Yoga. The exercise phenomenon that’s taken over the world. Yoga is now even prescribed by doctors. It’s amazing for promoting flexibility, balance, stability, strength, muscle toning and above all: mindfulness.
Yoga really is the wonder workout, but if you’re still a tentative beginner, have always been interested but never tried, or are looking to branch out into other styles and forms of yoga, it can feel a bit overwhelming looking at all the different options and classes available.
And what even is yoga? Well, starting in India around 5,000 years ago, yoga is now a staple class on offer in gyms, hospitals, schools and local community centers, or more fundamentally now, on YouTube videos or phone apps.
The ancient form of exercise focuses on joining your body, mind, and breath in a series of postures (your teacher may refer to these as “asanas”) whilst increasing the body’s strength and suppleness. In ancient Indian language (“Sanskrit”), yoga literally translates to “body-mind” (“Yo” being body, “Ga” being mind) so the mindfulness element comes in to play as you bridge the gap between the two and lose yourself in your practice.
Yoga is a completely natural way to help take care of the body and soul and can be a great thing to introduce to your routine as a way of combatting the stresses and difficulties we're all dealing with at the moment.
To help you find your way to a class, below is a comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list of different yoga styles you’re bound to be able to find in your local area. Take the time out of your day to dedicate yourself to a yoga session and to yourself. You might be surprised at what you find in an hour or so on the mat!
Hatha yoga is a typically generic yoga class so it might feature some sections of fluid motion but also some slower parts to refine or hold particular poses. Its focus is to calm the mind and align the body and spirit. Hatha is literally translated to mean “Willful”, and often known as the yoga of balance (“Ha” meaning Sun, “Tha” being moon from the old language).
It may not work up a sweat, but you’ll leave feeling taller, relaxed and rejuvenated. This is a great class for beginners, or a great practice for already addicted yogis who want to take it down a notch.
A very vigorous class, and definitely for a more experienced yogi (unless advertised for beginners!), it is based on very ancient teachings of yoga. It follows a specific series of postures, broken up with a short flow in between each pose. It’s a physically challenging and demanding practice, and classes are typically around 90 minutes long so don’t forget your towel and bring plenty of water!
This style is also referred to as a “flow” class so you may see it advertised as such. This essentially means that the breath directly links movement, so you’ll move into a pose on the inhale, and another pose on the exhale. There’s typically no stopping to refine or discuss poses and can usually feel like a strong practice.
Look for a “beginner-friendly” vinyasa class or “all levels welcome” if you’re new to it. It might be worth trying some Hatha classes first though if you’re a complete newbie.
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the teacher who developed Bikram now (there’s even a documentary on Netflix), but people still swear by this set sequence that’s designed to strengthen and stretch your muscles, as well as compress and “rinse” your body’s organs. The style is still very popular. You will work through the exact same 26 postures in every class, normally in an artificially heated room. You’ll definitely need water and a towel for this class, as sweating is guaranteed!
Pronounced “Eye-Yen-Gar”, this form of yoga is completely dedicated to perfecting alignment within poses. Props feature heavily in these classes so expect to find blocks, chairs, straps, and bolsters (the big sausage-shaped cushions!). Heart rate stays low, but the Iyengar style can be challenging mentally and in terms of your strength because you hold poses for a lot longer than most classes.
This is great for people who have an injury/chronic condition, are nervous about yoga or who want to properly understand each function and feeling of each pose as you’ll receive in-depth instruction on every movement.
A hot yoga class is inspired by Bikram but isn’t stuck in the trademarked series of 26 postures. These classes are usually more similar to vinyasa flow, but you’re in a heated room, so expect to sweat buckets and come prepared with a towel and water. If you’re hypermobile (already very bendy), it can exasperate your mobility and allow you to go further than perhaps your body might want to, so exercise in the heat with caution if this is something you have.
Yin is a passive style but perfect class for calming the mind and stretching the body. Beginners are very welcome here too! It’s designed to target your deep connective tissue between your muscles and aims to increase blood circulation to your joints and promote flexibility. Expect to hold poses for a few minutes at a time, and let your breath take over as your mind rests.
It’s all about trial and error with exercise, so make sure to try several styles to find the one to suit you. With all the online classes, you can dedicate the time to finding the right style, and the right teacher for you.
The above aren’t even all the styles there are. There’s Kundalini, Mysore, Jivamukti and even things like Goat Yoga (…yeah, google it). Yoga’s taken over the world for a reason, and that’s because it’s a great way of nurturing and taking care of your body and mind. Give it a try!