5 Common Types of Yoga Explained

This weekend I was on a spin bike with a friend visiting me in Nicaragua and she asked me to explain the difference between all these different types of yoga. Many people may be from smaller areas where there is only one yoga class in town but some people head to the gym and look at a schedule covered in different types or are trying to find a good deal on Groupon but have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

When you are just getting into yoga it is hard to know what class to try out. My recommendation is to try as many as possible so that you can find the one that suits you right. There are so many different styles and teachers, it’s important not to go to one class you may not like and completely give up. This brief guide will help you understand the differences between five common styles, so you know what you are getting yourself into before you walk into class. 

1. Ashtanga 
Ashtanga is based on ancient yoga teachings and was brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It’s a rigorous style of yoga which follows a specific sequence of postures, and links every movement to a breath. You may also hear the terms vinyasa or power yoga which are both similar to ashtanga. The main difference being ashtanga always performs the exact same poses in the exact same order; while vinyasagives instructors the ability to put their own spin on it, making every class unique and different instead of sticking to the same sequence every time. This is a hot, sweaty, physically demanding practice. 

2. Bikram/Hot Yoga 
Approximately 30 years ago, Bikram Choudhury developed this school of yoga where classes are held in artificially heated rooms. In a Bikram class, you will work your way through a series of 26 poses that are always taught in the same sequence. Bikram trademarked his sequence but other teachers wanted to create their own, so it has to be called Hot Yoga instead of Bikram. You will sweat a ton in these classes and leave drenched.  

3. Hatha 
Hatha yoga is a generic term referring to any type of yoga which teaches physical postures. Nearly every type of yoga class taught in the West is hatha yoga. When a class is marketed as hatha, it generally means you will get a gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures. You probably won’t work up a sweat in a hatha yoga class, but you should end up leaving class feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed.  

4. Iyengar 
Iyengar is a very meticulous style of yoga which pays attention to finding the proper alignment in a pose. In order to help each student find the proper alignment, an Iyengar studio will stock a wide array of yoga props — blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, bolsters, and a rope wall are all common. Poses are held for a longer amount of time trying to find and hold the perfect alignment. You will be amazed to discover how physically and mentally challenging it is to stay put. Iyengar teachers undergo comprehensive training so if you have an injury or chronic condition, Iyengar is probably your best choice to ensure you get the knowledgeable instruction you need. Many styles of yoga training do not go over injuries at all, so if you have an injury, ask your teacher in advance to be sure you are trying a style that is not Iyengar. 

5. Restorative/Yin 
Restorative yoga is a wonderful way  to relax your body and soothe your mind. Restorative classes use blankets, bolsters and blocks to prop students in passive stretches so that the body can experience the benefits of a pose without having to exert any effort. A good restorative class is more rejuvenating than a nap! 

*So what type of yoga is the best? Well…there is no perfect answer to that. What type of yoga should YOU do? You guessed it…there is no perfect answer to that either! Honestly the type you tend to shy away from is most likely the one you need. If you are a bit of a couch potato and like to rest you will probably be drawn to the restorative class where you get to lay around, propped up by pillows, being completely supported in every stretch; however, what you really need is more of an ashtanga class to get your body moving and work up a little sweat. If you are a type A personality who loves to sweat you are probably going to be drawn towards the hot yoga; however, what you actually need is the restorative class to help you slow down mentally and physically. Once you find a style you enjoy make sure you try out some different teachers too. Ultimately all yoga is good for you so you should just go to the one you enjoy and will attend the most often.  

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The Beginner’s Mind

What if we woke up each morning and completely wiped the slate clean? We could experience everything for the very first time. We could let go of the stories of our pasts that hold us back. Have you ever seen a baby stare at it’s hands in wonder? What if we took this approach to each brand new day?

Opening your eyes in the morning embrace the world with fresh eyes. What have you been taking for granted? Notice the way sunlight shines through the trees. Actually feel the breeze on your skin. Listen to every single bird and the leaves rustling, the fan spinning, everything you are surrounded by. Feel your heart beat and feel every inhale and exhale. Pay attention to every little thing. Be present in the moment and embrace today like it is your very first on planet Earth.

Notice the benefits to this approach of life. I know it makes me even more grateful for all life has to offer.

Turning Bad Experiences to Good

Today I had the worst massage of my life. I am not the best client in the first place, I would much rather give than receive so I tend to be hyper-aware when I am on the table but this would have been a traumatizing experience for anyone. When I walked in I was greeted by a man with slightly tinted sunglasses and a walking stick so I am assuming he was blind but not completely convinced due to some odd towel draping issues. Perhaps one of the problems was that instead of being given a sheet to cover up with I was given a towel and I am nearly six feet tall so that only covers half my body. His pressure was extremely rough and quick so it was not at all relaxing and not very thorough. Then he insisted I take my underwear off. With the Spanish language barrier interfering a bit I just took them off. He then proceeded to contort my body and stretch it in a variety of positions always moving the towel so my entire body was left uncovered and the towel was only over the lower leg.  I am very flexible but he was taking it way beyond my limits and I kept trying to resist and push against him so he would stop. He then dragged the towel roughly over every inch of my body to wipe off any lotion and beat my body with pounding and smacking. The entire massage I was just thinking how awful the whole experience was. I kept trying to relax and make the best of it but the best part was when he said he was done!

An hour later I had two massage clients of my own to work on. My experience helped me in a way I didn’t imagine. I always hope during a massage I may learn a new technique or it may trigger a method I had forgotten but this time the bad experience made me more aware of the entire massage experience for my clients. It was just another example of how any experience in life can be seen in a positive light. We always have a choice. We get to choose how we see every part of our life and that is a beautiful thing!