by NATALIE WILLIAMS
In the Western world, yoga is typically synonymous with the physical practice, or Hatha yoga. But in reality, it is much more than that.
Before we get into the most common types of Hatha yoga, I think it is important to get a brief background on where the physical practice comes from and a glimpse of what the bigger picture of yoga looks like.
Branches of Yoga
There are six branches of yoga, with the ultimate goal of uniting the physical and mental self.
1. Raja Yoga: also known as royal yoga, focuses on meditation and reflection. It is based on the eight-limbed path toward self-realization from the Yoga Sutras.
2. Bhakti Yoga: this form focuses on devotion to God. It involves a lot of chanting and promotes acceptance, tolerance and love for all beings.
3. Jnana Yoga: this involves a disciplined study of scriptures and an inquiry into the nature of self. It is often called “the yoga of the mind.”
4. Karma Yoga: this is the form of selfless service. Karma yogis act for the betterment of all beings.
5. Mantra Yoga: this is the yoga of sound. The purpose of this is to become centered through the repetition of mantras.
6. Hatha Yoga: this is the practice of yoga postures, or asanas.
Styles of Hatha Yoga
As I mentioned earlier, Hatha yoga is the branch of yoga you are most likely to encounter in the West. Vinyasa, Hot and Restorative are some of the forms of Hatha yoga you have probably seen on a studio’s class list. But you may not know what each of those classes consist of, making it difficult to decide which type is best for you.
Relaxation, healing an injury, building strength and improving flexibility are some of the most common reasons I hear for someone attending a yoga class. The good news is that there is a form or style of yoga that can address all of these reasons. The most important thing to remember is yoga should be adapted to you and you have the flexibility to make the class what you need it to be. It’s up to you to do what’s best for your body. Just give your instructor a heads up before class if you have any injuries or medical concerns they should be aware of.
To break it down, here are some of the most common forms of Hatha yoga:
1. Anusara: is a relatively new form of yoga founded by John Friend. Anusara means “flowing with grace” and is based on a Tantric philosophy to help students “open their hearts”. Classes are sequenced according to Friend’s Universal Principles of Alignment and are rigorous for the body and mind.
2. Ashtanga: this is a physically demanding style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures, linking every movement to a breath.
3. Bikram: this was created in the 1970s by a man named Bikram Choudhury, who turned out to be a real creep. This is a HOT yoga class where you will sweat through a series of 26 poses. Choudhury trademarked his sequence and has sued studios who call themselves Bikram but don’t teach the poses exactly the way he says they should be… he also sexually assaulted his students, but I digress. Regardless, this is a very popular style of yoga, with awesome teachers that can give you the kick ass workout you may be looking for.
4. Hatha: Even though this is a general description, this class will be a gentle introduction to the most basic yoga poses and is suitable for beginners.
5. Hot: this class is similar to Bikram, with the heat and physical demands, but it likely deviates from Bikram’s sequence so it has to be called something different.
6. Iyengar: this style was developed by B.K.S Iyengar and is a very meticulous style of yoga with extreme attention paid to finding proper alignment in a pose. These classes will include a wide array of props (blocks, blankets, straps, etc.). You won’t be moving a lot, but it will still be very physically and mentally challenging as you stay put in a pose for a long period of time.
7. Restorative: this class is great for relaxation and rejuvenation. These classes use bolsters, blankets and blocks to prop students in passive poses so they can experience the benefits of poses without having to exert any effort.
8. Viniyoga: this style of yoga, meaning “appropriate action," is the style I was certified in. Viniyoga adapts the means and methods of practice to the unique condition, needs and interest of each individual. The four things that differentiate this style from others are: repetition and stay, function over form, breath and adaptation, and the art and science of sequencing.
9. Vinyasa: meaning “to place in a special way.” These classes are known for their fluid, movement intensive practices. No two Vinyasa classes are the same, so these classes are great for people who hate routine and want a physically challenging class.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but I hope this list gives you a little better idea of what to expect next time you look at a studio's class list.
Don’t be afraid to check out a class you have never gone to before, you may just find your new favorite style of yoga. Namaste.
Natalie Williams is an RYT 200, Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach and Little Shell beadwork artist. She loves being outdoors with her husband and corgis, a great glass of red wine with friends and family, being on her yoga mat and traveling. Natalie is a Montana native, but currently resides in Wenatchee, WA with her husband, Travis, and two corgis, Luna and Elway.
Find her on Instagram @n.v.williams !