Words and Images by Helen Watkins
Since becoming a Yoga teacher, I get asked often how to differentiate the different types of yoga. It’s totally fair to be a little confused between all of them, and I will try in this article to give you an idea of what to expect, and what style is suited to who.
I will not list all of the styles of yoga you can find in world, as they are way too many, but I will try to give you a clear idea of the most common ones you can find the west. Bear in mind, that all teachers will have their own styles and therefore each yoga class you experiment might be slightly different: keep an open mind and open heart, as you navigate to try to find your yoga and your teachers!
Hatha yoga is a general term defining a type of yoga with physical poses. In the west, typically it is a slow style of yoga, not the type where you will sweat. Although a Hatha class is not necessarily for beginners, it is often recommended to people new to yoga because the slow pace will give students the opportunity to understand the poses better and feel their benefits. In a Hatha class, expect practicing standing poses as well as floor poses and holding them for several breaths.
Usually, a quick paced practice where you would traditionally move to the rhythm of your breath in a fluid manner. In Vinyasa, the poses are linked similarly as in a choreographed dance, and the whole class flows from pose to pose. Vinyasa is a very creative style, expect to work through a new flow every time. Regarding difficulty, it can totally vary. Vinyasa is a style of yoga that does require strength and can be very challenging. However, it can also absolutely be adapted for beginners. Sometimes, you will see the term “power yoga”, that also refers to Vinyasa, but a very quick pace style, closer to a fitness type of class. In most Vinyasa classes, the teacher will suggest different variations of the same pose, so each student can practice to the right intensity for their body.
An intense practice that not only involves poses but also breathwork, meditation and chanting. Although all of these things might be involved in other yoga classes, in kundalini it is very much at the core of the practice. This style of yoga is very different than the other dynamic practices you will find in the west. Most of the movements in Kundalini are repeated several times, to bring intensity and momentum. It is the perfect class for you if you like high energy practices, are interested in spirituality or want to try something different.
A very rigorous practice that make you work intensively through strength and flexibility. There are six set sequences in total. The first series takes about 1 hour and half to go through and is very challenging. You begin the practice by five Sun Salutation A and five Sun Salutation B, at a very quick pace. You then move on to the standing poses, and finish the practice with the floor poses. This practice is ideal for people who want to push their practice further and also people that love receiving adjustments. It is traditional in ashtanga to have the teacher performing strong adjustments (sometimes by literally lying on top of you!). If you see in some studios the term “Mysore”, it refers to an early morning ashtanga practice where the students are expected to know the series. In Mysore classes, all students can work at their levels while the teacher goes around helping and adjusting.
This practice focuses on alignment. Expect a very precise method and a lot of props: chairs, bolsters, blocks, blankets, straps etc. The poses are normally held for a long time while keeping the perfect alignment, therefore it can be physically challenging but also accessible. This practice is ideal for people with injuries, as you work with props and learn a lot about the correct body placement (so you can prevent injury in the future!). But this practice can be beneficial to all, from beginner to advanced yogis, who are interested in understanding each pose better.
This practice is ideal for people who love a good sweat! Bikram is a set sequence of 26 poses practiced in a 42°c heated room. Basically, yoga in a sauna. The heat can be very hard to adjust to at first, but once your body adapts, it feels like a full detox afterwards. This style is dynamic and intense, expect to feel as if you did a full body workout, all with sweat in your eyes.
Jivamukti can be described as a more spiritual dynamic vinyasa. Expect a dynamic practice which also includes chants, pranayama and meditation. The class usually begins with some traditional warmup sequences from the Jivamukti tradition. This style is ideal for people who are both interested in a more spiritual practice, and a strong physical practice.
A non-dynamic practice, open to all. In Yin you hold poses for a long time. The practice is mostly made of floor poses, as you need to relax the body fully. Yin is the opposite of the dynamic practices (or yang practices). You work on your flexibility and the flow of energy through relaxing the body and you use gravity and breath to go deeper. This practice is challenging, as holding poses for a long time can feel intense, but it is one that will make you feel very relaxed afterwards. It’s a great style to practice to improve flexibility, if you are stressed, or if you suffer from insomnia.
A non-dynamic practice as well, where you use a lot of props to set the body up in positions where you feel most at ease. We hold tension in our bodies, and through this gentle practice, you will be able to release and relax. In Restorative classes, you might hold some poses for 10 minutes, as the objective is to let the body fully relax. A practice for all, when you need a quiet peaceful place to be.
DISCLAIMER: As with all new activities, some of these styles may be contraindicated with certain conditions, injuries, or life stages (i.e pregnancy) always seek the advice of a qualified professional before beginning something new.
Helen is a performer and a Yoga teacher. She teaches Vinyasa Flow, Yin, and Meditation in Paris. Her classes are catered for busy city lifestyle people who need to reconnect with themselves in movement as well as in stillness. She regularly leads workshops and retreats, find more about her work at www.helenwatkins.yoga and follow her yogic journey on instagram @LnWatkins