One of the first questions you’ll have when getting started with yoga is which type of yoga is best for me? To help answer this question it’s first useful to understand the different types of yoga (also known as yoga styles).
In this blog we’ll be exploring the similarities and differences between the most common types of yoga styles and tips about the best style(s) for you.
If you prefer you can watch my YouTube video where I explain more about the different styles of yoga and which type of yoga is best for you.
Similarities and Differences in Yoga Styles
Before we jump into exploring what makes each yoga style different and answering the question which type of yoga is best for me, let’s first look at what all yoga styles have in common.
Because despite there being some significant differences between yoga styles there is a reason why they’re all called yoga!
So no matter which style of yoga you practice, you’ll always be focusing in on your body, breath and mind. This comes down to the fundamental intention and essence of all yoga styles and practices to become more aware of sensations in your body and breath, as well as associated thoughts and feelings.
The differences then that you’ll find between different types of yoga is based on the approach of how we connect inwards to our body, breath and mind.
Some yoga styles are more active and dynamic with a focus on stretching and strengthening your body, while other styles are more gentle and quiet with more attention on moving slowly or sitting in stillness.
And however much physical effort is involved in the type of yoga there is always still the essence of watching your breath and your mental state as it changes from moment to moment.
What Types of Yoga Are There?
As yoga has become more popular over the years there are more and more types of yoga. This makes it very hard to quantify how many types of yoga exist and to list every style.
We can however focus in on the characteristics of the most popular yoga styles to help gain an understanding of which yoga style is best for me.
Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga
Both ashtanga and vinyasa yoga are active forms of yoga where you focus on yoga postures that build flexibility and strength. You’ll typically link the movement between postures with one breath and hold specific yoga poses for around five breaths or 30 seconds.
Ashtanga yoga is a set sequence of yoga poses that you approach in the same order each time. The pace of led classes can feel quite fast when you’re not familiar with the postures. But as you learn the sequence and yoga poses you’ll find you can focus more on moving in a meditative flow with your breath.
Some of the yoga postures in the ashtanga primary series are quite advanced so try not to get discouraged if you find some of the poses challenging. There are always options of scaling the practice or a particular pose that a teacher can support you with to find a version that feels appropriate for your body.
Vinyasa yoga has a similar pace to ashtanga yoga and includes many of the same yoga poses. The difference is that the yoga poses and order you approach them change in each practice.
Often there is a theme in a vinyasa yoga class that might build up to a peak posture or focus on a particular set of poses. You’re also encouraged to breathe slowly and steadily in each pose and focus your mind in on your breath.
Like in ashtanga if there are specific yoga poses that feel challenging or unsuitable there are always alternative options that you can try instead.
Slow Flow and Hatha Yoga
Slow flow and hatha yoga are both more static practices than ashtanga and vinyasa yoga. You’ll still move dynamically through a series of sun salutations and yoga postures but with slower pace and less focus on strengthening poses.
During these types of yoga you’ll be pausing between five to ten breaths or 30 – 60 seconds in yoga postures and exploring how this feels for your body and breath.
There is a bit more focus on easing the body gently into some of the yoga postures rather than actively engaging the body. But at the same time still covering some yoga poses that require strength as well as flexibility.
Gentle Yoga and Yin
Gentle yoga and yin are like the name suggests more gentle forms of yoga that move at a slower pace. There is much more focus on relaxing the body into the pose and allowing the movements to be easy and soft.
You might stay anywhere from five to fifty breaths or 30 seconds to 5 minutes in one yoga posture. Perhaps using props such as bolsters, blankets, blocks and cushions to allow the body to feel supported and more comfortable.
Due to the slower pace it can feel easier to lengthen your breath. But this slower pace doesn’t necessarily mean that it feels easy to keep your mind focused inward!
Like with all yoga styles, each time we notice that our attention has wondered away from our body and breath we keep doing our best to bring our awareness back to the present moment.
Pranayama Breathing Techniques and Meditation
Pranayama breathing techniques and meditation require the body to be completely still. Something that can be harder than it looks!
Often if our hips are not that open and it feels uncomfortable to sit for long periods of time in a crossed legged position on the floor. Therefore it can be helpful to explore other ways to sit like on a cushion or chair.
Pranayama focuses on using specific breathing exercises to change our inhale, exhale and pauses between the breath. This supports our overall breathing capacity and breathing patterns outside of our yoga practice, as well as building concentration and helping us progress to meditation.
Meditation is all about focusing our mind on one specific point and being determined to keep bringing our focus back to that point each time we get distracted.
Yoga Styles for Beginners
When deciding which yoga style is best for beginners it’s worth noting that we are all unique and different. And therefore one yoga style may feel really suitable for one beginner yoga practitioner while another yoga style may feel much better for another.
It’s therefore worth to first think of your goals of practicing yoga. What is it that you want to get out of your yoga practice?
Often when you know this and a little bit about what to expect from different types of yoga this can help you decide what will suit you best.
It is worth to note that if you are looking for a more dynamic practice it can still be helpful to first practice some slow flow and/or hatha yoga. This moves at a slower pace than ashtanga and vinyasa yoga and therefore gives you more time to explore and get familiar with the basic yoga postures before joining a faster class.
While if you’re interested in a slower practices (like gentle yoga, yin, pranayama and meditation) the slower pace makes it also feel approachable for beginners.
What Type of Yoga is Best for Me
Finding the best type of yoga for you is something that I’d recommend experimenting with. If you’re not sure what to expect from some of the styles of yoga I’ve mentioned above why not try them out and see how you get on?
After all as I said at the beginning there are many similarities and benefits of all yoga practices. And one of the most important criteria of finding the best type of yoga for you is that you find something you enjoy!
Also depending on your personality and other responsibilities you have it might suit you to focus on just one style of yoga. While for others you might enjoy doing vinyasa yoga one day and gentle yoga another day.
I’d recommend though finding a bit of consistency with your practice and a specific style so that you can get more familiar with it and also have space to focus on some of the more subtle elements of the practice.
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