In Part 1 I told you all about my first experience in a yoga class, about what you should be looking for if you’re browsing different classes or schools, and we talked about that thing called ‘perfection’ and how to snap out of it. Although I do believe you can find a practice that you love in any of the yoga styles out there, a little guidance as to the differences between them is always helpful. There will always be a few styles of yoga that will resonate a bit more with your own rhythm, so I’ll do my best to briefly describe some of them.
– Hatha yoga: This is where all other yoga styles emerged from. In a hatha class you’ll be moving from one asana or posture to the next, holding the pose for a certain period of time. It’s generally less vigorous than other styles we’ll mention below, but it’s great for developing strength and flexibility and it can be very meditative. Remember, every other style of yoga is a hatha yoga class at it’s core.
– Ashtanga Yoga: Brought to the West by Sri Patthabi Jois, Ashtanga is a strong, demanding yoga practice in which you move from one posture to the next with the rhythm of your breath. In the traditional style of Ashtanga, or Ashtanga Mysore, you must learn a specific sequence of postures which allows you to focus on your own practice instead of following a teacher. The teacher is there to make adjustments in your postures, but you’ll often find yourself in a studio where everyone is doing something completely different. One thing some people love about Ashtanga is that you can practice anywhere (great for people that travel a lot or like practicing at home or outdoors). On the other side of things, some practitioners miss the spontaneity of a class that is guided and designed by the teacher. If this is the case for you, you can get a similar vigorous class by practicing our next yoga style on the list, vinyasa.
– Vinyasa yoga: Vinyasa yoga classes are also intense and vigorous styles, since the teacher plans the class so that you move seamlessly from one posture to the next with your breath. Music is sometimes played, you’ll definitely break a sweat and it’s a wonderful yoga style for those of you who like a more vigorous type of exercise. It differs from Ashtanga in that every class is different and there’s no sequence to memorize. This adds an element of surprise that I find to be really fun, and it really lets the teacher’s creativity shine through.
– Iyengar yoga: The Iyengar practice, created by B.K.S Iyengar, focuses on alignment and getting very meticulous about the way you prepare and do a posture. Iyengar studios are usually filled with chairs, ropes, blocks and props to help you create the perfectly aligned pose. Your heart rate won’t go as high as with Ashtanga or Vinyasa, but it’s a physically strong practice because you need to hold each pose for a long period of time. As with any yoga practice, the body strength it develops is pretty incredible.
– Bikram yoga: Another highly intense yoga practice. In a bikram class, you also move through a set sequence of 26 postures. There’s one catch though, the room is artificially heated to over 100°F (about 40°C) and with a humidity of about 40%. If you’ve ever had a friend who was certain you couldn’t break a sweat practicing yoga, take them to a bikram class. As you can imagine, it’s a strong practice and you sweat the whole way through. The heat makes you incredibly flexible, which is one of the reasons why some yogis and yoginis swear by it.
– Jivamukti yoga: Created in the 80s in New York City by David Life and Sharon Gannon, this style of yoga combines vinyasa style flowing asanas, music that can be anything from Sting, to the Beatles, to trance, hip hop or Mozart! It’s also a very comprehensive style of yoga that includes teachings from the five tenets that are at the core of Jivamukti (shastra or scripture, bhakti or devotion, ahimsa or kindness, nada or music and dhyana or meditation). It has now been officially named one of the major yoga styles in the world and has thousands of practitioners. The classes are intense and you will break a sweat, but it’s so well rounded out by the moments of relaxation, meditation and teachings that you’ll feel amazing after leaving the studio. Their tenet of ahimsa or non harming, which comes from the most ancient Hindu texts, recommends following a vegan diet, and conversations about animal rights and healthy plant based eating are a usual topic in class. Shannon and David can you please bring this yoga style to Spain?! As you can see, I hold a very special place in my heart for this one!
– ISHTA yoga: Founded by Alan Finger, it combines hatha yoga postures, tantric philosophy and ayurveda. Classes vary, but you’ll often find yourself in a calm hatha practice and the next day in a vigorous flowing practice, all coming together with a dose of ancient wisdom. People who have been in class with Alan Finger simply LOVE his classes, as you leave feeling a sense of renewal, peace and acceptance. We’ll talk about Alan again when we discuss practicing yoga at home.
– Anusara yoga: This recent interpretation of hatha, brings a different way to explain the principles of alignment behind the postures, and bases its teachings on the inner goodness and inner power we all have inside of us. Through the postures the teacher tries to let the best of each student shine through, with a focus on opening the heart and enjoying and feeling the postures. Classes vary a lot from one to the next, which is great. Some are very vigorous, others work on your flexibility or a certain part of the body, other classes are centered towards strength. Music is often played in the background and you’ll often find yourself laughing and smiling throughout the class due to the relaxed nature of this yoga style. It’s all about letting your positive traits and abilities shine through, and the energy in the room is a powerful thing. The class usually starts by the teacher discussing a topic with the students, telling the story, legend or fable behind the main posture of the day, talking about a specific emotion or human challenge, all of which will serve as inspiration for the class. This might seem silly to some, but it’s the little magic trick that helps you focus, stay present, and takes your practice to another level.
As you can see, there are so many variants of yoga, and I honestly didn’t even scratch the surface. On a personal note, I can tell you I’ve tried Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Power yoga and taken some Iyengar classes, but I found my practice in Anusara, simply because I just felt great! I dream of going to a Jivamukti class, but sadly there are no schools here in Spain. Every yoga style has amazing things to offer, and I hope this list helps you a bit in trying to find the one that is right for you. Try a few and see how you feel, and what teachers you connect with the most.
Funny and strange story…
Before I go, I need to tell you about something strange that happened to me while I was in Venezuela recently. I had a wonderful encounter with that friend who took me to my first yoga class about 10 years ago, when I had no idea what yoga was. I started telling her about my difficulty finding a practice like the magical one we went to so many moons ago, and that I finally found a school and teachers I love in a tiny Anusara Yoga school here in Madrid. The minute I said Anusara, she said ‘well of course you love it, that’s the practice we started so many years ago! It was an Anusara Yoga class, not a regular hatha yoga class!’. Well, you can imagine how my eyes popped out of my head like a cartoon character’s, and suddenly I got it! That was the instant ‘at home’ feel that I felt in my new class. That feeling of comfort and peacefulness. As it turns out, there might just be something to the style of yoga that you practice and how it matches your personality and internal rhythm. Now I also think it’s the reason why it took me so long to write this second part of the post for you! I was supposed to tell you this story! It’s strange how the world works sometimes.
I wish you luck on your quest to finding your yoga practice. Keep your eyes open! It might be in the slightly run down studio next door, in someone’s backyard, or in the class of one teacher in a state of the art yoga center. Keep looking ’til you find what feels right. It’s out there.
Our yoga quote of the day:
“First month paining, second month tired, third month flying.” ~ Sharath Jois
Happy hunting and Namaste!
The awesome photo at the top of this post was taken by Ängsbacka Kursgård at a Yoga Festival.
The second photo of three practitioners in a garden was taken by My Yoga Online.
The last photo of an awesome yoga class in Bryant Park in NYC was taken by Asterix611
All photos are shared through Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial – No Derivatives 2.0 Generic.