All types of yoga are meant to open up our minds, our bodies, and our spirits. Sounds great, right? But let’s face it, stepping into that first yoga for beginners class is a bit daunting—especially with all the styles offered these days. Ashtanga, jivamukti, kundalini…. Who knows what you could be getting yourself into? When we see those unfamiliar, unpronounceable Sanskrit words on the gym or yoga studio schedule our minds immediately shut down and we retreat to what we know—the treadmill, the stairclimber, the couch.
Let’s break down five of the most popular types of yoga that everyone can enjoy.
The term Anusara translates to “flowing with grace” or “following your heart,” and both of these translations correctly describe the spirit of this modern form of Hatha yoga. Anusara was founded by John Friend in 1997. This modern style focuses on “universal principles of alignment” which begin with “opening to grace.” It has achieved remarkable growth, most likely due to its uplifting focus on the “celebration of the heart.”
This system of yoga was founded by K. Pattabhi Jois in 1927. It is regarded as a modern version of the ancient Indian practice. Ashtanga translates to “eight limbed yoga,” (the limbs include: moral codes, self purification and study, posture, breath control, sense control, intention, meditation, and contemplation). True ashtanga yoga is unique in that the poses follow a set sequence, so each class follows the exact same routine. If you are someone who enjoys knowing what’s next, this is the style for you. But don’t be afraid to try other types of yoga once in a while—the shake up could be good for you! (Note: Some gyms and studios may refer to this as “ashtanga vinyasa,” “vinyasa flow,” or “power yoga.”)
Otherwise know as “the hot one.” Classes run for 90 minutes and consist of a pre-determined series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises. The practice takes place in a heated room, generally about 105 F, with 40% humidity. Bikram yoga was popularized in the 1970s by Bikram Choudhury, who believed that the heat promotes deeper stretching, less injury, and increased blood circulation. It is popular among athletes and celebrities, with everyone from Lady Gaga to David Beckham to Madonna singing its praises. But it is also a topic of controversy, as some believe it is not healthy to practice in a room over 100 degrees. It is not for the faint of heart and it will make you short of breath and dizzy at times so it may not be the best yoga for beginners. Proceed with caution. And be sure to bring water and a towel!
What many refer to as simply “yoga” is actually “hatha yoga.” Hatha was introduced by a yogic sage, Swatmarama, in 15th century India. Today, it remains one of the most popular types of yoga and it is the system from which most others are derived. The term “hatha” comes from the Sanksrit words “ha” (meaning sun) and tha (meaning moon), and it is known as the branch of yoga that unites opposites. The main goal of hatha yoga is to achieve balance between the body and the mind. Hatha devotees believe that by moving the physical body, we can free the subtle mind.
Jivamukti translates to “liberation while living” and this style is truly a yoga of celebration and freedom. Jivamukti yoga burst onto the scene in 1984 at a New York City studio when founders David Life and Sharon Gannon began to incorporate their ashtanga practice with spiritual teachings. This form of yoga focuses on the educational aspect of the practice and applying yoga into healthy living daily. Each class is based around a theme, which is supported by Sanskrit chanting, music (from the Beatles to the Beach Boys), physical practice, and breathing exercises. Devotees include Christy Turlington and Sting. Perhaps this is the secret to the supermodel’s body and a rock star’s sex appeal? It’s worth a try, right?