Which yoga class is for me?
Many people think about starting yoga at some point. Whether it’s for the physical results, the mental benefits, or simply wanting some alone time each week, you’ve possibly thought "I should give yoga a try.” But once the seed has been planted, we are then faced with finding a studio, a class and a teacher. Looking at the timetables of just a handful of studios will demonstrate the huge variety amongst class styles and approaches. What’s the difference between Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Hatha? Do I want a studio with a traditional approach, or somewhere with a more Western fitness approach? Will this studio be accommodating to new students? These questions alone can be enough to put you off. But rest assured, anyone who has ever attended their first class has probably anxiously thought these things as well. Knowing and understanding the different class styles can be the easiest way to put your best first forward.
Yoga is an ancient practice. Hatha yoga, which is where most modern styles stem from, is referenced in the Upanishads (6BCE), making the practice of Hatha yoga older than Buddhism. However many of the styles you’ll read about below are much younger, many developed in the last hundred or so years. Below you will find a description of the most common styles of yoga and who they are most suited to. If you try one style and don’t like it, don’t be put off! There really is something for everyone. My mum compares yoga to dance, maybe raving isn’t your thing, but salsa or ballet might be your jam.
As mentioned above Hatha is the style of yoga that most modern physical practices evolved from. If you attend five Hatha classes with five teachers you may notice a lot of variation. However each class will likely open with a few moments of centering, followed by a gentle warm up, sun salutations and a sequence of standing, balancing, seated, twisting, back-bending and inverted poses, all of which will be appropriate for your level. Class will close with shavasana, final relaxation. There will be a clear focus on breathing correctly and your teacher may involve some elements of meditation.
Moves slower, focus on fundamentals, lots of instruction given.
Suitable for? Everyone. Hatha is probably the best class to try if you’re new to yoga. It’s also a great place for intermediate students to return to, to refresh elements of the practice that can be overlooked in faster moving classes.
Utthita Trikonasana / Extended Triangle Pose
Source: personal archives
Vinyasa has grown to possibly be the most popular style of yoga in the West. These classes have a dance-like quality and students are often encouraged to gracefully float between poses. Breath is really important here as it is the anchor that helps you with the many transitions in a class. Classes can be quite dynamic, where you spend less time in each pose, or they can move slower where you spend more time in a pose but continue to float between them. Similarly to Hatha, you will probably start with a centering, warm-up and sun salutations and some of their variations. However the rest of the class will likely be a creative integration of traditional and newer poses, and it is likely that your class will have a specific focus (e.g. heart opening poses, shoulder focus etc).
Moves faster, focus may vary, less instruction given.
Suitable for? Faster moving classes are better suited to those with some previous experience of yoga. Five classes is a good rule of thumb, so that you don't become overwhelmed and lose track of where you are (even if that happens though don’t worry!). Slower paced vinyasas are suitable for everyone, as the teacher will have amble time to give you more detailed instruction.
Plank - Chaturanga Dandasana - UrdhvaMukhaSvanasana
Plank - Four-limb Staff Pose - Upward-facing Dog
Source: personal archives
Forrest Yoga is a dynamic practice built on the pillars of Breath, Strength, Integrity and Spirit. A great part of the uniqueness of Forrest Yoga is the sequencing - embracing exercises that generate energy in the core and work to unwind the neck, shoulders, hips and spine. This sequencing is brilliant for building strength, stability and flexibility, and is very effective for creating healing around injuries.
Moves fast and slow, specific focus in a class, instruction given.
Suitable for? Everyone! This style suits beginners and intermediate students, as well as those who are feeling stiff and/or injured.
Ashtanga often has the reputation of being the ‘hardest’ style of yoga. This is quite a reductive view of Ashtanga, however classes can be quite physically demanding. Led classes (where the teacher instructs the whole class together) usually take you through the primary series. This is a traditional, set sequence of poses that each students practices, as taught by Sri. K Pattabhi Jois. There is no warm-up, and classes begin with 5 of Sun Salutation A and 5 of B. The class is then divided into standing, seated and finishing sequences. Many of the later poses in the series are quite advanced, and the teacher generally introduces these progressively as the students practice develops. This is a strong practice that when practiced regularly, develops strength and stamina as well as flexibility.
Moves fast, same sequence every time, some instruction given.
Suitable for? Students with some previous experience and those with a deeper practice. Beginners can join but it may be necessary to rest at points and observe poses that are not currently available.
Padahastasana / Standing Hands-Under-Feet Pose
Source: personal archives
The practice of Yin yoga is a relatively new addition to the Western selection of classes. Consider the Yin Yang symbol. This represents balance. Most yoga classes are considered ‘yang’ classes, where the focus is on building heat, developing strength and stamina and working into the muscles. Yin on the other hand works on developing facial and joint flexibility, teaching you how to sit in discomfort and be patient. Class involves no warm up, poses are generally floor-based and held for a longer time (up to 5 minutes). Classes are relaxing but still challenging, and often contain elements of meditation.
Moves slowly, different poses often with a focus, lots of instruction given.
Suitable for: Everyone. All bodies will benefit from a yin practice. The teacher has plenty of time to adjust poses to suit your body. This class is particularly good for those who may be stiff from weight-lifting.
Hopefully the descriptions above have made it easier to pick a yoga class suited to you. Remember, if you don’t like one you should try a few others before making up your mind. It’s a good idea to start with something slow-moving, so that you have a chance to experience each pose as it comes. Remember, everyone was a newbie once and most classes have a really supportive, welcoming atmosphere!
To book any of the above classes and avail of our Intro offer click here.
See you on the mat,
Muktibodhananada, Swami, Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2013), Yoga Publications Trust.
Fabby is the Head of Yoga at Fitter Faster Stronger. Fabby completed her 200HR Yoga Teacher Training in Hatha Yoga and has completed further trainings in Restorative Yoga and Children/Teen Yoga.
"What you seek, is seeking you." - Rumi.
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