It's a jungle out there ! So many styles of yoga with some of them standing the test of time and proving extremely popular even after decades of being founded. Here is my take on 5 styles that I have researched and in most cases tried myself.
IYENGAR : named after its founder BKS Iyengar , this style is great if you love alignment and it was a great starting point for my practice as it kept me safe AND inspired at the same time. The poses are set up in a specific way with the use of props where necessary and in a typical Iyengar class you will find rigorous adjustments and meticulous cues. Yoga is seen as a therapeutic tool to be used to improve body and mind.
The book "Light on Yoga" is seen as one of the bibles of modern yoga. I also really enjoyed the "Tree of Yoga" which is written by Iyengar in first person and shines a light into the life of this remarkable teacher.
What I find is missing most from the Iyengar style is the soft flows you encounter in other styles.
RIGHT FOR YOU? If you want a slow style that is focused on perfecting your poses in a safe way this is a great point to start from.
ASHTANGA : the name of this style means 8 limbs and it is based on the sutras of Patanjali , one of the fundamental yoga texts. Ahstanga yoga was codified and popularised by K. Pattabhi Jois and is one of the most popular styles to date. The student is taken through different "series" of postures which remain the same for each series and increase in difficulty according to the series starting from series 1. Great emphasis is given to mantra, chanting , pranayama and meditation and the student is encouraged to cultivate self-practice. Ashtanga yoga develops great fitness and great flexibility quickly due to the rigorous and flow-based series of postures which encourages the creation of heat in the body.
This style is repetitive and can put strain on some of the key joints such as wrists and hips, it also encourages the students to push their boundaries ( not always in a safe way) and may not be best indicated for those with a low level of fitness.Some Ashtanga teachers believe in very physical adjustments that could potentially lead to injury.
RIGHT FOR YOU? If you are looking for a style that will help you monitor progress through time and help you develop your fitness and flexibility quickly this style is for you but you will need to commit to a regular practice and be prepared to sweat and pant !
KUNDALINI : a powerful and transformative style of yoga which uses Kryias to support you through your life challenges. Several versions of Kundalini have existed prior to the most commonly known version of this style popularised in the late 60's by Yogi Bhajan. This style is based on the ancient tantric texts including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Shiva Samhita. Yogi Bhajan combined traditional dynamic yoga moves with mantras and created a series of sequences to deal with common ailments and life issues . These sequences are known as kriyas and they are performed in conjunction with breathing techniques for a set number of minutes. I like to compare Kundalini yoga to what we know today as the high intensity training of yoga. Kundalini yoga encourages you to work on experiencing God within yourself so that you can become a positive influence in the community you live in.
This style can be very transformative very quickly and I like to think that is partly due to how the breath is used, I have personally had a strange but positive experience when practising Kundalini yoga however this style can be a little bit too esotheric for people who are looking to use yoga as mainly a form of exercise.
RIGHT FOR YOU ? If you want to try something different and possibly have a more profound yogic experience this style is for you. Often practised in conjunction with mantra chanting it can be a very refreshing and positive experience. Your biggest challenge is to find a teacher specialised in Kundalini yoga but there's always the internet if you fancy having a go.
YIN YOGA: wow ! many people find yin is truly what they were looking for in Yoga , the doorway to distress and consciously relax. Yin yoga came about in the 70s with a guy called Paul Zink ( such an awesome teacher!) inspired by Daoist and Chinese philosophy and medicine but it was popularised by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers and more recently by the excellent Bernie Clark . The key component of this style is STILLNESS. Poses are held for a few minutes and they are all mainly grounding poses. The main effects of this style of yoga are to be found on the fascia tissue and on the mind ! It is a very quiet practice , a cold practice that teaches us how to be with our body and our mind and learning more about them. This style is not for everyone, people who like flow in their practice or that are attracted to the more physical aspects of yoga will find this style difficult. This style is often confused with Restorative yoga where extra gentle poses are held for long with the help of soft and supportive props, think Savasana but in different positions.
RIGHT FOR YOU? if you like down-time and have a very busy life this could be your go to oasis of peace. Great if you are wanting to work on stretching more than just your muscles or as a regular complement to a more physically demanding practice.
BIKRAM (and Hot Yoga) : many people ask me about Bikram yoga so here are a couple of things you may want to know about this style and its close relative Hot Yoga.
Bikram yoga is named after its founder ( Bikram Choudry) , the school was founded in India in the 1970s .
Here is the gossip : Bikram himself is currently in hiding from the American justice system which is pursuing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse . Bikram Yoga has also recently filed for bankruptcy due to the heavy legal bills that have followed the recent scandal.
Now for the yoga: 26 postures make up the Bikram sequence which is practised in a heated room at 34-42 C with 40% humidity . This is the official benefits as described on the Bikram website :"Bikram Yoga’s twenty-six posture exercises systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to one hundred percent of your body, to each organ and fiber, restoring all systems to healthy working order, just as nature intended. Proper weight, muscle tone, vibrant good health, and a sense of well being will automatically follow."
Hot yoga can refer to any yoga class done in a heated room. The room is usually maintained at a temperature of 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit. Most often, hot yoga tends to be a flowing, vinyasa style of practice in which the teacher instructs a series of linked poses.
I have never personally practiced Bikram or hot yoga as it is in conflict with my ayurvedic consitution ( I am a Pitta - Kappha) but I know several people who do and love it !
There are three major risks you may want to consider if you are thinking of trying Bikram or hot yoga: 1) risk of injury is higher as the muscles may seem more supple you may decide to go deeper and tear or damage connective tissues and/or muscles. 2) Heat -stroke : exercising in the heat increases perspiration and the risk of dehydration and 3) Infections : the hot and humid setting creates the perfect environment for the breeding of germs and fungi so bring your own mat and towel and avoid if you are already unwell.DO NOT PRACTICE ANY FORM OF HOT YOGA DURING PREGNANCY
RIGHT FOR YOU ? If you like cardio and getting very sweaty and you are not scared of sharing germs with others then this might be the one for you.
It is not always possible to find classes that are representative of just one style and a lot of classes out there ( including mine) are advertised as HATHA YOGA . Hatha yoga aims to bring balance to body and mind through the use of breath and it's a great way to manage different abilities in the same class. In a typical Hatha yoga class the teacher will lead the class through one or more peak poses. Typically there is an initial meditation / quiet time followed by limbering , standing postures , seated postures , cool down and final relaxation. Most classes will have at least one of the following : a forward bend , a back bend, a side bend , a balance, a twist and an inversion.
If you enjoyed this post and you would like to experience elements of these styles think about joining Cherry Yoga's evening group classes in January when we will be taking a look at these and other popular styles including Kundalini, Jivamukti and Vinyasa flow . Book your mat on my website https://www.cherryyoga.co.uk/class-schedule .
Love and light