The first 10 years of my practice were a mix of the Iyengar and Ashtanga methods. And then I discovered Wanderlust, and fell in love.
But what the hell does Iyengar, Ashtanga and Wanderlust mean?! How can you make sense of all those different types of yoga (Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, Astanga…)? I’m sure you want to know more about it, and that’s why I did some research on the history of yoga just for you guys.
However, today we will be very practical, and we will go through some of the most popular yoga methods of our days to find the one that suits you the best. And just like when you are choosing a yoga class, make sure you know what you want, but also what you need. For example, my natural tendency is to go for vigorous flow practices like Ashtanga or Vinyasa, or very muscular practices like Iyengar, but I would definitely benefit from more Yin Yoga.
Not sure what all that means? I’m not holding you for longer than, go ahead and find out which yoga method is right for you.
The Method: The Hatha Yoga is the primary form of physical yoga that was developed in India, first around the 15th century and then mostly in the 1920s.
Great for: Hatha is great for beginners, with its slow pace, its demonstration of the basic yoga postures and its emphasis on the breath and relaxation. It can also be a great way for a more experienced practioner to come back to the foundations and re-center.
Not so awesome for: Getting super fit and having a hell of a workout. You might get frustrated with the slow pace (I’m talking from experience here!)
You want to move? Try these practices!
The Method: Vinyasa is a flow practice with an emphasis on the Sūrya Namaskāra (Sun Salutation), a serie of 12 poses, each one linked to the breath. That will for sure rise your energy up!
Great for: Vinyasa yoga will help you develop strength and flexibility, as you will be moving from one posture to the other. This practice can also help you prepare for a more vigorous and advanced practice like Ashtanga. Since the practice is not set, the teachers are free to create sequences, which is great if you get easily bored.
Not so awesome for: Learning about the postures (then I would recommend Hatha or Iyengar), or if you want a slow practice to relax (then maybe go for Hatha or Yin Yoga).
The Method: First-developed by Krishnamacharya as a mix of hatha yoga, wrestling exercices and European gymnastics, the Ashtanga practice is a fast-paced and intense practice also based on the Sūrya Namaskāra that eventually incorporates more difficult postures as you develop your practice.
Ashtanga literally means eight limbs, as in the eight limbs of yoga. Depending on your teacher, you might also find yourself practicing different breathing exercices (pranayama) and meditation.
Once you master the fundamental postures and the first series, the Ashtanga method proposes you to move on to the Primary Series, and then the Intermediate Series and finally the Advanced Ones, to make sure you’ll never get bored on your mat!
Great for: People who like challenges, as you can always improve. I also recommend it if you like to be autonomous, as you’ll be able to find great graphics of the series that you can easily practice at home once you get acquainted with the practice.
Not so awesome for: Free-stylers who like to practice different sequences, or yogis who want a slow-pace and relaxing practice.
The Method: While studying with Krishnamacharya, Patthabi Jois also started teaching Ashtanga, and developed his own method which he then introduced to the United States in the 1960s as Power Yoga. Therefore, the practice is very similar to the Ashtanga one, with an emphasis on vigorous exercices to strengthen the body and improve flexibility. After being introduced by Jois, it was mostly developed in the 1980s in California by Bryan Kest and Byron Baptiste, to propose a more flexible and “fun” practice compared to the rigid Ashtanga system.
Nowadays, I find that Power Yoga is often use to describe any type of class where you will find yourself working harder, compared let’s say to more relaxing classes.
Great for: Developing strength and flexibility. You can for sure count on our Cali-friends to make you sweat and get fit!
Not so awesome for : Simply chilling in your yoga pants, or learning the postures in detail.
The Method: Bikram, and other variations of hot yoga, has become very popular in North America. People seem to really enjoy the sweat (maybe thinking that this way they are working harder and might lose more weight?!). Let’s go over a bit of the Bikram history before deciding if it’s appropriate for you.
Bikram started teaching yoga in the 1970s, and is now famous for the empire he built based on his famous set of 26 traditional poses and two breathing exercises performed in a 105 degrees Fahrenheit heated room. He is also famous for his very commercial approach to yoga, having patented his sequence, which makes it impossible to teach it if you are not a certified Bikram yoga teacher teaching in an affiliated Bikram yoga studio.
