An age-old practice that has become one of the most popular workouts in the modern world, Yoga continues to thrive. Traditional forms of yoga continue to reign supreme, but new types of boutique fitness classes blending old-world yoga with innovative exercises—Cycle Yoga, for example—help to keep the methods fresh.
Yoga, however, is just a blanket term for several different types of practices. Each type has different movements and beliefs behind it, ensuring that there is a yoga method out there for you. If you’re looking for a way to release stress, get in tune with your body, and find new ways to move, there just might be a yoga type out there for you.
What is Yoga?
Before we get into the various practices out there to try, let’s talk about what yoga is exactly. It’s not just movement and stretching. There’s a purpose behind it, and a reason that so many people have practiced it for thousands of years.
Yoga is derived from a Sanskrit word that means to bind or to yoke. It is interpreted as a method of discipline or a type of union. A male who is a practitioner or student of yoga is called a yogi. A female is referred to as a yogini.
According to Yoga Journal, the Indian sage Patanjali is the person who is understood to have documented the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a large collection of 195 statements that are thought of as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today.
Most people today engage in yoga in the third limb, which is called Asana. This type of yoga is a program of physical postures that are created to lead to the purification of the body and build strength and stamina for meditation. There are many yoga types out there, which we’ll cover next. Read on for all about the various types, so you can decide what type of yoga is for you.
Based on teachings from ancient times, Ashtanga has been around for as long as yoga has existed. Popularized in the 1970s, this form of yoga features rigorous movements and a set sequence of postures. It is thought to be very similar to Vinyasa Yoga. The key difference between the two is that Ashtanga involves doing the same postures in the same order each time. You will get sweaty doing this type of yoga, and you’ll find that it can be physically taxing, so bring a towel with you!
Many people find that this type of yoga is excellent strength training, and can help to alleviate stress in the body through the challenging poses and movements. For those who are looking for more intense exercise, Ashtanga just might be the best choice.
American yogi John Friend developed Anusara yoga in 1997. This fairly new practice has quickly become popular among the masses. Anusara is founded on the belief that every single person is full of intrinsic goodness. The method is designed to aid students in opening up their hearts to love, experiencing grace, and letting their inner good come out. Classes can be not only taxing on the body but also on the mind.
Just about 3 decades ago, the famed Bikram Choudhury developed a type of yoga where classes were held in rooms where the heat was turned up. These heated rooms are the hallmark of Bikram yoga, which makes the students sweat buckets as they go through 26 different poses.
In a similar fashion to Ashtanga, Bikram has a sequence that is adhered to. There is some controversy around Bikram, as the founder trademarked the specific sequence and sought litigation against studios who use the term “Bikram.” This is one of the most popular types of yoga today.
If you decide to give the Bikram style of classes a try, it’s vital to note that the room gets very hot. Head to class with a towel to mop up the sweat, as well as plenty of water to keep you hydrated as you move.
Hatha yoga is used to refer to all of the types of yoga where physical postures are taught. Basically, almost every type of yoga performed in the Western world is Hatha. When classes are called this, it usually means that the postures and flow will be much gentler and more beginner-friendly. You most likely won’t get sweaty in these classes, but you will get a great stretch and feel looser and more relaxed afterward.
Hatha is often incredibly popular among those who are just looking to stretch or are using the method as a cool down after more intense physical exercise. Those who practice gentle Hatha are also often looking for some relief of physical pain in the body, or are helping their bodies to stay mobile because of sore muscles. Hatha can also be a great choice for those who have arthritis, back pain, neck pain and other physical ailments that they are seeking a release for.
A type of yoga that is very similar to Bikram, hot yoga is only different because the sequence and flows used vary from Bikram. Basically, this type of yoga can’t call itself the trademarked Bikram, because it doesn’t follow the exact sequence that Bikram does. Rooms are heated, hence the name “hot yoga,” and so students sweat a lot during this practice. All students should bring their own mat, towel and water bottle to the class.
Those who do either hot yoga or Bikram should be in good health, and should not have high blood pressure. These classes raise the core body temperature to a very high level. Because of this, women who are pregnant are advised to not take these types of yoga classes.
