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Yoga Styles Explained

Yoga Styles Explained

Yoga has a universal principle in that it brings together breath and movement; mind and spirituality; self-reflection and inquiry. But it can differ from one style to the next.

The many styles of yoga offered can be a confusing factor for anyone looking to get started but don't let confusion keep you away from this beautiful path of yoga.

If you've found your way onto this page, you've had this question before. Can I do yoga and, if so, what kind?

I hope the following breakdown helps you. I've done my best to make it as comprehensive as possible, if I've missed something feel free to let me know.

Yoga Styles Breakdown

Anusara

This practice is one that brings attention to alignment-based principles - the Universal Principles of Alignment. It focuses on safely getting yourself into your optimal alignment - working with the various postures while encouraging you to find how the posture fits best in your body, rather than getting your body to fit into the posture.

With it's principles of alignment comes two important factors: integrating energetic expansion and energetic contraction. So drawing your muscles towards the middle while reaching high towards the sky.

It's meant to bring a lighthearted nature into the practice. Bringing to the front a sense of acceptance and positivity throughout a class.

This school of yoga can be found in many Hatha classes as it's considered the successor of a modern school of hatha yoga.

Ashtanga

This practice has 6 pre-set series meant to be followed in sequence. Starting from series one (primary series) your body needs to be able to get into each pose before progressing onto series two and so on.

You are meant to move quickly in and out of these postures linking your breath as you move through them - kind of like a flow.

There are different options to attend a class, with one being showing up in a three-hour window and having a teacher guide you as you go at your own pace and your own breath.

Iyengar

I'd say is the predecessor to Anusara. Anusara bases many of it's teachings from the Iyengar principles. Typically, classes offering Iyengar yoga move at a slower pace with focus placed on proper alignment of the body, including the toes and even the fingers.

There may be less poses explored in a class to offer more exploration on the subtle actions of the body while getting into and out of the poses being taught. 

The main objective, specially for the beginner practitioner, is to gain an understanding of the alignment and basic structure of each pose, and explore the physical awareness, strength, and flexibility found in the current state of the body.

Much like Anusara, it's focus is placed on alignment and safety of the body but differs by endorsing strength-building by holding each posture for longer periods of time, whereas Anusara promotes heart opening poses as it moves the body in a fluid-like way.

Bikram

Bikram yoga follows a sequence of 26 postures practiced in a heated room. These postures are meant to lengthen and strengthen the muscles while "rinsing" the organs of the body. Practicing in a heated room is meant to help release toxins much easier. 

Anywhere you attend a Bikram class, you're walking into the same 26 postures practiced twice - which makes it simpler to keep a consistent start. 

Vinyasa

This style of yoga is more commonly known as Flow in a studio practice. Unless the word "Flow" is partnered with Hatha or described differently at your studio, expect to be practicing Vinyasa when attending a class.

Vinyasa means the union of breath and movement, describing the connection from one pose to the next. You will find the customary Downward Facing Dog, Chaturanga, Cobra poses intertwined with a sequence prepared by your teacher. 

With the primary focus being on the breath and moving in a flow-like way, the attention isn't placed on how a pose is meant to look or feel. It's "breath synchronized movement", the focus on breath and flow.

Kundalini

With the focus being in waking up kundalini (your true nature; aligning your chakras), a Kundalini class will feature a sequence of postures designed for constant movement and to build physical vitality.

This practice will incorporate meditation, dynamic breathing, and chanting of mantras in an effort to increase consciousness. 

It's a very spiritual practice, in my opinion, and is meant to give you the tools necessary to expedite your spiritual growth and healing abilities.

Yin

Unlike the various yoga styles above where you're encouraged to build some heat from inside, Yin has a distinct way of standing out. It's meant to get into the tissues of the body without getting the muscles involved. It's meant to relax the muscles around the connective tissues to get that "stretch".

Yin yoga begins to work when you're getting into the pose, as opposed to when you're wanting to get out of it.

A Yin class will consist of a series of poses held anywhere between 2 minutes to 15 minutes. Each sequence has a series of passive floor poses that target the areas of the body that are rich in connective tissues - lower back, spine, hips, inner thighs, pelvis.

Restorative

In short, this practice is less about activity and more about release. Each class includes only a few postures that are meant to let you relax fully with the help of props placed in a way that holds your body, so you feel deeply supported.

It's different from a Yin practice in that it's not meant to target lengthening of any tissue. If you feel stretching, it's not Restorative. 

The primary focus is, in fact, on relaxation. You're holding each posture for long periods of time which can cause you to fall asleep at times. Your teacher holds the space for deep release and relaxation.

Hatha

The practice of Hatha yoga is the umbrella of all posture-based practices (all asana). It's the physical aspect of yoga so it covers ashtanga, anusara, vinyasa, iyengar, etc.

However, when attending a Hatha yoga class, usually it incorporates postures and breath. Either in a stronger practice or a gentle one.

Before going to a class, check with the studio. "Is this a Gentle Hatha class?". This way, you know what you're walking into and are upbeat and ready to practice.

A gentle class will be a slightly slower without much strenuous holds while a stronger hatha class will including longer, strength-building sequences.




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