A skim over the schedule of classes at your local yoga studios can be overwhelming. What began as a disciplined practice on a path towards enlightenment has, like many great traditions, morphed into a baffling barrage of styles, many forms of which barely resemble its origins (goat yoga, anyone?). If you are curious about or new to yoga, I hope this helps you find a style that you love. To my yogi veterans, I hope this inspires you to try something new.
I highly recommend trying different teachers & different classes to see what lights you up. Come with an open mind. Vinyasa, Hatha and Yin are my recommendations for beginners. Stay tuned for a post on where to practice yoga in SF.
So, here are some of the most popular styles of yoga with links for further reading, arranged according to what I believe to be the most common.
Vinyasa is one of the most popular styles of yoga in our bustling little city of San Francisco, and the style I teach, so we’ll begin here. As one of my favorite teachers, Shiva Rea, explains: Nyasa is Sanskrit for ‘to place’ and Vi means ‘in a special way’, so together Vinyasa is a flowing sequence from posture to posture knitted together with breath. Power Vinyasa emphasizes more strengthening postures in a faster flow. Many studios feature upbeat or live music, a little bit of yoga philosophy and creative flows in classes.
Ha-ta: A balance of sun (ha) and moon (ta). Hatha yoga, like Vinyasa, is a series of postures linked with breath and meditation. The main difference is that Hatha yoga is a slower-paced flow than Vinyasa and holds postures for a few breaths.
Founded by K Patthabi Jois, Ashtanga means the Eight Limbs (referring to teachings in The Yoga Sutras – a must-read). Each class follows specific posture sequencing and gives students the opportunity to progress into more difficult series. A focus on discipline and alignment makes Ashtanga yoga one of the more physically challenging branches.
A deeply restorative practice, most of this class is done on the floor in seated and laying down positions. Yin classes utilize props like blankets, bolsters, blocks and straps to assist us deeper into the poses. These long holds in few poses allows for the deep lengthening of muscles and fascia.
A relaxing style of yoga that probably doesn’t look like the yoga you’re used to seeing, yoga Nidra focuses on breath work, meditation and visualization to evoke experiences of deep relaxation and meditation. It is especially beneficial to practice before bedtime.
Started by Yogi Bhajan (serial entrepreneur with a degree in Economics and founder of Yogi Tea), and popularized in Los Angeles, Kundalini is an energy-focused practice of meticulous breath work and postures. Kundalini practicioners wear white to practice. There is also a devotional element, or Bhakti, here so be ready for chanting and mantras.
Bhakti is considered a devotional yoga aimed at developing unconditional love. It is a sweet, soulful yoga practice woven together with Kirtan (singing mantras and chants). Note: The cultivation of devotion can be toward whatever the practicioner considers divine: God, deities, the universe, etc.
Founded in the 60’s by Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga follows a regimented sequence of the same postures each class. The thermostat is set to 104°F and there’s a mirrored wall for students. There is no music, but teachers tend to call out postures like a metronome, “Go back. Fall back. Further back. And, change.” Oh – and there are rules. Don’t leave class before it is over, take a sip of water only when instructed, keep the eyes open the entire duration of class and so on. Bikram classes may feel militaristic to many students or well-structured to others.
Many yoga studios offer ‘hot yoga’, forgoing the required fees of using the Bikram trademark, but it may still be very similar to the Bikram methodology. Hot yoga is said to be beneficial for detoxifying through sweat and assisting students into deeper postures but the combination of high heat and strenuous poses may be too much for some students.
Quite possibly the most ‘misunderstood‘ yoga lineage, and it’s no wonder why – the practices of tantra are widely encompassing and not as uniquely identifiable as the others. The main focus of Tantra is to unite the self with the Divine through breathwork and movement.
A dynamic, partner-based yoga, Acro is a blend of acrobatics, vinyasa and Thai massage. Pairs take turns supporting one another and lifting each other into the poses. Unlike most other yogas, Acro Yoga relies on communication between partners to help facilitate the movements. A few things to note about Acro Yoga: As a very dynamic practice, the potential for injury is higher than most. Be sure to get support from a certified instructor before attempting. It is not required to have a partner before class and size should not be a limitation.
I would love to hear which style of yoga you love in the comments.
As always, feel free to leave any questions below.