When you’re new to yoga, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. These days there are so many different types of yoga available, in many different types of environments, and every teacher adds their own unique flavour. My advice is to try multiple types with multiple teachers until you find one than suits your body, your individual needs, and your mindset.
Hatha Yoga – Hatha is a term that describes the physical postures of Yoga, so technically all Yoga is Hatha based. Classes that are advertised as Hatha are generally great for beginners as its structure is basic and it can be a simple gentle introduction to the practice, particularly the physical aspects. If a studio lists a class on their timetable as just “Yoga” then it’s generally Hatha or Vinyasa.
Vinyasa Yoga – This is what I teach. It’s Hatha structured into a sequenced flow of poses that is matched to the flow of the breath. It usually always incorporates some sort of Sun Salutation. This style is very broad as it’s influenced by the teachers’ unique personality so you may find that Vinyasa classes vary in structure and intensity greatly.
Iyengar Yoga – This was created by one of the most well-known Indian yoga teachers in the world, BKS Iyengar. It is very alignment focused and usually uses a wide range of props including ropes attached to the wall and chairs, to assist the individual deeper into poses safely. The structure is usually very slow and gentle so is suitable for beginners and those who are recovering from injuries etc
Ashtanga Yoga – This is a very intense structured vinyasa sequence that is the same postures in the same order every time that also link to the breath. Great for those experienced yogis who like to work up a sweat, be challenged to their limits and who enjoy routine and discipline.
Yin Yoga – Vinyasa is the Yang style of Yoga, and Yin is the complete opposite. It’s very slow, calming and grounding with postures connecting most of the body to the earth (ie. not standing). You hold a posture for up to 3 minutes at a time, with the use of props if needed to avoid pain. Generally you are led to focus on your mindset, your breath and relaxation of the muscles. When you hold a posture for an extended period of time without excess strain, the fascia around the muscles begin to release and you naturally deepen into the poses. Some postures can feel quite intense but a good teacher will guide you into adjustments that works for your individual body.
Acro Yoga – This is for the playful and fearless! Generally you work with partners to come into postures balancing in some way on one another. Do you remember doing the aeroplane pose with your parents as a child holding their hands with their feet lifting you up by the hips? This is considered Acro Yoga and can be done safely by counter balancing and bone stacking your bodies in alignment with one another. Even the simplest of poses look very impressive!
Bikram Yoga – Be prepared to sweat! This 90 minute class is a set sequence of 26 postures which are the same in each class and is held in an incredibly hot room (35-42 degrees Celsius). It is very strict and disciplined with its rules and structure. There is debate as to how healthy it is to perform an intense sequence in such hot conditions. We are generally more flexible in hot conditions which is a plus, but that’s not to say it’s safer, as we can overstretch past our abilities without realising and do damage, just as easily as overstretching cold muscles. And then there’s the issue of extreme dehydration… but some people absolutely love it and say they feel amazing afterwards so try it for yourself and judge!
Hot Yoga – Similar to Bikram in that the room is very hot but the sequence isn’t regimented. The exact temperature varies from studio to studio.
Kundalini – This style is not what you what you would expect in a “normal” yoga class and doesn’t include many of the widely known yoga postures. It is very spiritual based and incorporates chanting, mantra and meditation in amongst invigorating physical core focused movements with various breath techniques. Its aim is to release the Kundalini energy that in your body that is said to be trapped or coiled in the lower spine. The range of intensity and wildness is dependent on the teacher. Some may find it incredibly strange and out of their comfort zone, and others love the inner power of it.
Restorative – Blissful relaxation and release where the body is supported in a gentle stretch by various props and gravity does all of the work while you rest at ease! Requires next to no effort whilst reaping the benefits of stretching. Perfect to wind down, de-stress and calm the body and mind. Perfect for almost every age, body and condition.
Aerial / Suspension / Anti-Gravity Yoga – These classes are great for those who like to embrace their playful inner child and for those that love to get upside down. Basically, it’s yoga where you are suspended off the ground by a stretchy fabric of some sort such as a silk sling. It can be lots of fun, it can be incredibly graceful (if you’re already pretty bendy) or it can be pretty overwhelming! You put a lot of trust into being supported by the silk, and trust in yourself that you’ve positioned it in the right spot to hold you safely but it’s a great way to get a wonderful stretch without the pressure of gravity and a wonderful way to learn to let go and fly!!
Kids Yoga – Kids Yoga is a great way to introduce children to the benefits of Yoga. It can develop body and breath awareness, flexibility, strength, imagination, creativity, mindfulness, connection, trust and confidence. The classes are usually structured in the way that includes games, adventures, storey telling, singing, breathing exercises, dancing, partner work, meditation etc with lots of props and visual aids, depending on the age group of the children, to make sure it’s fun and engaging to keep their attention.
