Have you made the decision to give yoga a shot and are looking for a way to get started? Heard the words Vinyasa, Haha, Yin, or Jivamukti and are not really sure what each of these styles has to offer? Indeed, trying to decide which style of yoga may suit you best can be quite challenging at first. This is the reason motivating this entry where we give you a hand to make choosing the right style of yoga for you a somewhat smoother and more enjoyable experience. There we go!
Many of our previous entries have already noted that yoga is definitely on the rise. This is awesome news for all of us happy to have more quality studios to choose from –if possible within walking distance. Still, with new yoga studios popping up in every corner, the number of yoga styles and brands to choose from also increases making finding the best fit for us all the more challenging. But, don't worry, there is a method to this madness!
The most important thing to begin figuring out what style will be best for you is easy: find your motivation; that is, the reason bringing you to the yoga mat over any other activity on offer at this point in time. The range of answers possible to the question ‘why yoga?’ is as vast as there are yoga styles, though. But knowing what you want to get out of practicing yoga in a shala with other people will make it much easier to determine the right fit for you.
For instance, there are those who simply confess that they just don’t want to miss out on all the hype about yoga and want to have first-hand experience on what 'this thing' is all about. Others see all their close friends doing yoga and just don’t want to be the ones left out. There is also those who want to become more fit, or flexible, or that feel they need a power-workout before (or after) a full day of work at the office. Or those who resort to yoga to manage stress, back pain, other health disorders, or who simply want to find their true self by tuning into the practice. Whatever the reason, knowing your motivation will put you one step closer to finding exactly what you want without much trial and error.
But, to start with, we must state the obvious first. If you are choosing yoga mainly for the hype of it, then the style of yoga you choose doesn’t much matter. The same applies if you are joining the practice to be able to spend time with friends while doing something together. Going to wherever your friends go to, or where word of mouth says you can find ‘THE’ yoga studio in a given place, is the way to go. In Berlin, London, Paris, or Madrid, there are entire yoga scenes built around a few upscale studios with top locations where one does yoga much like one buys any other popular brand: to see and be seen in the right place to be. This is not to say that the quality of the yoga classes on offer in those places is lacking, on the contrary! But you don’t need to go to the ‘it’ studios where classes are normally pricier and full with +30 students –sometimes to the rhythm of loud electro music– to find good quality yoga classes close by. Still, no judgement if that’s what you like! If so, don’t worry so much about the particular style you practice, but check both location and schedule to make sure you make the most of the time and money you’ll invest there.
For those who many come to yoga for the physical benefits it offers, or as an extra help to their athletic training (as in yoga for athletes), asana-based styles with a bit of meditation and a focus on breath and posture can go a long way. Hatha Yoga can be a good place to start, then; an alignment-based, breath-focused, but still intense style of yoga that provides a balance between a physical and spiritual practice. Still, if sweating is the name of the game for you, a somewhat more dynamic or flowy style such as Vinyasa or even Bikram Yoga (yoga practiced in a heated Shala), may be a better suit.
Vinyasa and Bikram do not stop so much on the particulars of breath or meditation, which is sometimes a better suit for some people not so worried about the energetic side of the practice. Here, however, the general rule of thumb is to be on the safer side and not overdo things, as both styles can be physically quite intense and lead to injuries if practiced in excess or without proper supervision.
Other commercial variations, often called ‘Power this’ or ‘Power that,’ are also a good place to start if what you’re looking for is something akin to a nice cardiovascular training turned yogish in style. You can generally find variations like this in most gyms, which also often offer 60-minute sessions for those of you who can only manage to fit into your days yoga during the lunch break.
For stability, flexibility, to fight energetic imbalances, or simply to improve bad posture, Hatha yoga, Iyengar yoga, Anusara yoga, Ashtanga, or even Yin yoga are great options. The first four offer some sort of combination of asana, pranayama, and meditation practice, thus balancing out the energies and chakras in our bodyminds. Yin and other styles of ‘restorative yoga,’ however, are in general a great complement to any style and should be considered as one of the go-to options for anyone looking for a gentler practice where the long holdings of a few slow postures brings forth great relaxation and peace of mind.
In fact, we strongly recommend anybody to give Yin and restorative yoga a shot, particularly if you are one of those who would intuitively tend towards styles like Vinyasa or Power Yoga! It is oftentimes when we are most out of balance or over-stressed that we tend to look for things that drive us further out of balance with intense trainings meant ‘to burn the stress.’ Again, what you want isn’t always what you actually need! So if your lifestyle is a bit more hectic than normal, gentler forms of yoga such as Yin or Restorative yoga might provide a nice counterbalance and bring your bodymind back to neutral to gain much needed relaxation.
On the contrary, if you spend the entire day at a desk or in front of the computer, a more activating style would be advised. Ideally, you would fit your practice in the earlier hours of the day and not in the evening right before going to bed, as energizing styles can often disrupt one's ability to sleep.
Regardless of the style, it is worth remembering that, at its core, yoga has always been more than just a physical or mental practice. It is a worldview, a philosophy, and a way of doing life unto itself. So, if you’re seeking more than a simple workout or some relief for heightened stress, look into the different lineages and traditional schools of yoga and take a few lessons here and there. Try them out and find the one that resonates with you the most. In fact, combining styles at different points of the week, month, or of life, also works well.
Jonas, for example, used to take Hatha classes during the last four years of his professional running career. After resigning from Pro-sports, he switched to Vinyasa. At the time, vinyasa was for him a nice substitute for the strenuous training he was used to putting up with for decades, because this style permitted him to use the type of muscle power and concentration he was used to utilizing during his athletic career. Only by accident did he stumble into his first Yin class and thus experience the immense benefits of the long-holdings and deep stretches Yin facilitated, not to mention its calming effects on the mind! And now? He calls Traditional Tantric Hatha Yoga 'home' and is all about mudras, pulling up his pelvic floor while holding his breath during asana practice, and chanting mantras during meditation!
Indeed, leaving aside modern fitness studio classes, all yoga styles are to some extent rooted in traditional lineages of yoga and have some vestige of truth behind them. So it is really worth looking into the different traditions and their lineages to fully understand why yoga is more than just a physical training and what each individual style can do for you. Some of these lineages boast more than 1000 years of unbroken guru-to-disciple training (parampara) and have schools and representatives in most world capitals.
Ultimately, though, the goal is for you to find a teacher who, regardless of the style you end up choosing, enjoys reading and sharing on yogic-relevant topics, lives yoga on and off the mat, and has a predisposition to further educate herself as part of her service to people –aka, you! This may seem quite hard to find at first sight, but trust us, you will know you have found 'the' teacher when you stumble upon him or her. So don't be discouraged to try a few classes and teachers here and there. Take your time choosing and be curious, ask any questions you may have about the style, the type of practice, or the intention behind it, and be open to enjoy the most precisely those styles and things you don't anticipate.
We truly believe that the variety of styles and forms of yoga out there today is a true testament to the immense potential of this practice!