Vinyasa Yoga is named for the Sanskrit word that translates to as “to place in a special way,” which refers to the specific sequence of poses that are used. Designed to link breath to movement, Vinyasa classes are intensive and fluid, with smooth transitions from each pose to the next. Music is often played to keep things fun and light, and this type of practice is most often compared to Ashtanga. These classes never follow the same sequence and can really offer a great full-body workout. Switch things up and take a Vinyasa class to test your limits and get moving.
Iyengar Yoga is named for the man who developed the method, B.K.S. Iyengar and focuses heavily on the body’s alignment during each and every pose. Iyengar studios typically rely on many different yoga props, like block, straps, blankets, bolsters, and chairs, to ensure that students are performing each move correctly. The heart rate typically does not go up in these classes, but they still are mentally and physically challenging. Training is very arduous for teachers of this method, and this option is a good choice for students who are overcoming an injury and need close instruction.
If you decide to try an Iyengar class, you’ll be happily surprised to find that you are learning the movements as they were intended to be taught. This is incredibly helpful for those who are new to yoga.
Stress and frayed nerves got you down? Try Restorative Yoga. These classes offer deep stretched and rely on yoga props to ensure that the body gets the maximum effects of each pose without exerting excess effort. The result is an ultra-relaxing experience. Students often feel well-rested and stretch out, along with incredibly relaxed post-class. Many gyms and studios offer this type of yoga on Friday evenings so students can recover from a tough work week.
If you’re finding that you are dealing with a lot of stress, are incredibly run down, or just plain need a break, restorative yoga practices are an excellent choice. These methods are great for those who have just had a baby and are exhausted, but also need to get the necessary release that yoga provides. It’s also an excellent option for anyone who has been putting their body through a lot of rigorous training, like marathon runners or other athletes.
We’ve covered some of the most popular yoga types out there, but you probably still have some yoga-centric questions, especially if you are new to this Zen-like world. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about taking yoga classes and yoga in general, to help you get started on your journey to ultimate yogi—or just someone who enjoys the benefits of a good yoga class.
What do I need for yoga? What should I wear?
With so much time spent on the floor, you’re going to need a yoga mat for sure. Some studios offer mats, but imagine what these go through—multiple people sweating all over them every single day. Ditch the communal germ factories and get your own mat. There are thousands out there to choose from, and you can find plenty that showcases your personal style.
You’ll also need a water bottle so that you can stay refreshed and hydrated throughout your workout. Yoga involves a lot of stretching that will help to get everything moving through your bloodstream. Flush out toxins and waste by drinking plenty of fresh, clean water before, during, and after your session.
As mentioned in the sections about various types of yoga, you also will probably want a towel to wipe up your sweat. Nothing is calming or relaxing about sweat dripping directly into your eyes as you’re trying to do your poses.
The three basics—a mat, a water bottle, and a towel—are the most essential to your yoga practice. Everything else is pretty unnecessary.
As for what you should wear, remember that comfort is key. It will most likely get hot, and you need clothing that will let you breathe while also moving with you. Many women prefer to wear leggings or fitted shorts, while men often prefer athletic shorts that are easy to move around in. Socks are optional, but remember that if you have them on, you may slip and slide on the mat. It’s usually best to go barefoot so that you can get a better grip during your session.
Lastly, for those with longer hair, you’ll probably want to pin it back or wear a headband to keep it off your face. A ponytail or bun is also a good way to avoid having sweaty hair obstructing your vision.
Why do people say “om” during yoga? Do I have to say it?
“Om” is what is often referred to as a mantra, or a vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe, which sounds weird and kind of out there, but what does it even mean?
Ancient yogis understood that the universe is constantly moving—that nothing is ever still or solid. They believed that all things in existence emitted pulsations and created a rhythmic vibration. From this, they derived the sound of “Om.”
Chanting “Om” allows people in the modern world to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As those in yoga classes chant, it helps them to connect with universal movement, through their breath, their awareness, and their physical energy, and they begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.
If you’re thinking that all sounds great, but you still don’t want to chant, then you don’t have to. It’s your individual yoga practice, and no one controls what you do or say but you. You certainly don’t have to chant to get the benefits of yoga.
Is yoga right for me?
If you want to get active, get in touch with your body, and enhance your mental and physical fitness, yoga is definitely right for you. Try one of the yoga types above—or all eight! —to find the one that speaks to you the most.