So, you have decided to start taking yoga classes. It’s a very important commitment. A commitment that will bring you great rewards if you maintain a consistent practice. You can expect to feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. But which style of yoga should you choose?

As there are many styles of yoga one could practice, it can be difficult to determine which would be best for you. In order to make an informed decision, it may be useful to acquaint yourself with the most popular and well known styles.

Hatha Yoga

With a focus on healing and well-being, this style of yoga combines the awareness of mind and body. The very nature and definition of Hatha Yoga has ancient roots. The first part of the word “HA” refers to the “sun” and the second part “THA” means “moon”. As a whole, it refers to the balance that resides in each of us. Eventually, Hatha Yogamade its way to the West as a leading style of yoga. In fact,Hatha yoga is often used as a generic term to describe any type of yoga that teaches physical postures (asanas). Thus, almost all yoga classes taught in the West can be consideredas Hatha Yoga classes. When a class is marketed asHatha, one can usually expect that you will have a smooth introduction to the most fundamental yoga postures. You willprobably not sweat much from a Hatha practice, but will likely end up leaving the class more relaxed. As such, Hatha Yoga is often considered to be a beginner friendly style, preparing the practitioner to be able to venture into other yoga styles like Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Power and Bikram.

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar Yoga was developed in the early 20th century, and was named after its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, who was an influential Indian yoga instructor who brought precision to the physical practice. This style of yoga is comprised of a collection of over 200 yoga poses focusing on healing and improving overall health by aligning body, breath, and mind.Iyengar saw the importance of developing the whole self (body, mind and spirit) by bringing more strength, mobility and stability to the practitioner. He introduced the use of props (e.g. straps and blocks) to assist the student in accessing certain poses. When practicing Iyengar Yoga, the student generally holds the postures longer, accompanied by his or her breathing, to enhance the healing factor.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Inspired by the eight limbs and influenced by the holistic value of yoga, Pattabhi Jois introduced another style of Hatha Yoga called Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. (Ashtanga in Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga means “eight limbs”). In the late 1940s, Pattabhi Jois opened the Ashtanga Yoga Institute where the practitioner developed strength, endurance, flexibility, mobility, stability, and awareness . Rather than holding postures as in Iyengar Yoga, students used vinyasa (flow) to move from pose to pose through anestablished yoga sequence. He sought to obtain enlightenment by means of this relatively difficult yet fluid physical practice.

Ashtanga (Vinyasa) Yoga calls for discipline and diligence. Often practiced individually, whilst guided by a qualified instructor, students go through a set series of postures. The poses and sequences are always the same, the idea beingto allow the body to “master” each pose and transition before moving on to the next series of postures.

The student even practices in the same way each time, holding each pose for five breaths. There are three set series of poses in Ashtanga, each with different goals, and as the class progresses, the asanas become more difficult. As classes are predictable, some studios even offer “Mysore” style classes where students go through the Ashtanga series without instruction from the teacher. Students move at their own pace while a teacher is present to offer individual instruction and adjustments as needed. For this reason, Mysore classes are only open to experienced practioners.

Vinyasa classes (sometimes called Vinyasa Flow) on the other hand, utilize different sequences created by the instructor to suit the level or intention of the class for that day (e.g. focus on legs, back, flexibility, etc.).

Even though Vinyasa classes are more flexible and varied than Ashtanga , it is important to note that there is  not necessarily much detailed discussion of the individual poses. As well, teachers often incorporate music and prop usage in classes, and suggest modifications and variations of postures. Personally, I would advise all beginners to yoga to first become familiar with the fundamental yoga postures by taking a Hatha class for example, before signing up for Vinyasa classes.

For yogis who prefer a more varied and less vigorous class experience than Ashtanga, Vinyasa is an excellent choice. Students interested in trying this style may also want to first look for a less vigorous, milder, or slower paced flow class to acquaint themselves with some of the transitions between poses,  and learn to move with their breath.

Power Yoga

This style of yoga is a modern derivative of Ashtanga Yoga. It takes the intensity of the set sequence of asanas and makes them more creative. That is, the yoga instructor can use the postures often encountered in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga to develop an entirely new sequence to meet the goals of strength, endurance and flexibility. Power Yoga came into play when health and fitness clubs gained popularity. People wanted to take fitness classes that contributed to overall physical health and core strengthening. Power Yoga was developed to suit the needs of such gym-goers.

Bikram Yoga

This popular style of yoga is often called the original practice of hot yoga. It is taught in a room that can be between 106 and 112 degrees Farenheit. It was named after its founder Bikram Chourdhury, an Indian yoga teacher who combines traditional yoga poses with breathing. The style, like Ashtanga, has the same set of 26 poses in each class. The extra warmth, however, offers an additional challenge of endurance, discipline, dedication, and consistency.

As I’m living with Ehlers Danlos syndrome, I have begin with Hatha yoga.

Now that you know a little bit about  yoga and some of today’s styles, the question still remains: which one should you choose?

One thing to remember is that yoga, whatever the style, has a specific intention: increased awareness of and connection to  the mind, body and spirit. As long as you strive to attain this greater understanding and connection to yourself, you can choose virtually any  style of yoga you want.

You could choose a style in which you hold yoga poses for a longer period of time (Iyengar), or one that is more structured and systematic and will help your body gain more strength (Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga). If you are looking for something that will offer a “gym-like” experience, perhaps Power Yoga is the style for you. If you want all of the above with the added challenge of heat, then visita Bikram yoga studio in your neighborhood.

The only thing that really matters is following your instinct and find the ideal practice for your individual needs or try them all!

 

 

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