In the age of the Insta yogi the ancient Indian art of practicing of postures to enhance our health and wellbeing seems to be ever more accessible. Yet there remains a mystical air about it and the Sanskrit names of the different styles can be baffling – the yoga schedule at one of London’s popular studios has a roster of around 300 teachers and roughly 30 styles of yoga to scroll through. On offer are tongue twisting classics such as Kundalini, Iyengar, and Astanga, as well as Westernised modern hybrids Forrest, Acro, Jivamukti, which, even as as a teacher with 500 hours of training under my belt, feels overwhelming when it comes to choosing which class to go to for myself.
So how do we find our own yoga style? Technically speaking, whenever we strike a downward facing dog, warrior or tree pose, we’re practicing Hatha yoga, which is just one aspect of a vast body of knowledge which encompasses all sorts of life enhancing practices, wisdom and teachings with the overarching aim of helping us become happier, healthier, calmer versions of ourselves – and maybe even a glimpse of bliss (known as Ananda).
Yoga’s evolvement into the modern styles we know today began in the 1930s when physical culture became popular in the West and began to merge with Indian yogic techniques. One legendary yogi of that era named T Krishnamacharya is widely credited as being the catalyst for making these practices accessible to us. His star pupils included Indra Devi, cited as the first Western female yogi who went on to teach the post war Hollywood elite including Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. Also, BKS Iyengar whose eponymous, rehabilitative form gave us the now ubiquitous foam block and strap; as well as Sri K Pattabhi Jois – his athletic Astanga practice inspires the vinyasa flow classes so many of us love today.
That we now have such a choice of styles is a positive thing, and beyond the bendy hipster yogis on Instagram, there is a class for everyone – regardless of age, gender, faith, body type, flexibility and fitness level. Follow our guide below and most of all trust your instinct and try out the styles which inspire you the most.
Flow with it
Vinyasa styles are great if you want to get moving. It’s all about linking postures with the breath an idea which stems from Pattabhi Jois’s gymnastic, twisty Ashtanga. It can be physically challenging, like rock star-esque yogi couple Sharon Gannon and David Life’s Jivamukti fusion, so look for beginner level if you’re just starting out.
Yin yoga is a restorative practice to deeply relax – a much needed counterbalance to our 24/7 switched on lives and full-speed activities including running, cycling and vigorous yoga styles. Classes involve very few postures held for several minutes and focus on letting go into connective tissue and stretch deeply.
To improve posture, it’s hard to beat Iyengar’s millimetre precise alignment method. It makes even complicated yoga postures available to all through the use of props such as foam blocks, straps and wall ropes to hang off. Iyengar teacher training is most vigorous of all styles – good if you’re working with an injury or a particular postural imbalance. Also look out for Scarivelli – a softer take created by one of Iyengar’s first female students, Vanda Scarivelli.
Sometimes yoga practice needs an injection of something new or daring to push the limits, and there are plenty of experimental styles to try. For example AcroYoga (where yoga meets acrobatics) is the one to challenge your fear trust issues as moves are performed with a partner. Challenge your fear by hanging upside down in AntiGravity where postures are performed in a parachute silk hammock.
Self transformation is at the heart of all yoga, and Kundalini is one of the more ‘out there’ styles to take you out of yourself. A spirited system of meditation, chanting, and breath exercises developed by Yogi Bhajan, it became popular when its founder Yogi Bajan brought it to the US West Coast in the late 60s. No need to be put off by the white turbans! It’s a great way to uplift and energise.