Think yoga’s only for bendy young bunnies in skin tight lycra or for dreadlocked, tie-dyed hippies?
Ever done a class in a freezing, dusty church hall and thought, ‘this ain’t for me’? Or found a swanky new yoga studio, but the teacher got on your nerves? Was your class too challenging? Not demanding enough? Did the chanting freak you out?
You’re not alone. Having been to hundreds (maybe thousands!) of yoga classes, I’ve had my fair share of weird and whacky experiences. Not all yoga classes are created equal.
As a yoga teacher for the past 10 years I’ve focused on my true yoga love: Vinyasa Flow. I love the variety, creativity and the fun of it. Most of all I love the way it makes me feel so damn good!
There’s a type and teacher to suit everyone. It’s just a matter of finding your yoga style and a teacher you resonate with.
Here’s my guide to finding the yoga that’s right for you.
This one often confuses people. Hatha is an umbrella term for any kind of yoga that uses the physical poses – all the types of yoga described below are forms of Hatha yoga. It’ll generally mean gentle yoga in a slow to medium paced class that includes posture work with the emphasis on the breath, a final relaxation and maybe a little chanting or meditation.
For you: You’re a beginner and want a general introduction to yoga.
Maybe not: You’re a practised yogi looking for an upbeat challenging class.
One of the more traditional Indian heritage styles. Expect a physical focus – a vigorous, dynamic class with the same poses all linked together in the same sequence in a continuous flow. If you’re new to yoga you’ll definitely need to start with a beginner’s course.
For you: You enjoy a good sweat, want a lean toned body and are happy to repeat the same sequence class on class.
Maybe not: If you like variety or if you’re not particularly fit. (You’d be better to start with a slower form of yoga.)
*You might see the term ‘Mysore’ in connection with Ashtanga yoga. (This has nothing to do with how sore your limbs might feel afterwards!) It means that once you know the sequence well you can practice on your own, at your own pace with the encouragement and advice of a teacher, as needed.
Hot yoga is done in a hot room (heated to around 95-100F / 35-38C) – usually in front of a mirror. It tends to be a flow style class where you link one pose to the next.
Bikram follows a set sequence of 24 poses and two breathing exercises repeated twice in each class. Expect a flowing practice with relatively little spiritual emphasis.
For you: You want a super sweaty workout, a good detox and to ogle buff guys in tiny pants!
Maybe not: Repetition and sauna-like conditions don’t appeal or you want a meditative aspect to your class.
Very precise with detailed instruction. (The teacher may ask you to focus on the placement of your pinky toe.) Expect to hold each pose for a long time and use props (blankets, blocks, belts) to help achieve and hold the correct alignment. Easily adapted for all levels – good for beginners, improving posture or helping with specific health issues.
For you: You have a fascination for the details of a pose and like everything ‘just so’. You’ve been advised to do yoga for your back or health issues.
Maybe not: You want to focus on more than just body mechanics – there’s not much emphasis on spirituality, breath work or meditation.
Jivamukti means ‘liberation while living’. Popular with celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Christy Turlington – it’s a flow style practice which is physically intense and great fun. Each class has a theme which is explored through postures, breathwork, music, meditation and chanting.
For you: You like cool tunes in your class, want a good workout and more (you’ll get plenty of philosophising).
Maybe not: You want a quiet class – Jivamukti teachers use present day examples to explain spiritual yoga teachings (so there can be a lot of talking).
One of the more spiritual types of yoga – you’ll find more focus on breathing, meditation, mudras (hand gestures) and chanting than in other types of yoga. Classes often end with meditation and a closing song. Kundalini teachers often wear white flowing robes and head wraps but it’s not compulsory for students!
For you: You’re up for a mental as well as a physical challenge.
Maybe not: Chanting freaks you out or you’re less interested in the spiritual side of yoga.
A high energy fitness based approach to Vinyasa Flow yoga (see below). It’s similar to Ashtanga but offers more variety. It tends to emphasise strength and flexibility over spirituality and philosophy, but that varies from teacher to teacher.
For you: You want maximum physical workout, minimal chanting and meditation.
Maybe not: You prefer a nurturing, relaxing class that doesn’t push you to your limit.
Super relaxing, nurturing and a lot of lying around – but in a positive, constructive way! Props – including bolsters and blankets – will support you so you can hold the poses for longer, letting your body open in a passive way. You’ll still get the stretch and will feel open and refreshed afterwards. Should be compulsory for busy mothers!
For you: You’re feeling burnt out or exhausted.
Maybe not: You feel the cold. Be sure to wear enough layers and take an extra blanket as you won’t be warming up your body as you would in other yoga classes.
A traditional form of yoga based on five principles – proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet and thinking. The slow paced, often gentle, classes include breath work, a warm up with Sun Salutations and then mastering 12 basic poses.
For you: You want a rounded practice with a mental and spiritual as well as physical focus. You’ve always wanted to stand on your head.
Maybe not: You’re looking for physical variety or aren’t into the spiritual side of things.
Sometimes called Flow yoga because of the way the poses run together and become like a dance. Expect movement synchronised with breathing and a lot of variety. Whether the class is fast, slow, includes meditation or chanting, or focuses on alignment depends very much on the individual teacher. There’s a lot of room for personality and individuality in this style, so if your first Vinyasa class doesn’t do it for you, try a different teacher.
For you: You like diversity and feeling free. You like things being unpredictable.
Maybe not: You like routine and prefer to hold poses rather than keep moving.
Yoga is SO good for you on many levels and I could write a whole separate piece on the mental and physical benefits.
Experiment, try different classes until you’ll find one you love.
I’m on a mission to turn people on to yoga – one student at a time. If everyone did yoga the world would be a better place!
In the comments below, tell us if you love yoga or have never tried it. Do you have a favourite style? Do you feel inspired to try one of the above? Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you!