The BEST style of Yoga
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
What is the best style of yoga?
If you do a quick Google search it's clear to see that there are many different styles of yoga. It can be overwhelming to know where to start with all of the options. Furthermore, there are more styles/types of classes being hybridized or otherwise developed as time goes on. How do you choose what's best for YOU?
The best style of yoga is of course subjective as it dependent on the goals of you, the student. Answering a few questions can help point you in the right direction:
Question 1: Are you looking to get grounded into your physical body or are you looking for an experience of expansion and possibly even transcendence?
If expansion is your jam and you want to use yoga as the catalyst, you may want to try kundalini yoga. Be aware that this style of yoga can trigger what’s known as a kundalini awakening which can be quite the ride if one isn't ready for it.
Kundalini yoga is considered to work more on the energetic body than the physical body. It is a technical practice to say the least. Kundalini is a sanskrit word meaning coiled snake. An aim of practicing kundalini yoga is to unblock or unlock energy which when released can be experienced as a sensation initiating at the base of the spine moving in an upward motion through the vertebrae and chakra system, finally up and out the crown of the head.
When this previously "coiled snake" energy is "awakened" and let loose it can bring major shifts in perception and well being. Students often feel more aligned to love and gratitude from a kundalini practice if consistent. Aligning one's life and vibe towards lightness tends to be a major goal for students. Practically speaking, while students will be doing some movements, the goal is not physical like the other typical kinds of yoga we'll discuss below.
There is a focus on particular types of breathing and body movement, even certain hand positions called mudras. The use of chants or mantras is quite common. Meditation will be included for sure. When breath, posture and sound are used together this is called a "kriya" in the kundalini tradition. Teachers will probably be wearing all white as well as many of the students, though this is not required. This style of yoga is quite unique and doesn't really look like a stretching session.
If you’re not trying to blast off into fields of bliss necessarily, but instead want to focus on what's going on physically in your body it's time for another ask:
Question 2: What level of physical workout are you looking for?
Hatha yoga can be thought of as a blanket for the more physical styles. The Sanskrit word haṭha means "force". All of the below styles are within the system of physical techniques linked with breath. Some consider Hatha to be its own style rather than a blanket for the physically oriented techniques but at its root hatha yoga is any yoga practice focusing on postures to a certain degree.
If you want something extremely chill try Restorative yoga. You will be using various props like bolsters, blocks and blankets to get some light stretching in but really focusing on relaxing and letting go of tension. In restorative yoga classes, it's possible that you may not do any standing poses at any point in the class. These classes are great to add on to reset your nervous system every now and again, even if you don't do them regularly.
You'll often see "Gentle" yoga at some studios or platforms. This is not the same as Restorative yoga but is still pretty relaxing. Gentle yoga can take different forms but typically will involve some standing, sitting and lying down poses. Gentle yoga is nice in that you will activate your muscles but most students are not going to be sweating. Gentle yoga doesn't typically involve much cardio.
A 3rd slower yoga of worthy mention is Yin yoga. Yin entails long, slow stretches where students are holding poses for 3-5 minutes or longer. These classes are slow but can actually be rather intense both in terms of the depth of the stretch as well as the mental challenge. You will be with yourself, not moving for 3-5 minutes or more. This is a great practice to build self awareness and working on taking control of the monkey mind.
Yin classes are aiming to realign and "un-kink" your fascia connective tissue. These classes can bring about emotional releases for many students as deep hip stretches are par for the course. Traumas stored in the body can be resolved as you sit with them and slowly release one breath at a time. Two concepts critical for a good yin class: Let go and stay present.
Wait, you wanted a work out?
Look to power yoga. Power yoga is essentially synonymous with Vinyasa flow yoga, and is the other side of the proverbial coin. Some describe the difference between the two saying that vinyasa yoga is more focused on the breath and power yoga is more focused on building strength but this feels like splitting hairs...
Power yoga and/or vinyasa yoga are not slow and can get physically intense.
This style of yoga helps students build strength, flexibility, endurance, confidence, focus and a deep calm within the storm. Beginners should take care in power yoga classes but don't need to avoid them. A good teacher will always give options to slow it down, take breaks and do alternative postures (asanas). A good student will listen to his/her body and not push it to far. These classes are great for keeping the ego in check.
Power yoga classes follow a certain pattern, starting typically with some kind of warm up. Often within the warm up phase students will be holding poses in a particular sequence for a bit longer and teachers will give a variety of alignment instructions. During the warm up phase it's important to make sure the foundations are followed and body alignment is correct. After the warm up phase this style of yoga picks up pace and eventually peaks in intensity before cooling down and often ends in meditation and a seriously welcomed savasana (lying on the ground with eyes closed, letting go completely, translated as corpse pose).
Each class can feel like a "Hero's Journey" of sorts. Teachers have the liberty to lead students through a wide variety of sequences but usually there is a fair amount of what feels like a "yoga push up" immediately into upward, then downward dog. This little sequence is standard regardless of whatever else is going on in the class. Injuries can happen if alignment isn't correct and students are speeding through. If students have any doubt it's good to check in with the instructor and always with your own body.
Power yoga can be even more intense if you do it in a hot room. Hot yoga is pretty self explanatory. You are doing yoga in a hot room, much of the time it will be some variant of power yoga, but not always. Expect lots of sweating, which is viewed as helpful to cleanse the body. Make sure you are well-hydrated for hot yoga classes!
Bikram yoga is a particular style of hot yoga following the teaching of teacher Bikram Choudhury. Each class is the same 26 postures, 2 breathing exercises and 90 minutes so you know exactly what to expect.
Ashtanga yoga, like Bikram is consistent, but is not in a hot room. You do the same postures each time. There are 6 series in ashtanga yoga depending on a students level of mastery in this style. Each "series" follows a set of poses which are practiced in the same order. A student will only start on the next series once they have a strong foundation in the preceding series. Ashtanga yoga builds strength and flexibility. You know what you are getting vs power yoga where the teacher really can change it up a lot to focus on certain themes.
B.S.K Iyengar developed Iyengar yoga while recovering from tuberculosis and the practice is rooted in breath and posture. This style of yoga is fantastic for nailing alignment. Keen attention to alignment is a hallmark of Iyengar yoga. Students who think they've got it going on in some other styles of yoga should take Iyengar classes every now and again to get alignment help. Teacher training is long and rigorous on this one. Having good alignment will help prevent injuries and keep you practicing year after year. Use of props such as straps, blankets, blocks and bolsters is heavy. This style is about getting the poses right, and leaving your ego at the door.
There are a wide variety of other styles of yoga from paddle board yoga to even goat yoga... but these ones are the most common.