At Ekhart Yoga we believe yoga is for everyone. So here's a quick look at some of the main styles of yoga and their benefits.
Starting at the beginning
Hatha is the style of yoga most physical forms of yoga originate from. Hatha Yoga aligns the body allowing the energy to flow freely, especially through the spine - the main energy channel of the body. Ha - translates as “sun” and Tha translates as “moon”. Hatha Yoga balances these two energies bringing balance to body and mind. In our physical practice we work on balancing flexibility and strength, steadiness and ease (Sthira and Sukha) in asana. Read Esther's article Balancing Flexibility and Strength in Yoga.
Hatha Yoga is often also called Traditional or Classical Hatha Yoga. A typical class will often include pranayama and meditation as well as asana. Hatha can sometimes be thought of as a more gentle form of yoga than Power Yoga, Ashtanga or Vinyasa because the poses aren’t generally linked together in a flow, but don’t be caught out - Hatha classes can be just as challenging precisely because of their slower pace.
Hatha is for everyone - We recommend complete beginners start with a Hatha Yoga for Beginners program. This will give the foundational poses for most other styles of yoga. Experienced practitioners also benefit from Hatha classes because of the time taken to explore asana, for example as in Olav’s Animal Forces program.
Ashtanga is a dynamic and physically challenging form of yoga. Originally taught by Pattabhi Jois, it is traditionally practiced 6 days a week. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is made up of six series: Primary, Intermediate and four Advanced series. These different series each follow a fixed order of poses. Sun Salutations, Standing Poses, Seated Poses and Finishing Poses. Most poses are held for five breaths. The seated poses are linked together with a short sequence called a Vinyasa: Jumping back from sitting to Chaturanga - Upward Facing Dog - Downward Facing Dog and then jumping back through to sitting or into the next asana. An Ashtanga class will always follow the same sequence although some poses or Vinyasas may be skipped in a shorter class. Ashtanga Yoga is practiced using the bandhas (energy locks) and with Ujjayi breath. These, combined with the strong asana, create heat in the body improving circulation and detoxifying the body. This in turn helps the mind become clearer.
Ashtanga is great for building up strength, flexibility and stamina. The repeated vinyasas improve upper body strength but can be challenging on the wrists and shoulders when you are starting out so it’s important to get your alignment right and to build up your practice. Read Yoga Therapy for your wrists and Jennilee’s article For the love of the shoulder for alignment tips and advice. Power Yoga and Rocket Yoga are styles which come from Ashtanga Yoga, both being physically demanding but without the set order sequence of Ashtanga.
Vinyasa, or Flow Yoga is another form of Hatha Yoga but the main distinction is the sequencing of poses together so that they flow from one to the next. The term Vinyasa means linking the movement with the breath. It also refers to a short sequence of movements which are practiced between asanas, like with Ashtanga Yoga. Unlike Ashtanga however, there is no set sequence for Vinyasa Yoga and the style, pace and intensity will all vary depending on the teacher. Classes may have a particular emphasis on a category of poses such as backbends, or they may be sequenced around a theme such as the chakras.
Vinyasa classes are challenging but can be adapted for most people. Again, as with Ashtanga it’s important to look after your wrists and shoulders especially during poses like Chaturanga, Plank and Down Dog.
Explore the benefits of yoga with us
Anusara Yoga is a relatively recent form of Hatha Yoga. Anusara means “Flowing with grace” and is grounded in the Tantric philosophy that people are intrinsically good. Asana are taught using the Universal Principles of Alignment. These principles are said to align the body, mind and heart. A typical Anusara class is taught in the Vinyasa style - with poses sequenced in a flow but also some poses are held to explore the alignment principles. These classes are suitable for everyone and appeal to students who like to bring more philosophy and themes into their practice.
Yin Yoga is a very slow paced, meditative form of yoga. Yin qualities are stable, unmoving hidden compared with Yang’s dynamic, changing and revealing. In Yin Yoga poses are held for around three to five minutes. Yin Yoga works on the connective tissues rather than the muscles and so it has a very different focus and effect. The tissues are stretched gently by holding poses, moving slowing into the stretch rather than going immediately to your edge. Yin Yoga works on the meridian pathways in the body and so you will see classes targeting specific meridian groups such as stomach-spleen. For more on Yin Yoga we recommend Bernie Clarke’s website YinYoga.com which brings together resources on the subject. Yin Yoga is excellent for increasing flexibility and for general physical and emotional health. Its slow pace makes it sound deceptively easy but staying with the pose and keeping the mind calm and steady can be especially challenging for people who usually prefer very active styles of yoga - exactly the people who should be practicing it! Read more this and on the benefits of Yin Yoga.
Restorative Yoga is all about allowing the body and mind to relax in very passive long held poses. Unlike Yin Yoga the body is completely supported in poses using props such as bolsters, eyebags and cushions. There should be no tension, effort or strain. In a typical class poses are held for 10 to 15 minutes, sometimes restorative poses will be used at the end of a Hatha or Vinyasa class for relaxation. Poses can be sequenced together to help with a specific need such as boosting immunity or to relieve menstrual pain. During Restorative Yoga our parasympathetic nervous system is activated which promotes a relaxation response in the body. The effects are a calmer mind and relaxed body.
You can practice most of these styles of yoga in this month’s featured program: Your Complete Yoga Program with yoga for strength, flexibility and relaxation. So explore the site and find the style of yoga for you.