Styles of Yoga

Most of the modern styles or ‘lineages’ of yoga stem from the foundational principles of Hatha yoga, reflecting its profound influence on contemporary practices. Hatha yoga, as a broad category, encompasses various methods that focus on asana (postures) and pranayama (breath control).

Generally speaking, any style of yoga integrating these two core elements can be categorised under the umbrella of Hatha yoga. These practices aim to balance and calm the body, mind, and breath, creating a balanced and harmonious existence.

The difference between modern yoga styles often lies in the specific emphasis that is placed on breathing, posture, and in some cases, the dynamic movements or flows between postures.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is the style of yoga which usually comes to mind when you think of yoga in general terms. Hatha actually covers many forms of yoga practice, but has come to be recognised as a more gentle form of yoga, compared to other styles such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa Flow. 

The word Hatha can be translated two ways.  Broken down, it translates to ‘Ha’ (sun) and ‘tha’ (moon) representing the yoga of balance.  Another translation is ‘force’, meaning the yoga of activity, or attaining a state of yoga through force.  Hatha can therefore be considered as anything you might do with the body.

‘Yoga is the practice of quietening the mind'

The practice of Hatha yoga aims to strengthen your body and calm your thoughts through the coordination of your mind, body and breath.  A Hatha class will usually involve a set of physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama), practiced fairly slowly, with more static postures.  As Hatha does not denote any particular style, there can be quite a variation for what is explored in each class.  Practice can be based on a particular theme or a physical sequence, culminating in a specific posture being learned.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga, or power yoga as it is commonly known in the west, incorporates 26 postures which follow a set sequence, with each pose linked to the next in a continuous flow commonly known as a vinyasa.  The flow is sustained by a special form of deep rhythmic breathing call the Ujjayi breath (ocean breath).  Breathing lies at the very heart of Ashtanga yoga.

Ashtanga translates to ‘eight limbs’ and refers to the eight stages of practice as defined by Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.  

The Eight Limbs of Yoga are as follows:

  • Yama (moral discipline)
  • Niyama (self-observance)
  • Asana (posture)
  • Pranayama (breathing techniques)
  • Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
  • Dharana (focused concentration)
  • Dhyana (deep meditation)
  • Samadhi (Enlightenment or bliss)

‘Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory’

Western approaches to Ashtanga classes typically place a significant emphasis on the third, fourth and fifth limbs (asana, pranayama and pratyahara). The practice is physically demanding and develops stamina, strength and flexibility. Through dedication practice, students engage in a deep spiritual practice which prepares the physical body for the subtler forms of advanced yoga. 

The multifaceted nature of Ashtanga extends beyond its purely physical aspects. When approached with precision and awareness, the practice transcends the boundaries of the physical realm and delves into the profound spiritual dimensions. As students move through the sequences with mindfulness and intention, they pave the way for a transformative experience that reaches deep into the core of their being.

Iyengar Yoga

Developed by B.K.S Iyengar in the 1930’s, Iyengar yoga is a form of Hatha yoga that is most noted for its great attention to detail because of its precisely aligned postures.  In order to achieve these postures, it relies on a variety of different props, including bolsters, blankets, chairs, straps, bricks and blocks to name a few.  The props allow students to progress in their practice of postures safely at their own pace, to suit their body.  Iyengar classes tend to be slower paced, but physically demanding, with a focus on the transformative potential of asana.

‘The pose we avoid most,
we need the most'

Exact alignment is ideal for those trying to achieve perfection in their asana practice, but it also has practical results, even for those who aren’t concerned with technique. Many students report that this form of yoga has reduced many aches and pains in their bodies because of the focus on proper alignment.  What’s more, as you train to improve your asanas, you’ll likely find that your everyday posture improves.

Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is a deep, passive style of yoga where postures are held for much longer periods of time, anything from one to five minutes. The challenge is to remain physically motionless whilst cultivating a state of stillness within the mind. There are approximately twenty Yin postures with variations for beginners and more advanced practitioners. 

Yin yoga is predominantly floor based, compared to yang-like practices such as Hatha and Ashtanga.  It works by targeting the joints, ligaments, tendons and deep fascia networks of the body, with many postures focusing on connective tissues of the hips, pelvis and lower spine.  Yin is a great way to maintain or increase flexibility which is something we don’t notice until it is gone.  Yin yoga encourages the flow of prana (energy) which keeping the muscles as cool as possible.  This gives the body time to adjust and relax into a pose for a longer period of time. 

‘We don’t use our body to get into a pose. We use the pose to get into our body’

Whilst this style of yoga can initially seem quite inert, it is both physically and mentally challenging. Yin yoga requires practitioners to connect with their body and mind on a deeper level, by acknowledging feelings, sensations and emotions – something which can easily be avoided in a faster paced yoga practice. 

Amidst the prolonged and passive poses, students find themselves in a unique space where they can attune their awareness to subtleties often overshadowed in the rush of daily life. This deliberate embrace of stillness not only tests the body’s endurance and flexibility, but also challenges the mind’s capacity to remain present and accepting.

Kundalini Yoga

Often considered the oldest of all traditional forms of yoga, Kundalini yoga bring health and wellness and can unlock your potential and help you become your true, most excellent self. 

The word Kundalini literally means ‘coiled like a snake’ and is a poetic way to describe the divine energy within the human body.  This energy lies dormant at the base of the spine at the Root chakra, and the objective of Kundalini yoga is to release this energy so that it can travel from the Sushumna Nadi (energy transportation system of the physical body) in the spine, through the chakras until reaching the Crown chakra (thousand petal lotus in the head).

Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are’

Kundalini yoga includes the practice of asana and pranayama, kriya, mantra and meditation.  It is both spiritual and physical.  Kundalini yoga is energising, rejuvenating and can heal the practitioner, both physically and mentally.  It stimulates brain function and strengthens the nervous and immune systems and is suitable for beginners and all ages of life. 

Vinyasa Flow Yoga

Vinyasa Flow yoga draws heavily upon the Ashtanga tradition, although it does not adhere to the rigid structure of following a set sequence.  It could best be described as freestyle Ashtanga. 

Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic flow of poses which are connected through the breath. The fluid, almost dance-like movements increase strength, stamina and flexibility, whilst calming the mind.  Similarly, to Ashtanga yoga, emphasis is put on breathing through the practice of Ujjayi breath.  Each movement in a vinyasa is partnered with either an inhalation or exhalation, which creates the link between breath and movement.  You will often hear teachers say ‘take a vinyasa’ which involves a specific sequence of poses performed between other postures, in order to keep the continual flow of movement through the practice. 

‘Yoga is not a workout, it is a work-in’

This style of yoga can be physically challenging, depending on the ability level of the class.  The continual flow of postures builds heat within the body which in turn helps to improve cardiovascular and respiratory health.  Due to the constant awareness of the breath whilst moving through each posture, practitioners discover a calmness of the mind with increased focus.  This can help reduce stress and improve sleep quality.

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