Rogue Yogi School: What are the Different Styles of Yoga?

I've been asked in my private Facebook lounge, "Rogue Yogis Run the World" a few questions about how to choose the right class of yoga to take. There's so many different names, categories, skill levels. It can be so intimidating or risky to take a class without having prior knowledge about it! What if you don't know the pose names? What if you have injuries? What if you just want the fitness aspect, or if you want to be sure there will be meditation with your physical practice? This is a sh*t ton of questions for a beginner to deal with!!! Note: When I say the word "yoga", I'm talking about the physical practice of Yoga. The stretching of the limbs, the movement on the mat, the combination with meditation. The actual word "Yoga" applies to an entire philosophy of living a nourishing and peaceful life. But, in this blogpost, I'll be referring to Yoga as the class you can take in studios or practice at home.

I'll mention here about the various styles that range from a sweat-inducing/ass-kicking fitness class to a gentle and very relaxing one that needs no effort exerted (lazy yoga, what?!)  There are actually over a dozen styles of yoga, but I'll cover about half of them here. These are the most popular styles and the kinds that I support for a Rogue Yogi lifestyle, starting with...

Hatha: It used to be the name of the general form of yoga. The physical aspect of practicing the "Asanas" (the poses) combined with the meditation. So, styles like Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power are all under the "umbrella" of Hatha! But, now it's begun to be used as a category of Yoga that's very gentle. It's perfect for a beginner or someone who's gone off on a life "tangent" and hasn't been on his/her mat in a long-ass time. Recovering from an injury? Step back in with a Hatha class! The students remain in each pose for about 8-10 breaths. With each movement is one breath. Inhale to lengthen, exhale to contract. The poses are not vigorous nor are they intended to build strength. They're also known as "level 1", "gentle yoga class" or "gentle hatha" classes.

Vinyasa: If you see a YouTube video, or take a class where you're led to a plank position, then down to the mat, followed by the chest lifting, then lowering the chest down, pressing the hands down while lifting the hips high up (which has your body creating an upsidedown "V" shape), that whole sequence of poses is called a "Vinyasa". These classes incorporate this sequence, perhaps over and over (as in Sun Salutations at the beginning of class), or interspersed in between other poses. As with Hatha, each movement is synchronized with breath. Each time you lengthen, extend, contract, you are taking a deep inhale or a deep exhale. This helps to facilitate oxygen circulating throughout your body as you tone your muscles.

Some classes move you through the poses very quickly to give you a cardio effect. Those are called "power flow"/"dynamic" classes. I honestly don't dig these classes, as you aren't given enough time to connect with your breath and your body. I've almost injured myself in these types of classes because I'm just trying to keep up with the instructor's cues. I also don't like teaching these styles of classes because I'm too busy trying to move students through the sequences and have no time to get connected to my students. (Therefore, I don't teach this style anymore).

Ashtanga: Designed by Pattabhi Jois, one of the forefathers of the structured yoga that you see today. You are guided to breathe with each movement. Ashtanga has a set of specific poses to repeat at almost every class.  Each segment has 3-4 increasingly difficult degrees of the same pose. If you can't practice the higher version, you would repeat the previous version. What's really cool about Ashtanga, is that because you're practicing the same set of poses over and over and over, you have the ability to master it better, if not quicker, because you're so consistent with the poses.

(Mysore is the practice of doing an even smaller segment of a sequence over and over and over for at least an hour.)

The Ashtanga classes I take begin with a meditation, a theme around the practice, and some chanting. About 95% of the classes are the same poses. Once in awhile, we will learn a new pose towards the end of class, like an arm balance. So dope .

Your Ashtanga teacher would make adjustments and also make an assessment on you being ready to move on to the next level series, with a bit more advanced poses. Mine gives explanations on why we practice a specific pose a specific way. She describes what can happen to the body with a wrong and repeated movement that could be injurious.

Ashtanga involves a lot of core engagement, or locking in your abdominal muscles. This helps to bring in the other muscles for any given pose.

At the end of the classes, there is some more chanting before we lie down in Savasana/Corpse Pose.