Mums Bubs Yoga - A gentle class that introduces mums back into yoga after being given clearance from their doctors to exercise after birth. (Usually around the 6-12 week mark). There are classes that can have a mix of newborns as well as bubs that are on the move, or they can be split into two different classes. Some of the poses and sequences can incorporate the bub, but ultimately the main focus is on mum as long as the bub is happy to watch! Great way to develop the skill of remaining present and peaceful even amongst noise and movement, while nourishing the physical body after the stresses of pregnancy and labour.
Prenatal Yoga – A gentle class designed for women who are 12-40 weeks pregnant. Sequences usually focus on relaxation, breathing techniques, body awareness, posture and pelvic floor activation as well as stretching and strengthening the body to support the extra weight of the baby on the ligaments and muscles, building the stamina and strength needed for labour, and assisting in speeding up the recovery process.
Chair Yoga – Generally designed for seniors who are unable to get up and down from the floor. Poses are modified to incorporate sitting on a chair, or standing postures using the chair as a prop. Very gentle and fantastic to increase range of motion, flexibility and strength as well as reaping the benefits of mindfulness and breathing techniques. It is never too late to advance your physical abilities and reconnect with your inner self.
Power Yoga / Slow Flow – Generally Vinyasa based classes but Power Yoga is more focused on the physical body by building heat through faster sequences that require strength and stamina; and Slow Flow is a more gentle with a slower vinyasa sequence that holds postures a little longer and focuses on the breath a little more.
Yoga Therapy – Generally designed for those that are rehabilitating the body after physical trauma, those that have chronic conditions and illnesses, or those that are even recovering from mental and emotional trauma. It’s a holistic approach to healing the body and the mind in a way that is gentle and safe for the individual’s conditions. Usually this is done by one on one instruction with a specially qualified Yoga Therapist, however there are some commercial classes out there that are basically just hatha/vinyasa classes that focus on the energetic meridians throughout the body that also affect the organs and bodily systems as well as the muscles.
Water/Aqua Yoga – Believe it or not, you can even do Yoga in the water! It’s another way to release the pressure of gravity on the body and to reap the benefits of stretching and strengthening in a gentle way. If you love to swim, then this may be a good one to give a go.
Yogalates – This is a mix of pilates and yoga. Great for those that can’t decide between the two and love both! They are very similar in the sense that they have a range of postures, use the breath as a tool, and increase postural strength etc but yoga has more of a spiritual focus where pilates is more about the physical body – which is why it has been used as part of a rehabilitation plan with physios for years. Now it is very common for yoga or pilates studios to have both practices on their timetable so having a fusion of them together was inevitable!
SMR / Roll and Release – These kind of classes are becoming more popular in conjunction with yoga studios as awareness increases of what fascia is, and its roll in range of motion and flexibility. Fascia is a web of connective tissue that surrounds the muscles, organs, tendons, ligaments etc It’s meant to be quite a fluid substance but from repetitive movements patterns and habits, sedentary lifestyles, injury, and even from stress and unhealthy diets etc it begins to harden which restricts motion in a big way and creates havoc within the body causing more injury’s and chronic pain. SMF stands for Self Myofascial Release which is basically giving the fascia a massage through specific movements in specific spots around the body with the use of equipment such as foam rollers or balls. It can be incredibly painful, like deep trigger point therapy, but a good pain if you know what I mean, and it makes a huge difference. There is a range of equipment to choose from with much softer options for those who aren’t big on discomfort or pain. This has been a popular technique with physios for a long time, and now it’s becoming more main stream for those wanting to “do it yourself” at home with equipment being sold everywhere, such as Kmart and even Aldi.
This is definitely not a complete list of all the options out there, but these are the most commonly found. Plenty of choices, so there’s something for almost every potential yogi!
A general break down for what to expect in the levels offered in Yoga classes:
Beginners – Generally slower and relatively gentle with modifications offered to be accessible for as many unique bodies and abilities as possible. It’s expected that flexibility and strength may be limited so nothing too fancy or overwhelming would be offered, or at least no pressure would be enforced on everyone to try everything offered. Alignment ques and posture names would be expressed often to direct those who are new to the practice. There are specific Beginner Course’s out there that involve a lot more talking than a general class – explanations of all the poses and different types of Yoga styles, and the structure would start with the simple foundation poses and slowly progress to slightly more complicated throughout the term.
Intermediate – These classes are the next step in progressing from the basic postures of Yoga onto more challenging and complex postures. These postures would require an increased level of strength and flexibility than in a Beginners class, however as it’s only the next step and not the end goal, it is still expected that the students are transitioning between stages and still require the break down of the process to get to that end goal. There may be less alignment ques for the basic postures as previous knowledge may be expected, and it may move a lot faster than a beginner’s class.
Advanced – Generally these classes would usually have minimal alignment ques and the names of postures would be directed with the expectation that the student would know what it was and how to get there, or at least how to work towards getting there. Transitions between postures, and the postures themselves may be complex and involve a generous amount of flexibility, strength and experience to do so safely.