With so many different types of yoga though, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Some classes may be low impact, while others can be very demanding. Here’s a quick low down of a few popular types of yoga.
Hatha yoga is the general term used to describe all the physical aspects of yoga. In the West, Hatha has become known to be the ‘yoga of breath’. You work with your breath as you gently move through asanas (these are physical yoga postures or positions). Hatha means ‘sun and moon’, therefore you’re working with opposites to create balance.
In aerial yoga, an aerial silk, also known as hammock, is used to support your body while doing asanas. The same principles of hatha yoga are used in aerial yoga. The benefits of using a hammock include lengthening the spine without compressing your vertebrae. This is particularly true for inversions – ie, headstands, handstands or shoulderstands. It’s also excellent for strengthening your core (the muscles surrounding your back and abdomen). However, if you have glaucoma or heart conditions, aerial yoga is not recommended.
Ashtanga means ‘eight limbs’ in Sanskrit (classical Indian language). It focuses on a set series of asanas, which are always done in the same order. This practice is physically demanding because of the continual movement from one asana to the next.
Vinyasa yoga classes flow quickly between asanas and, depending on the teacher, can be physically demanding.
Iyengar yoga is based on the teachings of B.K.S Iyengar and focuses on alignment and the use of props such as blocks and straps.
The emphasis in Kundalini is on the breath in conjunction with physical movement. Its purpose is to free energy from the lower body and allow it to move upwards.
Bikram (hot yoga)
This form of yoga is practiced in a hot room, normally heated to approximately 40oC. There are a set number of postures that are performed throughout the 90-minute practice.
Which one is best for you?
“I’m a beginner.”
A hatha yoga class will introduce you to basic yoga poses. It focuses on slow-paced stretches and gentle poses with breathing, relaxation and meditation to help you relax. Hatha yoga is suitable for all ages and abilities, especially beginners. You probably won't work up a sweat, but you should feel more relaxed afterwards, and your body should feel stronger.
“I have a long-term health problem.”
If you have a health problem, you should speak to your GP before joining a yoga class. You can usually do some of the more gentle forms of yoga, but certain poses may not be right for you. Viniyoga (not to be confused with vinyasa yoga) is usually taught one-to-one. It can be tailor-made to suit your own needs and is ideal for people with health problems, as it involves gentle movements.
“I suffer from back pain.”
Before attending a yoga class, you should tell your yoga teacher of any injuries or concerns you may have. For back pain, a gentle hatha yoga class could ease your symptoms. Iyengar yoga may also be suitable as it uses props, such as blocks, straps, pillows and chairs to provide support, protection and aid balance.
Iyengar yoga is also believed to help with many long-term health conditions including lung problems, digestive problems and chronic pain. Research has found that it may be more helpful than general exercise in easing back and neck pain.
“I want a demanding workout.”
If you have a high level of fitness and want something challenging, some classes are harder than others. Look for an advanced hatha yoga class, aerial yoga class or a more strenuous vinyasa or ashtanga yoga class.
Ashtanga gives you a fast paced, vigorous and physically demanding workout. It consists of non-stop sequences, always in the same order. You focus on your breathing as you switch from one pose to the next. It’s thought of as a ‘moving meditation’.
Power yoga is similar to ashtanga yoga but doesn’t involve a set series of poses so the classes may vary depending on your teacher.
“I’m looking for a detox.”
Bikram yoga is thought to flush out toxins from your body through sweat. It may help to speed up your metabolism and improve stamina, providing a physical and mental challenge.
During the class, you’ll do a series of 26 poses and breathing exercises twice, in a room heated to 40°C. You’ll need a towel, as you'll be sweating constantly, and a bottle of water to help keep you hydrated. It’s not advised to do a Bikram yoga class on an empty stomach.
If doing yoga in a hot, sweaty room isn’t for you then the good news is that hatha yoga can also help to detox your body. Postures, such as twists, can help to detox the kidneys and the digestive system.
“I need stress relief.”
Most forms of yoga will help to relieve stress, either through gentle poses or a more vigorous workout. Restorative yoga goes one step further to help you relax and unwind. It involves only five or six poses, including gentle twists, backbends and forward folds. You hold each pose for five minutes or more, while you’re supported by blankets, cushions or blocks. This means you experience the benefits of each pose without having to exert any effort.
Making your choice
Whichever yoga class you choose, make sure you check the teacher's qualifications before you sign up. Ask about the form of yoga they teach and always mention any health problems you have.
Contact the Yoga Scotland or British Wheel of Yoga for more information and advice.
About Yoga Scotland
Yoga Scotland was established over 40 years ago and is at the heart of the yoga community in Scotland. Yoga Scotland wishes to help and guide each person who practises yoga to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of all aspects of yoga. They do this by providing opportunities for study and practice and access to education and training.
Yoga Scotland is recognised by Sport Scotland as the Governing Body for Yoga in Scotland and has a network of around 300 qualified, registered and insured teachers.