Although the practice of yoga itself is ancient, many different styles of the practice have developed over the years, particularly in the west. When looking for classes to take at gyms and studios, it can be overwhelming and confusing at first to know which class is best for what you are looking for. From Hatha, Yin, and Restorative, to Ashtanga, Bikram, Vinyasa, and Hot Yoga, we are here to break it down for you so you are clear on what you’re looking for.
Hatha is a general term that encompasses many different styles. It is defined by the practice of asanas (poses) in sync with the breath. Much of the yoga we see in the west can be classified as Hatha, and classes labeled as such usually differ from teacher to teacher. For the most part, you can expect a Hatha class to be a bit slower paced, focused on breath, and less rigorous. Don’t expect to work up too much of a sweat, and enjoy feeling calm and ready for a meditation practice afterwards!
Yin Yoga is a unique practice that involves holding specific postures for extended periods of time (typically 2-7 minutes). Yin postures are very passive and require you to relax your body as much as possible and surrender. It may sound easy, but Yin can be very challenging! Holding poses like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon Pose) for 5 minutes on each side is no easy fit and requires focus and discipline. Yin Yoga is a powerful way to train the mind, as you are very still for most of the practice. It gives you wonderful insight into how the mind reacts in uncomfortable situations, and challenges you to relax into that space of discomfort. Holding postures for extended periods of time allows us to truly get into the deeper muscle tissues and fascia; something that we don’t often do when holding poses for just a couple of breaths. Bring blocks, cushions, and blankets, and be ready to open deeply and find stillness.
Restorative Yoga is similar to Yin in that you will be holding poses for up to 5 minutes (sometimes more) and using various props throughout class. It differs, however, in that Restorative Yoga is not about deep muscle opening. The postures you will practice in a Restorative class include gentle reclined twists, assisted forward folds, and other more gentle asanas. You will most likely never stand up throughout the class, and you will come into very deep, sleep-like states like we do in savasana. This is a wonderful style to explore if you are wanting relaxation, gentle openness, and healing in the body.
Ashtanga Yoga is a more rigorous practice with ancient origins. It was popularized in the west by K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1970’s and has gained a big following because of its benefits of increased flexibility and strength, improved circulation, and a calm mind. This practice is characterized by a series of poses synced with the breath that move at a moderate pace. The Ashtanga sequence is the same every time, so no matter what studio you go to, the sequence will always be the same. It is typically a long and physically demanding practice so be sure to hydrate and prepare to sweat.
Bikram Yoga was created by Bikram Choudhury, who synthesized different traditional postures into a specific sequence in the early 1970’s. It is similar to Ashtanga in that it is a rigorous practice with a specific sequence of poses that are repeated in the same order, every time. Bikram is usually practiced in a heated room (95-108°F and ~40% humidity) and lasts around 90 minutes. If you are looking for a rigorous, standardized practice, try this one out.
Vinyasa Yoga is a fluid practice which moves constantly between poses, synchronized with breath. Depending on the instructor this style can be quite rigorous or faster paced, and is usually very flowy and creative in sequencing. No two classes are ever the same and it is a great way to discover new postures and transitions.
Hot Yoga simply refers to yoga practiced in a heated room. Most often in the west this is a heated vinyasa class, and can be quite rigorous. Puddles of sweat and a blissed out feeling are usually the result of this practice, and it is recommended that you become familiar with basic asanas before attending a class. If you have a REECH mat, then your mat and water is all you’ll need! If you don’t, be ready to bring a grippy towel to place over your slippery mat. The last thing you want is to slide all over.
Whether you are seeking a calm, meditative space, a strong workout, or a restorative and healing practice, Yoga has transformed into many unique styles that fit the needs and abilities of all. With a little research into studios in your area and what they have to offer, you will surely find what you are seeking.