Power: Power Yoga is a form of Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga. There are various styles of Power Yoga. There's 2-3 different teachers that developed their own style of Power Yoga. It's kind of misnomer, as it isn't always about generating Power and Vigorous Strength to practice on the mat. It can be, as there are challenging poses to hold for 5 deep breaths. There is no rapid movement from one pose to another, and there's more time to get connected to your breath and how your body is feeling. It's actually very meditative.Power Yoga doesn't have the same sequence every time. It depends on how the teacher is gauging the room, or how the teacher is feeling. The one constant may be the sun salutations, which is at the beginning of the practice. But, after that, there may be a whole different set of poses that the teacher did not instruct on during the last class. As with any yoga class you have the option to rest in Childs Pose, take a sip of water, and join the rest of the class for the next pose that you feel ready for.

I see it more as an "empowering" yoga, because you are encouraged to think for yourself and to take your practice to whatever length is good for you at the moment. There's also dialogue throughout the entire practice. It mainly focuses on reminding the students to breathe, to get connected to the body and to quiet the mind. They're ways to bring awareness to the practice.

The style of Power Yoga I studied was designed by Bryan Kest. He studied under Pattabhi Jois, incorporated his Ashtanga yoga from the Eastern world and adjusted it to meet the Western world halfway. If you haven't noticed, yoga classes in the Eastern world are a lot more meditative, while yoga classes in the Western world are a lot more fitness-oriented. So, Power Yoga takes both hand in hand.

Iyengar: Designed by B.K.S. Iyengar. Very technical form of yoga. Where the same poses as the other styles are demonstrated, but a lot more time is spent on the alignment, the musculoskeletal alignment, thorough cues for each and every part of your body, and use of props (blocks, straps, bolsters, chairs). There's a huge focus on how the pose looks. Some may not generate a lot of heat due to not incorporating vinyasas. I have taken some classes where we were engaging so many parts of our body that we were building up a sweat. The next thing you know, we are working on headstands and handstands.

Kundalini: Really focused on breathing exercises with chanting, mantras. Belief is that you have this energy coiled up at the base of your spine. It's like a coiled up serpent. So your kundalini practice would unleash all these pent up areas of energy from your body.

Yin: Sometimes referred to as "yin", "restorative" or "yin/restorative". They kind of overlap. With Yin Yoga, you're kind of relaxing in a pose, but you are actively stretching for at least 5 minutes. You're asked to find your "next edge" which is a point of discomfort but to deepen your pose and getting your body used to the pose. Improves circulation, flexibility, fascia, tendons.

Restorative: You're propped up by all these bolsters to ease any effort on your behalf to be in the pose. For example, I led a Yoga Nidra class. I started my student off with a supported Fish pose. The bolster is under his back to lift his chest, with another bolster under his knees. His head is resting on a blanket on top of a block. There's no trying to find an edge. He's just simply relaxing with no effort.

SoooOooOooo...I mentioned a LOT of styles of yoga!

One tip on how to choose which one to try:

-Call into the studio and ask the staff to describe how the class goes. How long are you in a pose? Is it 5 breaths? or 10? Is it gentle, or is it sweat-inducing? Is there meditation, spirituality, or any "dharma" talks? The more you ask, the more you can be prepared on what to expect.

Check out YouTube for demonstrations of this.

If you have injuries? Take restorative or a Hatha class. Get your bearings on how a yoga class flows. You'll have enough time to gauge if a certain pose feels good or not. If you choose to take any of the other yoga classes (Power, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar)...if something doesn't feel good... that's where your brain and heart come in. Use your common sense. Rest in Childs pose, take a sip of water, then join the class on the next pose. Restorative is good for relaxation of muscles and connective tissue as you recover from your injury.

See if the teacher is understanding and knowledgeable about modifications or alternative poses you can do to ease the weight off of the injured body part. More on how to assess a Teacher in another post!!

Was this blog helpful? Let me know in the comments below!!


Julie (Your Local Rogue Yogi)

Mural by Victor Reyes, his work is all over SF. Def check him out here!

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