This weekend I was on a spin bike with a friend visiting me in Nicaragua and she asked me to explain the difference between all these different types of yoga. Many people may be from smaller areas where there is only one yoga class in town but some people head to the gym and look at a schedule covered in different types or are trying to find a good deal on Groupon but have no idea what they are getting themselves into.
When you are just getting into yoga it is hard to know what class to try out. My recommendation is to try as many as possible so that you can find the one that suits you right. There are so many different styles and teachers, it’s important not to go to one class you may not like and completely give up. This brief guide will help you understand the differences between five common styles, so you know what you are getting yourself into before you walk into class.
Ashtanga is based on ancient yoga teachings and was brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It’s a rigorous style of yoga which follows a specific sequence of postures, and links every movement to a breath. You may also hear the terms vinyasa or power yoga which are both similar to ashtanga. The main difference being ashtanga always performs the exact same poses in the exact same order; while vinyasagives instructors the ability to put their own spin on it, making every class unique and different instead of sticking to the same sequence every time. This is a hot, sweaty, physically demanding practice.
2. Bikram/Hot Yoga
Approximately 30 years ago, Bikram Choudhury developed this school of yoga where classes are held in artificially heated rooms. In a Bikram class, you will work your way through a series of 26 poses that are always taught in the same sequence. Bikram trademarked his sequence but other teachers wanted to create their own, so it has to be called Hot Yoga instead of Bikram. You will sweat a ton in these classes and leave drenched.
Hatha yoga is a generic term referring to any type of yoga which teaches physical postures. Nearly every type of yoga class taught in the West is hatha yoga. When a class is marketed as hatha, it generally means you will get a gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures. You probably won’t work up a sweat in a hatha yoga class, but you should end up leaving class feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed.
Iyengar is a very meticulous style of yoga which pays attention to finding the proper alignment in a pose. In order to help each student find the proper alignment, an Iyengar studio will stock a wide array of yoga props — blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, bolsters, and a rope wall are all common. Poses are held for a longer amount of time trying to find and hold the perfect alignment. You will be amazed to discover how physically and mentally challenging it is to stay put. Iyengar teachers undergo comprehensive training so if you have an injury or chronic condition, Iyengar is probably your best choice to ensure you get the knowledgeable instruction you need. Many styles of yoga training do not go over injuries at all, so if you have an injury, ask your teacher in advance to be sure you are trying a style that is not Iyengar.
Restorative yoga is a wonderful way to relax your body and soothe your mind. Restorative classes use blankets, bolsters and blocks to prop students in passive stretches so that the body can experience the benefits of a pose without having to exert any effort. A good restorative class is more rejuvenating than a nap!
*So what type of yoga is the best? Well…there is no perfect answer to that. What type of yoga should YOU do? You guessed it…there is no perfect answer to that either! Honestly the type you tend to shy away from is most likely the one you need. If you are a bit of a couch potato and like to rest you will probably be drawn to the restorative class where you get to lay around, propped up by pillows, being completely supported in every stretch; however, what you really need is more of an ashtanga class to get your body moving and work up a little sweat. If you are a type A personality who loves to sweat you are probably going to be drawn towards the hot yoga; however, what you actually need is the restorative class to help you slow down mentally and physically. Once you find a style you enjoy make sure you try out some different teachers too. Ultimately all yoga is good for you so you should just go to the one you enjoy and will attend the most often.