this. It may be a nice way to introduce someone new to yoga.

Yin Yoga

Much like Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga is a yoga practice that is mostly done in a reclined or sitting position. Again, yoga poses are held for long periods of time, but the intention is slightly different.

Yogini on dark blue yoga mat in Restorative yoga class
Yin Yoga is considered a healing practice that focuses on the release of connective tissues, fascia, and ligaments. (These essentially are the fibers in the body that hold you together.) The body is overworked, strained, and prone to injury. These conditions bind up the physical body. It takes specific manipulative measures, like a Swedish Massage, for example, to release those tensions. A good image to use is taking a piece of plastic wrap and wad it up into a ball. When you place it on a table, the plastic wrap doesn't unravel on its own. It needs to be pulled apart manually. Our bodies need a similar type of treatment. Yin Yoga can help with these issues, since the yoga postures, of which you only practice 5 to 8 in a class, are designed to target connective tissues for healthy release.

Little yoga experience is necessary to practice this style. If you're an athlete, or experience general aches and pains or other types of soreness in the body, Yin Yoga is a great practice. Not only does the yogi open up physically, but there are also energetic shifts that can lead to a deeper healing and transformation.

Restorative and Yin Yoga are just few easy yoga practices which would be a great entryway into developing a fuller Yoga experience. Everyone can benefit from healthy Pranayama breathing and relaxing yoga postures to help heal the physical body.

LET'S START MOVING

Now that we have taken a look at some easy yoga practices that are ideal for the new yogi, let's continue our voyage and discover some practices that will get your body moving. In the tradition of yoga, you'll see that the following yoga styles continue to feature the foundations of the ancient texts.

Yoga was and still remains a lifestyle and philosophy that can bring people to a greater awareness of themselves and their connection to the Divine

Anusara Yoga

This style of yoga was born out of the Hatha Yoga traditions established by B.K.S Iyengar. It was redefined by John Friend in 1997 and focuses on alignment, muscle engagement, and breath as the practitioner moves from one pose to the other. As you may recall, Iyengar introduced an element of medicine and healing to this style of yoga. With breath and movement as the foundation, he encouraged yoga students to use the practice as a way for physical healing, thus the use of props to assist the yogi. You will see a similar approach in Anusara; the word actually means "flowing with grace," "follow your heart." It's connection to the early thoughts of yoga reminding the student that the physical practice of yoga, that is rooted in breath, is the foundation of life. More specifically, the Prana, or life force that resides in all things, is the source that binds us all together.

Anusara is a yoga practice that is open to all levels and abilities. Since part of its focus is on strengthening and healing, it will prove to be beneficial to yogis who are looking to improve and/or enhance parts of themselves like flexibility, balance, and feeling grounded and centered.

London yoga teacher on alignment yoga mat doing anusara

Power Yoga

This type of practice will focus on the movement of the body, alignment, breath, stability, strength, mobility, and flexibility. When we think of yoga, these are some of the things that come to mind as benefits of yoga practice. Power Yoga highlights those features. Power Yoga is a relatively new style of yoga. It was introduced in the early 1980's by Bryan Kest and later branded in the 1990's by Baron Baptiste. It is sometimes called "gym yoga"; it was a way to introduce yoga to the health and fitness enthusiast who wanted a "workout" in their yoga practice, but still benefiting from the philosophical intentions of yoga. In some cases, Power Yoga classes are heated to raise the intensity of the practice, but that isn't always the rule. Studios that may not feature a hot studio, rely on the yoga poses and movement to heat up the internal and external body. In either case, the warmth of the body can assist the mobility and flexibility of the yogi as they practice.

Power Yoga actually derives from Ashtanga Yoga and Bikram Yoga (both described later), but is listed here as a Hatha Yoga practice that would be suitable for a beginner or intermediate practitioner. Unlike its predecessors, Power Yoga is not a series of set poses. These classes may be different every time; perhaps focusing on specific body parts much like working with weights in the gym. In one class you may perform poses that bring more strength and mobility in your shoulders while in the next class the flexibility of the hamstrings will be the focus. If you're looking for a little intensity and variety, Power Yoga may be a good class for you to attend. Beginners to advanced level yogis are welcomed in these classes. If you're needing some help in a Power Yoga class, a good yoga instructor will offer variations and modifications of yoga poses that will fit your yoga-level. 

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

If you're looking for a good yoga-workout, Power Yoga is a good choice, but it is important to remember that it's origin is in a more classical style of practice: Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This modality of yoga features a vinyasa style that caters to developing strength, flexibility, and stamina. Vinyasa simply means 'flow;' practitioners will fluidly move from one pose to the other in some parts of Ashtanga Yoga.

