It’s been requested to once and for all, in one location, give a simple and direct description of the most popular yoga styles one might try. I get it. When you’re beginning a yoga practice all of these foreign sounding words placed in front of level 1, 2, 3 have no meaning. As succinctly as possible, I’m going to give you a little intro to the most popular styles of yoga and my feeling of the kind of yogi they would appeal to.
What is it? Anusara means “Flowing with Grace.” It focuses on flowing movement with attention to alignment, particularly opening the heart. There is a great deal of attention paid to both the physical experience as well as the energetic one. Expect your teachers to intertwine storytelling and mind/body thinking and often a theme expressed throughout the class.
Who’s it for? For people who enjoy not only understanding the precise way to set up a pose but who also really want something meaningful out of their class. “Why am I here?” and “what is the meaning of it?” All kinds of people will enjoy Anusara’s unique blend of spirit and movement.
Well-known teachers: John Friend, Elena Brower, Desiree Rumbaugh
What is it? Ashtanga is considered very athletic and challenging. Traditionally, students are taught a series of movements and then practice them at their own pace while an instructor walks the room and gives each person suggestions and adjustments. The principle behind this style is to move without interruption so you can ultimately be unattached to whatever experience arises. This hopefully spills over into life off the yoga mat as well.
Who’s it for? Since Ashtanga is known to be more challenging, try it if you’re athletic and interested in developing a more intense practice.
Well-known teachers: K. Pattahbi Jois and his grandson R. Sharath
What is it? Bikram consists of 45 minutes of standing poses and 45 minutes of floor poses all in a room heated to 105 degrees. There isn’t a great deal of variety from one class to the next but you will sweat, work, and focus. The idea is to bring a fit body and a fit mind into union.
Who’s it for? For those who don’t mind heat. For those who are looking to go deeper into the kind of focus you find through repetition with each practice. It can become a meditation of its own kind. For those who are willing to be patient: at the beginning it’s not easy to hold poses in a very hot and sweaty room. But it can be rewarding and very cleansing.
More info: Bikram yoga was brought to the United States in 1971 by Bikram Choudry. Learn more about the style at: bikramyoga.com.
What is it? A practice that is happy to only work through several poses in a class, but strives to teach them “properly.” Focused very much on the proper alignment of the bones and muscles, you will work deeply through each posture. Iyengar also uses a great deal of props (blocks, straps, chairs etc) so the poses can be made accessible for anyone. This style certainly brings greater strength, flexibility and understanding of the nuts and bolts of the yoga poses.
Who’s it for? People who love to understand the body, who enjoy the details, who don’t mind moving slowly and aren’t afraid to work deeply. Many folks who love this style feel that by understanding the proper alignment, injury can be avoided and a true connection to the practice can be achieved.
Check out: The book “Light on Yoga” by B.K.S Iyengar. This is a book for every yogi’s library. It captures Iyengar himself demonstrating virtually every pose under the sun and how/why to do it. His commentary on the practice is also extremely valuable and interesting.
What is it? The idea behind this practice is to unleash the dormant energy of enlightenment that lives in each of us called Kundalini Shakti. A class consists of chanting, deep and intense breathing, physical poses often held for long periods of time, meditations, and more. This is a highly devotional practice and one that will test your ability to “keep breathing,” but I highly suggest everyone try it at least once. It will open your eyes.
Who’s it for? On one hand, I’d say those who are actively seeking a more spiritual practice but on the other hand I think Kundalini has surprised a lot of people who had no idea what to expect and discovered its power. This is why I suggest everyone try it at least once and see how they respond to it.
Well-known teachers: Yogi Bhajan and Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa
What is it? A style that is full of dynamic and creative movement, lots of breathing, and in which no class is ever the same. Many teach with a theme and meditation and always close with a deep relaxation. This style often pays a bit less attention to alignment but instead focuses on freedom, creativity, and the link between how we move, breathe, and connect.
Who’s it for? People who enjoy moving (many dancers are drawn to this style), who find focus and meditation through movement and who enjoy that each class is never the same as the next one. Also, great for those who love music–most Vinyasa teachers play inspiring and energizing music to accompany their sequencing.
Well-known teachers: Shiva Rea, Dana Flynn, Sharon Gannon
What is it? A therapeutic style of yoga using props (bolsters, blankets, straps, blocks, eye covers, etc.) to set a person up in one pose for an extended period of time (7-20 minutes). Once in the pose, there is no work involved; just the deep opening and relaxation that a supported pose provides.
Who’s it for? Anyone and Everyone. We all go at such a fast speed that to take the time for this deeply relaxing practice, well, it’s a little piece of heaven. Good for the body, mind and spirit. Also great for those who are recovering from an injury, a trauma, pregnancy, illness–you can get the benefits of the practice without having to physically work for it.
Check out: Writing and workshops by Judith Hanson Lasater. She is truly the Mother of Restorative Yoga and has so much to share. www.judithlasater.com
I must conclude by saying there are about a thousand other styles that you may encounter, but most will stem from one of the above. Every style has a beginner level, so if you are brand new, start there so you can learn the proper way to approach it. Also, be willing to try different things. You might think you’re one kind of yogi and discover that something unexpected feels amazing to your body or relaxes you in a way you didn’t know possible.
Happy Yoga Journey everyone! Hope this information gives some direction.