The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Your Yoga Style

The Beginner's Guide To Choosing Your Yoga Style

If you are about to get started with a Yoga practice, how can you possibly decide which Yoga style one will be best for you?  Should you try Iyengar or Hatha Yoga? Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Yin or Bikram?  It can seem like a veritable maze.  This Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Your Yoga Style is a great way to start your journey in a more informed way.

Getting started

It’s a good idea to understand the key Yoga styles out there before starting your practice.  Thankfully, this is not a life decision.  In fact, trying out a number of different Yoga styles will enhance your experience and help you decide where to focus in the future.

Check our guide on the great qualities you should look out for in a Yoga teacher!  Remember to let that play a role in your decision-making as well.

Books are a great way to learn about different Yoga styles and poses in your own time. Therefore, every Yogi/ni should have a few on her bookshelf!

Dont’ forget to look out for our reading recommendations for the different Yoga styles.

Personalize Your Yoga Style

Overall, Yoga is definitely not a matter of one-size-fits-all, but a very personal experience.  Because of this, consider a few points before deciding which is your preferred Yoga style:

  • Your prior level of experience and skill
  • Your current level of fitness and flexibility
  • Any current injuries and other physical issues – for example chronic joint damage
  • Your current stress levels and mental state
  • Your own personality type – are you more of a quiet introvert or an energetic extrovert?

Now that you have given this some thought, it’s time to delve into the different Yoga styles and their pros and cons.

The 10 Yoga Styles You Need to Know

1. Hatha Yoga

We start off with the most fundamental style: Hatha Yoga.  In the Sanskrit language, Hatha Yoga simply refers to the practice of yoga poses.  The word “hatha” can be translated as “sun” (ha) and “moon” (tha), symbolizing balance in Yoga.

Hatha Yoga aims to align and calm body, mind and spirit.  As a result, students perform poses at a slow pace and hold them for some time, focusing on the breath and the pose.  Breathwork and meditation are essential elements of Hatha Yoga.

Pros and Cons: A great starting point for beginners.  You’ll learn the solid foundations of Yoga and how to adjust different poses to suit your personal needs.

Essential Reading: Hatha Yoga Illustrated by Martin Kirk, Brooke Boon and Daniel DiTuro and The Classic Yoga Bible by Christina Brown

2. Iyengar Yoga

B.S.K Iyengar was one of the great Indian gurus who brought Yoga to the West.  At its heart, Iyengar Yoga embeds the traditional eight limbs of Yoga.  Therefore, the practice is all about precision, detail and alignment of the body and breath control.

Yoga students develop poses (or asanas) step-by-step.  They often use “props” such as belts, blocks, and blankets to overcome individual limitations.   Because of this approach,  people practising Iyengar Yoga have the least amount of injuries of all Yoga styles.

Overall, Iyengar Yoga is accessible to both young and old.

B.K.S Iyengar practiced Yoga into his nineties and even taught the 86 year old Belgian Queen the handstand!  That’s a pretty good testimonial.

Pros and Cons:  If you care about detail and in-depth knowledge, you’ll love Iyengar Yoga.  Practitioners of any age and ability can participate in the practice.

Essential Reading: Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga by by B. K. S. Iyengar

3. Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa Yoga is all about breath and flow,  and moving seamlessly from one pose to the next.  This is in contrast to Hatha and Iyengar Yoga, where poses are held for several breaths before moving onto the next.

Vinyasa Yoga flows appeal to people who are already reasonably fit and flexible and have a good grounding in individual Yoga poses. In addition, be prepared for the speed with which poses change and an elevated heart rate!

Often, classes can be challenging for a beginner, unless you are already pretty fit and flexible.

Pros and Cons:  Attractive for those who want a real workout and for cross-fit purposes.  Keep in mind you need to be reasonably strong and flexible already.

Essential Reading: The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga by Srivatsa Ramaswami

4. Ashtanga (Vinyasa) Yoga

Ashtanga (Vinyasa) Yoga is the no-surprises approach to Vinyasa Yoga, following a prescribed sequence of yoga poses.  The student focuses on deepening the practice while following an established routine.

