Are you confused by all the different classes at your local yoga studio? Saanya Gulati decodes 8 popular styles to help you decide which one is best for you.
Yoga has followed me from India to London and to my current home Dubai – much like its own journey westwards and then back east.
Dubai’s yoga studios are big on branding. They venture from the vinayasa and ashtanga to the more curious sounding candelight and kundalini yoga. The abundance of choice is both overwhelming and perplexing. After all, how does one filter out the fitness fads from the ones that are really worth it?
While I consider myself a yoga aficionado, I haven’t been very experimental. But this International Yoga Day, I decided to challenge myself and tried at least one new kind of yoga every day.
So, for the aspiring yogis and yoginis, or those who practice regularly but aren’t as adventurous as they’d like to be, here’s a simplified guide to the different kinds of yoga and how to decide which one is right for you.
- Vinayasa Yoga
Vinayasa is a word you will inevitably encounter in yoga. It means a seamless sequence of poses performed with the breath. Today, many yoga instructors use it with reference to the three-posture sequence of plank, chaturanga dandasana, bhujangasana and adho mukha svansana (aka upward and downward facing dog), which are part of surya namaskar (sun salutation).
Vinayasa yoga classes use this three-posture sequence to create a continuous flow – which explains why it’s also called ‘flow yoga’. The idea is to take a vinayasa between each posture rather than coming to a standstill. While it sounds tiring, the pace and intensity depends entirely on the instructor. Some classes pack in a lot of asanas, while follow a slower pace. In other words, no two vinayasa class is the same.
- Exposure to traditional yoga asanas
- Strength building through the continuous flow
- Emphasis on breathing and flexibility
- Lots of time spent in downward facing dog, for those not used to it
- Can involve complicated binds and twists. However, there’s a simplified version of each
2. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga is a vinayasa style of yoga developed by K Pattabhi Jois. This is one of the few kinds of yoga with a set sequence of postures, no matter where you practice it.
Ashtanga classes almost always last for 90-minutes, starting with five repetitions of surya namaskar (A and B), followed by a standing, seated and finishing sequence. This set of asanas is called the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series.
While there are intermediate and advanced ashtanga series, most classes focus on the primary series – because mastering this is a feat it in itself!
- Builds flexibility
- Dynamic sequence through vinayasa flow
- Rejuvenating, especially for lower back
- Not very physically intensive, or for weight loess
- Involves slightly complicated twist/ balancing poses depending on your flexibility
3. Hatha Yoga
Hatha means effort or force in Sanskrit, connoting a form of yoga that requires physical exertion. Ironically, this is a relatively milder form of yoga with gentle twists and stretches. Unlike ashtanga and vinayasa where you’re constantly moving, hatha yoga places more emphasis on holding each pose for five to eight breaths.
- Emphasis on breathing
- Deep stretches for the hips, spine, hamstrings
- Increases concentration, releases tension
- Not physically intensive or for weight loss
4. Power yoga
As the name suggests, power yoga is a more cardio-intensive work out. Derived from vinayasa and ashtanga, it usually follows a continuous flow with endurance-building exercises. A classical asana in power yoga is the yogi push up. This is similar to a tricep push up, where your elbows are closer to the body.
- Builds stamina, core strength and muscles
- Physically challenging
- Combines yoga and cardio
- Less relaxing/meditative
- Difficult to maintain regular breath if you’re not physically active
5. Hot yoga
Hot yoga is like an outdoor workout in Dubai’s summer. I know what you’re thinking – why? I concur. In fact, I was so reluctant toward the idea, that I tried warm yoga, where the room is heated to 30 degrees Celsius instead of 40.
As for the actual postures, they are similar to what you would perform in power, vinayasa or ashtanga yoga, but with a lot more sweat.
- Sweating eliminates toxins
- Physically challenging
- Can be uncomfortable depending on your heat tolerance
- Can make you feel slightly dizzy
6. Swing yoga
Swing yoga, also known as aerial or suspended yoga, uses aerial silks, which are long thick pieces of fabric suspended from the ceiling, usually for acrobats. Think cirque du soleil.
I like to call this the most instagrammed type of yoga, because people never tire of documenting upside down stunts on social media.
Having tried it, I can promise you that there’s more to this practice than inverting your body. The advantage of the silks is that they allow you to perform asanas you may not be able to when grounded – not just inversions, but even poses that usually require more balance.
- Builds core muscles, arm strength
- Increases spinal and shoulder flexibility, releases tension
- Gives a sense of lightness
- Allows you to try different asanas, especially inversions
- Savasana (final relaxation) is basically chilling in a hammock!
- Takes a couple of classes to develop familiarity with the silks
- Can be taxing on the arm muscles, as some poses require you to lift yourself up
- If you don’t have good balance, you may feel unstable or nervous of falling
- Inversions create a rush of blood to the head, which may give you a thrill but can also be scary, if you have a propensity toward dizziness.
My tip: do not stay upside down for very long periods of time. If you don’t feel comfortable you can adjust the silk to just a few inches above the ground, so you’re essentially lying on your back with your legs wrapped in the silk, like a shoulder stand. This is a good –and very relaxing – alternative to inversions.
7. Yin yoga
Yin yoga is a slow-paced form of yoga that stretches the connective tissues by holding each posture for almost five minutes. It commonly involves props, such as blocks, blankets or large bolsters to help you to comfortably hold the pose for a longer period. As my instructor put it, the idea is not about how the pose looks, but how it feels.
- Increases concentration, releases tension
- Increases circulation in the joints, flexibility
- Meditative, emphasis on inner reflection
- Not physically intensive
- Passive practice – most asanas are sitting postures
8. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga is an inward practice, which involves a combination of chanting and breathing exercises. The asanas are designed to increase consciousness, improve concentration and focus more on the spiritual rather than physical aspect. Essentialy, it is more about releasing negative energy than perfecting postures.
- Inward and reflective practice – most asanas are performed with closed eyes
- Improves concentration, focus, discipline through repetition of asanas
- Focus on breathing, increasing consciousness
- Not physically rigorous
- Asanas aren’t to improve flexibility
Saanya Gulati is a communications professional based in Dubai. She has been practicing yoga for over four years and is an aspiring yoga teacher. Her favourite forms of yoga are ashtanga and vinayasa. She has previously lived in London, Mumbai, Delhi, Boston and Hong Kong. She writes about politics and culture at www.saanyagulati.com and tweets at @BombayDelhiGirl.