The ancient practice of yoga comes in many different forms with varying levels of mental and physical stimulation – anyone that says yoga is not for them has simply not found the right class yet! While it would be near impossible to feature every type known to mankind, we have summarised the most popular practices to set you on the right path.
Hot & Cold
Literally meaning ‘force’, Hatha is a term used to describe the general practice of physical yoga postures, and some of its oldest techniques date back as far as the 1st century. Traditionally, Hatha was used to prepare participants to meditate for long periods of time as it is designed to balance the body, mind and spirit. It combines the ancient practices of asanas (yoga poses) and pranayama (breathing exercises) in order to bring both physical and mental harmony. Given the broad meaning of the term, today it is used to describe most modern forms of yoga which are gentle and slow-paced. Modern hatha classes are generally focused on breathing exercises in between stretching poses that are not too strenuous, followed at the end by meditation. Hatha is easily accessible by anyone of any ability, and for this reason it is a good place to start for the yoga novice.
A more demanding and structured form of yoga, Ashtanga involves a set sequence of poses which participants must master. Popularised in the modern world by Indian yoga teacher and scholar Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, it was introduced to the West in the mid-20th century and is designed to build core strength and tone the body. More advanced yoga enthusiasts who are up for the challenge will have to follow a strict series of standing and seated poses combined with synchronised breathing techniques. The challenging nature of this form of yoga causes participants to sweat out the toxins in their skin and muscles, producing a detoxifying and purifying effect and enhancing circulation. Not only are there physical benefits to Ashtanga, it can also help to reduce stress and calm the mind just as more gentle forms of yoga do. Perhaps not for the newcomer to yoga, this forceful and demanding practice is more suited to those who want a more structured workout that will push them to grow both physically and mentally.
One of the most popular styles of modern yoga, Vinyasa is sometimes referred to as ‘flow’ due to the seamless way in which one pose leads into another. Featuring specific poses such as the downward facing dog and Chaturanga – more commonly known as the plank – this practice is a more free form version of the rigid structure of Ashtanga. It also focuses on synchronising movement with breathing techniques, but it features more dance-like movements linking one pose to another. Although Vinyasa uses the majority of the same poses as Ashtanga, it is more creative and doesn’t follow the same strict sequence. The combination of fast-paced movements linked with a continual flow results in increased strength, a reduction in stress and even improved sleep. The flowing nature of Vinyasa makes it a physical, mental and spiritual challenge that will enable participants to navigate life with more ease and focus. A step up from gentle Hatha but not as demanding as Ashtanga, this form of yoga is a middle ground for those who wish to take their practice up a level.
This lesser-known form of yoga is based on the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang – opposite principles in nature that complement each other. A much less physically demanding practice, Yin yoga is more meditative and targets the body’s deep connective tissue such as ligaments and tendons. Extremely slow-paced, Yin yoga consists of mostly floor poses using the pelvis, hips and other parts of the lower body that can be held for up to two minutes or sometimes even longer. Although Yin features poses similar to those used in Hatha, they are performed with very little muscular exertion, removing blockages in parts of the body that other forms of yoga cannot reach. As the deep connective tissue is gently stretched, it is strengthened as the poses are held for a long time. Yin is often used within programmes to treat people with eating disorders, addictions and trauma as its balancing and meditative effect can provide an outlet for supressed emotions.
Founded by Bikram Choudhury in 1974, this practice named after the yoga champion is the original style of hot yoga. A version of Hatha that fuses traditional yoga poses with breathing techniques, Bikram is a favourite of many celebrities from Jennifer Anniston to Lady Gaga and is practiced in a 40 degrees Celsius room. It is definitely a challenging and unique experience, combining a set sequence of 26 demanding poses with high temperatures designed to make participants sweat out their body’s toxins. Some of the tough poses included in Bikram are the full locust, which requires the participant to lie on their front with all four limbs raised in the air, and a variety involving balancing on one leg. While certainly an eclectic choice, it is said to improve circulation, stretch muscles and even aid in weight loss, making it a good option for runners with sore joints – oh, and Beyoncé!
A modern version of Hatha, Anusara was developed in 1997 and is also known as ‘yoga of the heart’. Based on the philosophy that there is an intrinsic goodness within everything and everyone, Anusara aims to align participants with the Divine through the three A’s – attitude, alignment and action. A more light-hearted, fun and playful version of yoga, it features 250 different poses without set routines and is suitable for participants of all abilities. With a higher focus on the Hindu stories that are intertwined with the ancient culture of yoga, Anusara has a major spiritual element and often instructors will not correct a participant who is not executing a pose correctly but encourage them to develop on their own using the principles of alignment. This ‘heart opening’ style of yoga is extremely inclusive and enhances the body’s flexibility as well as creating a peaceful, happy and balanced state of mind.
Rooted in Hindu culture, this unique yoga practice is believed to arouse the Kundalini Shakti – a force of spiritual power coiled like a snake at the base of the spine. The unwinding of this energy throughout the body is thought to free the participant of their karma and realise their life’s purpose.
Another form of Hatha, Iyengar has an emphasis on precision, with poses held for long periods and aided by props. It is based on the belief that if the physical posture is correctly aligned, so the breath, mind, emotions and overall harmony of the body will be too.
The yoga style of choice for many celebrities, Jivamukti was born in New York in the 1980s. It fuses together the flowing style of Vinyasa and Hindu spiritual teachings. Central to this yoga style is a connection to the Earth, meaning that many participants also follow a vegetarian lifestyle.