Choosing the right yoga class is vital; get it right and embark on an incredible journey, get it wrong and feel boredom, frustration and at worst pain. So think about what type of body and mind you have and do a bit of research before you head to the gym or studio.
What do you want to experience? Most people come to yoga looking for a particular physical or spiritual outcome. Of course all modern styles of yoga when practiced regularly will improve your strength, flexibility and overall feeling of wellness. However, some will concentrate more on strength, some more on relaxation.
What are you looking for?
The most athletic and physically exacting of all modern yoga, Ashtanga vinyasa takes its name from Patanjali’s “eight limbs” of yoga. The style was codified and popularised by K. Pattabhi Jois in the early twentieth century.
Practitioners work through a series of asana (poses), always in the same order and linked by Vinyasas (a set of flowing movements). Emphasis is placed on the breath, on precise alignment of the body and the practice is often done as a lead self practice. Only when the student has mastered the primary series can he or she move on to the intermediate series. A committed “Ashtangi” will have the body of an athlete and is incredible to watch.
However, the style is not for those with injuries, especially of the neck, back, shoulders, hips or knees, or for those looking for a calming evening practice.
Vinyasa Flow yoga is derived from Ashtanga Vinyasa; its funky younger sibling. There is no set sequence and teachers will use creative choreography to make each class different and challenging.
The same attention is paid to breath, alignment and bandhas but there is a more relaxed feel to the class, often with music or a heated room and no one will mind if you take a water break or fall on your face while attempting a new inversion. It is a fast flowing style though with the same injury limitations as Ashtanga.
If you see a class advertised as “power yoga” you know it is going to be hard, that is obvious! Power Yoga is a label, often used in gyms, to classify a class that will focus on building strength. It has its roots in Ashtanga Vinyasa but is not codified so every teacher will have their own way of doing things.
The aim in power yoga though is to build strength and stamina and you will most definitely sweat! Particular power yoga favourites are “turbo dog” and “caturanga push ups”, ouch!
A strong yoga class, held in a room heated to 40 degrees C. and 44% humidity. Bikram classes are an unchanging 90 minitue set sequence of 26 asana and 2 breathing exercises developed by controversial yogi millionaire Bikram Choudhury. You will love it or hate it so it is one you just have to try!
Read all about it here.
A slow-paced, meditative practice, Yin gives muscles a break and allows gravity to do the work. Yin aims to lengthen connective tissue as an antidote to strength-building classes so is perfect for an evening practice and to compliment sports like running or cycling. You will need patience though, poses can be held for two minutes or more.
Teachers trained in this method, developed by Swami Sivananda, teach gentle asana classes which focuses on preserving the health and wellness of the practitioner. There are sun salutations, standing, seated and inverted poses as in the more challenging styles, but there are also frequent periods of rest and emphasis on breathing.
Hatha yoga is the umbrella term for all physical yoga but is often also used in gyms to describe a gentle class, suitable for beginners. Classes of this description will differ so talk to your teacher before your first class.
Have you considered skipping the physical asana practice altogether and going instead to a meditation class? It's a discussion for another time but if you are looking for total relaxation and a spiritual experience, it could be for you.
B.K.S. Iyengar is widely credited with popularising yoga in the west. His method places a strong emphasis on placement and alignment and poses are held for longer than in the flowing styles. There are no sun salutations. These characteristics make it an accessible and gentle style, suitable for beginners and those with injuries.
Some yoga teachers specialise in rehabilitation and will run a specialised restorative class so if you are recovering from an injury it is worth a local search.
There is plenty of cross over between all modern styles and many yoga teachers will take aspects of more than one style so now you know a little more about what to look for, get out there and do some beautiful yoga.
by Jessica Ward
by Kath Webb
by Laura Briggs
by Jessica Ward
by Jessica Ward