Let’s leave the character out of it and simply focus on the type of yoga, since I would have way too much to say about it (maybe later guys!).
Great for: Bikram says that the heat warming up the body improves the flexibility and that only then you can reshape it any way you want. There is also the idea that you have to cleanse your body, and that when you are sweating, the impurities are flushed out of your body. Finally, having to work under the heat in the “Torture Chambers” as Bikram calls them (thinking that you have to suffer in order to get better is so against my belief!) is supposed to help you learn out to use oxygen properly.
Not so awesome for: That being said, I’m not very fond of hot yoga. I know a lot of people who really enjoy the classes, but for me when practicing yoga safety comes first, and the warm often makes people go beyond their limits. The fact that the room is full of mirror is another no-no for me. I believe the poses are within us, and with the right teaching and practice, we just learn to get to the full expression of them. Trying to copy your neighbor is not a way for me to learn more about my body and feel the pose. Having tried a few classes, I was often finding myself looking at my reflection, comparing myself, totally out of focus. And it’s not an understatement to say that the flow is really fast, not the best way to start learning the poses for a beginner.
However, everybody/every body’s different, and if you feel like hot yoga is totally your thing, go for it. But please, practice safely to enjoy it until at least your nineties!
Looking for longer holds?
The Method: Also a student of Krishnamacharya, Iyengar is famous for his contribution to the yoga world in the shape of props. He was the first one to introduce blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, and pretty much anything else that comes handy to help you get the proper alignment in the poses. Iyengar also focuses on standing poses and longer holds with an attention to detail.
But trust me, it’s not because it’s more static than Ashtanga that you won’t be sweating! I often find myself working even harder in Iyengar classes, having to hold the postures, working on developing my strength instead of my chilling in my comfort zone of flexibility and movement.
Great for: The use of the props makes it a great practice for beginners and less flexible people, as it makes every pose accessible. It also makes it a great practice to recover from injuries, as you’ll be able to perform the poses without the effort necessary to keep them.
The long holds also makes it the practice of my choice when it comes to restorative, letting the blood flow and circulate throughout the body for at least one full circle while in the pose, getting all the benefits you can on different levels, from the nervous system to the organic one.
Not so awesome for: Impatient people (who are not willing to work on patience for now) that might suffer from the longer demonstrations and the attention to detail, or yogis looking for a fast-paced class.
The Method: Now time to relax with Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga is a mix between Hatha yoga and Qi-Qong, and also includes other aspects of Taoïsm. Very passive, you will hold poses for a long time, like very long time for someone like me (from one minute to sometimes even 20 minutes!).
Great for: The long holds and passive postures target the connective tissues (ligaments, bones and even joints) which are not usually targeted when we focus on a more vigorous practice. I would recommend this practice to everyone (who doesn’t need to relax from time to time?)
Not so awesome for: Being of an anxious nature, I was suffering the long holds at the beginning of my practice, and had much trouble relaxing as soon as we stopped moving. Sitting still felt like torture, so anxious people, I feel you here. It might not be the best practice to start with if you have trouble not moving around, I recommend you start with a practice you are comfortable in, then slowly get used to longer holds and relaxation to eventually get to Yin Yoga and experience all the benefits from that practice.
Still having trouble making a choice?
You don’t have to focus on one method for now. I suggest you try different types of classes before settling down to see what suits you the best. Look for the studios in your neighborhood, and based on the reason you are starting yoga (to move more, to relax, to take care of yourself…) you can simply call the studio and ask them what classes they recommend to you.
I believe that if a method has travelled centuries to come to us now, it must have some good in it, but I’m also an advocate of innovation and creativity, and that’s why I am also open to new methods being developed. What matters to me the most, despite feeling great and having fun practicing yoga, is safety. I know, it seems really boring, but just keep in mind that if you want to practice for a long time, you need to practice safely. So many people get hurt practicing yoga because they go way deeper than they should, aren’t listening to their body or not protecting themselves getting in and out of the postures.
Now go ahead, pick one, find a studio close to you and roll out your mat. Enjoy your practice, and let me know if you have any question, it’ll be my pleasure to get back to you.