Demystifying Yoga: Breaking Down Various Styles of Yoga
In this post I will discuss some of the main styles of yoga and their differences in simple and easy to understand language
Have you ever been confused by all of the different styles of yoga? All of the unfamiliar terms floating around. Hatha, vinyasa flow, restorative, yin, power yoga, hot yoga, ashtanga, and the list goes on. It can be overwhelming to anyone new to this yoga practice. In fact it can be the barrier that keeps some from ever trying yoga. With so many styles it can seem daunting not to mention all of the poses to learn. However, it's also a great reason to practice yoga. There is always something to learn. Hard to get bored with it, making it a great life long practice. Let's dive into demystifying some of the most common styles of yoga.
Hatha style classes can range from gentle to vigorous depending on the level and sequence being taught. Traditionally this is the umbrella term for any type of yoga that pairs poses with breath. In general hatha classes are typically slower and/or you stay in the poses longer. This is not to say they cannot be vigorous or challenging. As holding a pose for a longer period of time can be very challenging.
In a hatha style class poses may be more statically held as opposed to moving more quickly from one pose to the next. Typically, chaturanga will not be used in a hatha class. Chaturanga is simply moving from plank position to a low plank (similar to a push-up but with elbows tucked in close to the body).
In a hatha class the focus is on each pose. Staying for a few extra breaths and noticing your breath. It can be very calming and relaxing. But also challenging especially when standing poses are held for several breaths.
Vinyasa flow is what it sounds like. It is a flow class usually at a quicker pace. In this type of class you can expect plenty of movement between poses. Often with 1-2 breaths per movement. In a vinyasa class you can expect downward facing dogs, planks, chaturangas, and a fair share of sun salutations.
This type of class is often more vigorous and can be more challenging with the constant movement. But it's also great to get the heart rate up, clear things out, shake things up, and increase your energy.
The pace of the class will vary depending on the level. Beginner and level 1 classes will often be at a slower pace to allow students to follow along better. Whereas a level 3 advanced class will move rather briskly.
Yin is a style that is characterized by longer passive holds. It is used to help loosen up the fascia, the layer of connective tissue under the skin. It can also be a calming practice to offset the fast pace of our lives, yang energy. According to Chinese philosophy we need both yin and yang in our lives. A yin yoga practice is a wonderful balancer.
Yin classes sometimes use props to assist in the longer holds. Typically poses are held for 2-6 minutes sometimes more. Although they are passively held, a yin class can be quite challenging. Many students have a hard time staying in one pose for an extended amount of time. Yet in our modern way of living this practice can be very beneficial. The slower pace allows for it to be more meditative giving us space to go inward and notice the physical sensations that arise.
The idea is to come into the posture at 70-80% of your maximum. To let go into the poses and notice what arises. There will be sensations and thoughts will also arise. This is normal and a part of the practice. In a yin class tissues are stretched and lengthened.
Restorative is just what it sounds like. The main focus of this style of yoga is to restore the body, mind, and spirit. This is a very calming and restful practice. Restorative classes use props to make the poses more supportive.
During a restorative class you can expect longer holds that are supported. The idea is the props facilitate dropping into the poses easily, allowing the student to surrender and let go. There is little to no effort expended.
It can be a little like taking a nap. During the holds students often close their eyes. I myself have drifted off during a restorative class. They are very relaxing and exactly what some of us need after a long day or week.
You may be thinking "restorative style sounds a lot like yin". They are similar in their slow pace and longer holds. However, restorative is all about letting go into the pose without the goal of stretching the tissues.
Ashtanga & Hot Yoga
Both of these styles are known for being physically challenging and athletic. They are more popular among those looking for a good sweat, workout, and/or a challenge.
Ashtanga yoga is similar to Vinyasa Flow as the student will flow through poses. However, Ashtanga is a set sequence of poses. Vinyasa flow is more free flowing and will change from one class to another. Ashtanga is comprised of 6 series. It is usually practiced 6 days a week.
Hot yoga is simply yoga in a heated room. Usually between 85-100 Fahrenheit and sometimes hotter. The idea being the heated room allows for more flexibility. But this type can also be dangerous to those who are sensitive to heat.
There are many more with new ones popping up. The above are some of the main ones you will come across. In my teaching I focus on a mix of Hatha and slower Flow. In my personal practice I do a combination of hatha, flow, yin, and some restorative. I love having a well balanced yoga practice that is based on what will serve me best that day.