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Perhaps you’re flirting with the idea of starting a yoga practice, or perhaps you’re a seasoned yogi who is looking to learn more. Either way, we’re breaking down the basics of each type of yoga for you.
As everyone’s favorite YouTube yoga instructor, Adriene Mishler describes, vinyasa is Sanskrit for “to place in a special way.” The term vinyasa is often used in the West to refer to a flow class, or to describe the flow between Chaturanga to upward-facing dog. However, as Mishler points out, it’s really meant to describe moving with intention and moving with your breath, as is done in a vinyasa flow class.
We use the term hatha to describe a slower-paced class than vinyasa flow, but the Sanskrit term means “force.” Hatha covers the physical postures that are used in all types of yoga. In the West, hatha yoga simply refers to any physical practice. Non-physical yoga practices include kriya, raja, and karma yoga.
A type of vinyasa, ashtanga focuses on six series of asanas that increase in difficulty. This Sanskrit word translates as “eight limb path,” which is what all yogis are on, whether they know it or not. You see, asanas, or yoga poses, is just one of the eight limbs of yoga. That’s another story for another time, but suffice to say the other seven limbs consist of: “Yama (attitudes toward our environment), Niyama (attitudes toward ourselves), Pranayama (restraint or expansion of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (complete integration),” according to 8 Limbs Yoga.
You may find as you go on that you are practicing all of these types of yoga, which are not so different after all. Iyengar is a traditional version of hatha yoga that pays close attention to proper alignment. Developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, this meticulous style of yoga was popularized in the ’70s. According to Yoga Journal, Iyengar is “probably the most popular type of yoga practiced” in the US. Props such as belts, blocks, and blankets to perfect postures.
Kundalini yoga is supposed to awaken the energy that’s trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine and drawing it upwards to release. If you’ve ever practiced Breath of Fire, you’ve done Kundalini yoga. Kundalini is Sanskrit for “life force energy,” which is known as prana or chi in the yoga community. Yoga Journal explains that Kundalini yoga “incorporates postures, dynamic breathing techniques, and chanting and meditating on mantras.”
Speaking of meditating, anyone who is interested in starting a meditation practice should download the Headspace app or at least check out the Headspace series on Netflix (they’re not even paying us to say that, it’s just that good). Also, if you need some mantras, I highly recommend Deepak Chopra’s book, Total Meditation. I have linked to the audiobook because his accent is so great.
Devised by the pervy Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga is a special kind of torture. Surprisingly, some people prefer this sweaty and stinky practice. Bring a towel to this version of hot yoga, because it is practiced at 105 degrees. This is a tough one to do at home since you probably don’t want to raise your thermostat that high.
Yin yoga is a “slow-paced style of yoga with seated postures that are held for longer periods of time” according to MindBodyGreen. While other forms of yoga focus on muscles, yin yoga targets the body’s connective tissues.
Yin yoga is often referred to as restorative yoga. This is the nap time of yoga practices. Yoga Medicine says that while “all different types of yoga can aid stress relief and brain health, restorative yoga places its focus on down-regulating the nervous system. Restorative yoga can benefit those who need to chill out and de-stress, and it can also be used as part of your rest-day self-care.” If you are sick or injured, there’s no excuse not to make it to the mat, because there’s always this cozy style of yoga to fall back on.
Power yoga is the Jane Fonda workout of yoga practices. As Yoga Medicine describes, “Power yoga is generally more active and is done at a quicker pace than other styles of yoga.” Those who like to break a sweat, but aren’t fond of the melting heat of hot yoga enjoy this workout.
There are some poses you want to avoid when carrying a human life form in your womb. Prenatal yoga avoids these postures, such as (ironically) happy baby, and instead focuses on things that can “help prepare your body for delivery, like squats and pelvic floor work,” according to Yoga Medicine. Yoga Medicine also points out how prenatal yoga is excellent exercise and is a great form of self-care and exercise for moms-to-be. Breathing exercises sure do come in handy when it comes to pushing a body out of your body, too. As MindBodyGreen states, it is important for prenatal yoga practitioners to use “props in order to modify your poses and ensure stability.”
Aerial yoga is the tatas. Aerial yoga incorporates aerial silks that are attached to the ceiling for an anti-gravity situation. Lying weightless in a cocoon brings your savasana to a whole new, lovely level. Plus, you can hang upside down, releasing pressure that can’t compare to normal, floor-based yoga. While this is by far the most fun version of yoga, the only downside is it is difficult to practice at home.
Acro yoga definitely wins the coolest type of yoga award. The hardest part is finding a partner. Basically, acro yoga takes regular yoga poses and makes them airborne. All you need is one person to be the “base,” holding it down on the ground, and the other to be the “flyer,” doing tricks, I mean, striking poses, in the air. Again, the only downside is that since this requires a spotter, it’s hard to practice at home. However, if you can find an acro yoga class and a willing partner, you’re in business!