In regular Ashtanga Yoga classes, the teacher directly guides the various sequences and series of poses.  This is in contrast to Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga.  Here, students follow their own routine and teachers provide guidance as required.

Pros and Cons:   For Yoga practitioners who enjoy a structured and principled approach to Yoga.  Similar to Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga requires a reasonable amount of fitness and flexibility.

Essential Reading: Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual by David Swenson

5. Power Yoga

Power Yoga is a fitness-focused Yoga style based on Ashtanga Yoga.  However, Power Yoga has no prescribed sequences.  It is, therefore, more freestyle and adaptable.  Generally, practice is intense and physically challenging, with limited meditation and breath work.

It is popular in gyms and health clubs as a real alternative to other exercises and workouts.

Pros and Cons:   Great for those who are already very fit and flexible, and who want to have a hard session and work up a sweat.  But these classes are less suitable for a beginner.

6. Bikram Yoga

Prepare to be hot!  Bikram Yoga follows a standard series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises. These are practised in a room heated to approximately 105 degrees F and 40 per cent humidity.

All Bikram studios practice the same 90-minute sequence.  As a result, each class is predictable.

Do remember to take care over hydrating properly and bringing the right gear.  That’s because there is a lot of sweating going on!  As in a sauna, sweating during a Bikram session helps you detoxify.  The heat also helps to warm up limbs and joints, making them more flexible.

Pros and Cons:  If you are already fit and flexible, and enjoy a steady routine and a good sweat up, this is for you.  However, make sure you’ve got the right gear to soak up all that sweat!  Overall, this is less suitable for beginners, unless you are already very fit.  Bikram Yoga is not recommended for pregnant women, or people with heart issues, diabetes and low blood pressure.

Essential Reading: Description of Bikram asana sequence

7. Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga is very similar to Bikram Yoga in that it takes place in a heated room.  However, hot Yoga classes are “freestyle”.  Therefore, they do not follow a prescribed series of poses, creating a lot of variety.

Hot Yoga has become very popular in recent years.  Many participants claim benefits such as heightened energy levels and calmness upon completing a class.

Pros and Cons: As for Bikram Yoga.

Essential Reading:  The Classic Yoga Bible by Christina Brown

8. Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga is one of the more unique Yoga styles.  It involves meditation, chanting mantras and performing kriyas.  These are repetitive physical exercises, coupled with intense breath work.

The aim is to build physical vitality, increase personal consciousness and access untapped energies within the body.

Pros and Cons:  This practice is for Yogis who seek a practice providing inner focus, including breath work, chanting and meditation.  Best practised with an experienced teacher.

9. Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is all about balancing the body and the mind and finding calm in a busy world.  For instance, students hold poses for several minutes at a time.  They may also use props as support.

Yin Yoga focuses on reaching the deeper connective tissues of the body.  It also aims to increase circulation to joints and improving flexibility.  Overall, Yin Yoga takes a  meditative approach and cultivates inner stillness and awareness.

Pros and Cons:  Best for people who require for a combined physical and meditative practice, and a way to improve their joints and stretch deep connective tissue.

Essential Reading: The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark

10. Restorative Yoga

Finally, we have come to the most relaxing form of Yoga – Restorative Yoga.  In every sense of the word, this practice restores the body and the mind to a calmer and more relaxed state.  Further, you stay in poses for a while.

Most likely, students will use a variety of props.  This includes blankets, bolsters and yoga blocks to fully support your body in each pose.

Pros and cons:  Restorative Yoga is great for everyone, but especially for those who struggle with stress levels, sleep difficulties or anxiety.  Further, it is also a great counterpoint exercise for athletes.

Essential Reading:  Restorative Yoga for Life Gail by Boorstein Grossman

Finally

You are now nearly an expert! Of course, you now have to gain some practice, to help you with your final decision.  Hopefully, you are now better prepared for what to expect.

Finally, if you are looking for a more fun way to go about this exercise, check this chart and be prepared to smile.

Feel free to comment – we’d love to hear what you have to say.

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