The poses in Ashtanga can also be quite challenging. It requires a lot of practice in order to "master" the poses in this style

This can be achieved because when you attend an Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga class, it will be the same every time. There are a set of poses that are practiced in a particular order so that the body becomes accustomed to each one over time. The practice begins with the Primary Series. As you advance, you'll move through the various series, each one more challenging than the last.

 

Yoga teacher practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa on the best yoga mat for intensive yoga
If you recall, Ashtanga, which means 'eight limbs,' was developed by one of the early pioneers of yoga, Pattabhi Jois, in the Modern Era of Yoga. The intention of bringing this type of intensity and challenge to the practice honors the Tantra tradition of cleansing and healing the body. Part of the Tantra philosophy is to raise the energies in the body, through Pranayama exercises and body movements, to achieve deep awareness, alignment, and connection to the non-physical realm. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga touches on all these factors.

This is a progressive yoga practice and sometimes thought of as a type of yoga therapy

It's probably best designed for a yogi that has been practicing other styles of yoga for a while and wants to deepen their practice.

These three styles of yoga highlight the physical aspect of the practice. This is what you expect to experience when you step into a yoga studio: moving bodies putting themselves into various poses. But each school of thought and each style and brand of yoga has a deeper intention that goes beyond the physical. Whatever style you practice, whether it be Pranayama or Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, you will be dealing with the basic elements: the breath, the body, and the mind. The combination and merging of these elements, in whatever form, all lead to a similar goal: awareness and enlightenment.

The best yoga mats for the intensive yoga styles: PUrfect and MiFLow

LET'S HEAT IT UP 

Till here we have explored some of the popular styles of yoga that are currently practiced in yoga studios today. We've taken a look at softer practices like Pranayama and Restorative Yoga and got the body moving in Power Yoga and Ashtanga. Let's continue our list with two other, yet similar styles of yoga.

Hot Yoga

A very popular brand of yoga today is Hot Yoga. You can probably travel to most major cities and find studios with Hot Yoga on their class listings. And it's quite apparent what the main feature of this type of yoga is: heat! It was mentioned earlier that some Power Yoga classes will be hot. That is, the temperature has been raised to bring another level of intensity to the practitioner. Heat can also aid with flexibility and mobility for the practicing yogi. A Hot Yoga class can be +32 deg C / 90 deg F (or hotter). It carries the trend and popularity of having a "workout component" in your "gym yoga" practice. The poses practiced in Hot Yoga can vary from class to class. There is no standard or set of poses that are practiced. Instead, the yoga instructor can be creative and devise yoga sequences from the available thousands of postures.

Some common themes you will encounter in a Hot Yoga class are breath, the movement of the body through vinyasa flow sequences, holding yoga postures for muscle lengthening, healing, and strengthening, and the deep connection to the whole self as the yogi practices

Bikram Yoga

Hot Yoga is certainly an ongoing trend of practice, but it, too, has an origin. There is another style of yoga that features a hot room for practice that is called Bikram Yoga. Named and branded after Bikram Chourdhury, this modality combines traditional yoga poses with breath in a heated studio. The temperature in a Bikram class can range from +40.5 deg C (105 deg F) with 40% humidity. The added heat is to challenge the yogi: it generates discipline, stamina, endurance, and dedication.

Hot Yoga classes gave teachers the creativity to design their own classes. Bikram Yoga, however, resembles the classical style of yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, in that it features 26 specific poses that are practiced

Depending on the length of the class, these 26 poses may be repeated two or three times. So, when you attend Bikram Yoga, it will always be the same. One can watch their personal growth, development, and transformation as they return consistently to this style of yoga.

The best yoga mats for hot yoga: MiFLow and GO SPirit    Related link: Bikram Yoga

These hot yoga classes, may not be best for the beginner yogi; they can be intense and may require an introduction into other styles before diving head-first into this style. An intermediate or advanced level yoga student who can withstand the heat is a good candidate for the practice.

As you're now wiping the sweat from your brow after reading about different styles of yoga, we can take a seat and review our yoga history lesson.

Related article: History of yoga

This yoga journey was intended to give you some insight into the origins of this philosophy and see how it has advanced and grown over time. Yoga has a very rich history and it is quite obvious that it is not just a trendy exercise, but a lifestyle that has many benefits all rooted in ancient traditions, rituals, and beliefs. These elements continue to show up in the styles we have discussed here and the many other styles that were not listed. What we have touched on, though, are the more popular styles of today. You can most likely find one or more of these styles of yoga in your own town.

Whatever your intention or goal, whether it's to gain more strength in your body or clarity in your mind, there is a yoga practice designed for you

JaiGurudev

2 Responses

Gabie

Gabie

August 22, 2019

Wow, what an incredible article! Loved the pictures too! Namaste

Genoveva

Genoveva

August 13, 2019

Great article, very useful information. Thank you 🙏.

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