I’ve come across many people who want to explore Yoga but have never known where to start. There are many different types of Yoga practices, not to mention western Yoga practices (like fitness yoga, coffee yoga, doggy Yoga and the new trend – goat Yoga!) so I can absolutely understand why people may feel intimidated by the practice. To get a feel for the different styles, it’s important to try a range of practices until you find one that suits you. You may find you really enjoy Hatha Yoga as opposed to Ashtanga Yoga so it is wise to do some research before you start.
To make your journey a bit easier, I have summarised some traditional Yoga styles below as well as those that are less traditional but still popular. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of the type of practice you might be interested in. For those of you who are wondering what I do, I practice Raja Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga most of the time, and touch upon the others too especially Karma Yoga, which I think it is very important for everyone.
The different types of Yoga I will talk through are:
- Raja and Ashtanga Yoga
- Karma Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga
- Hatha Yoga
- Bikram Yoga
- Tantra Yoga
- Vinyasa Yoga
- Iyengar Yoga
- Kundalini Yoga
My Ashtanga and Raja Yoga practice in Portugal at sunset
Raja Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga
Raja Yoga helps seek a higher path to enlightenment. It could be argued that most Yoga practices (well, traditional Yoga practices) are Raja Yoga too, because they are all trying to achieve the highest state of relaisation.
Raja Yoga encourages the benefits of meditation and is therefore recognised as a spiritual practice that aims to evolve the mind and enhance consciousness creating a more enriched spiritual focus. In a way, you could say that Raja Yoga is Yoga of the mind because of the focus on self-awareness, concentration and self-discipline. Essentially the practicioner will learn to quieten the mind and focus their attention inward and towards the divine creation.
Ashtanga Yoga is practiced to help gain control of the mind. In its truest form, it means the ‘eight steps of Yoga’, which can help acheive Raja Yoga:
1. Yama – this is self-control
2. Niyama – this is self-discipline
3. Asana – this is a pose or posture
4. Pranayama – this is controlling energy through breathwork
5. Pratyahara – this is withdrawing the senses from external objects
6. Dharana – this is concentrating
7. Dhyana – this is meditating
8. Samadhi – this is complete realisation, enlightenment and union with the divine
When practicing Karma Yoga, it is important to put all of your efforts into the action rather than being attached to the outcome or the benefits. Karma Yoga, therefore isn’t a physical activity but rather a daily practice for everyday life (but by all means put your Yoga pants on and start stretching if you want to).
Karma Yoga can be applied to everyday tasks, and when the action has been completed with selflessness, focus and attention, then it will bring freedom and fulfillment into the practitioners life. The goal of Yoga is unifying the self (mind, body, spirit) and this practice can encourage self-union.
In Sikhism, Sikhs are encouraged to perform seva, a selfless service for the community, which helps the moral uplifting of the person. Along with this, the Bhagavhad Gita said:
“Thy right is to work only, but never with its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction. As the ignorant men act from attachment to action, so should the wise act without attachment, wishing the welfare of the world.”
Bhakti Yoga is the engagement of the body, mind and soul connecting each aspect with the spiritual plane of devotion and love. It is a practice that is aims to strengthen the personal relationship with God or the Divine.
With Bhakti Yoga, a big part of the practice is to have the courage to face our subconscious and offer everything (good and bad) to the Divine. The aim is to not hold anything back as that shows true acceptance of the self and enables the practioner to dedicate and surrender everything.
You can practice by chanting, meditating and even incorporating element into daily tasks – for example, when you do the dishes or drive to work or catch the tube, you can be increasing your devotional awareness and transform these tasks into acts filled with love, harmony and devotion.
Hatha Yoga refers to the practice of physical poses, which means Ashtanga, Vinyasa etc can be classed as Hatha Yoga too. It has become very popular in the UK as it is a practice that incorporates different styles and includes the practice of yoga postures and breath work to bring peace to the mind and body. Sometimes, it can be difficult to really know what a Hatha Yoga class will consist of because it has been used in such a broad way in the UK, so that’s something to bear in mind when researching and attending classes.
Hatha Yoga encourages physical exercise to master the body and the mind and steers from external objects, in preparation for meditation and mindfulness. In it’s truest form, ‘ha’ means sun and ‘ta’ means moon in Sanskrit, which therefore brings the balance of the sun and moon into the self. As a whole it also is translated to being ‘forceful’ in practice.
Bikram Yoga was popularised in the 1970s by bikram Choudhury. The practice includes the same 26 poses (usually not including inversions but you may find some classes that do) in a 90 minute session designed to move fresh oxygenated blood around the body – to each fibre and cell.
In most classes that teach Bikram Yoga, the room is heated, sometimes up to 41 degrees Celsius (105 degrees farenheit), with high humidity. With this in mind, Bikram Yoga can often be referred to as ‘Hot Yoga’ – however these two practices are not to be confused. ‘Hot Yoga’ means any Yoga practice in a hot room as opposed to Bikram Yoga, which is the 26 poses.
It’s always so important to stay hydrated throughout any Yoga class but especially Bikram Yoga classes or Hot Yoga classes.
The purpose of Tantra Yoga practice is to move forward with ones emotional wellbeing, which aids spiritual and physical health. With this practice, you are opening yourself to explore the subtle energies within the body and the connection we have to the universe. Ultimately, the aim is to merge the spiritual and material worlds together and attain spiritual and material prosperity.
Tantra Yoga blends elements of Raja, Kundalini, Karma, Hatha and Bhakti Yoga. What sets it aside is that it also weaves other mystical practices, such as astrology, crystal healing, gemology and Ayurveda. Bringing all of these practices together, Tantra Yoga aims to expand beyond limitations of Yogic philosophy and the asanas and go even further.
Tantra Yoga may be practiced with a partner, or individually, with the intention to create a stronger relationship between the micro-self and the macro-self. When you are practicing Tantra Yoga, you are expanding your capacity for initimacy and union. We are able to get up close and personal with all of our behaviors and attitudes that might hold us back in everyday life. Through Tantra Yoga we are exposed to what we actually desire and can use specific techniques to evolve and prosper beyond this.
Like Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga is a rather general term that describes different styles of Yoga and means movement, based on rapid flow, usually the sun salutation, synchronised with breath work. In a Vinyasa Yoga class, expect to move through a variety of different poses, either fast or slow (but always at your own pace). When your teacher uses the word Vinyasa as a noun, it describes three poses – plank, chaturanga and upward facing dog or cobra (or equivalent variations of the poses). This can then lead into downward facing dog…
It’s essential to enjoy the class and allow your body to become aware of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as where and how your body resists. My body very much likes the upward facing dog as it focuses my attention on my lower back. I know many people who have weaker wrists so this is something to be careful of during your three-step Vinyasa flow too.
This practice is named after B.K.S Iyengar, and focuses on: alignment (maintaining poses whilst respecting the body’s boundaries) sequencing (the specific order in which the poses are practiced) and timing (poses are held for long periods of time to reach stability and then move further into the pose to develop strength and flexibility).
To keep balance, props can be used for beginners to help reach alignment during classes and practice too.
Kundalini Yoga is a spiritual and physical practice. It introduces dynamic breathing techniques, chanting mantras (like ‘Waheguru’, ‘Om’, ‘Sat Nam’ (which means ‘truth is the name’)) and meditation. The ultimate goal is to build physical vitality and increase inner consciousness. Again, this can overlap with Raja Yoga as some level and stage.