At the beginning, there was but one yoga, one path to unity.
But as the tradition spread to the “western” world, many different styles started to emerge. Today, we have a wide array of approaches to choose from. To name a few, there are: Iyengar, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Kundalini, Sivananda, Bikram, Yin Yoga, and many more. You can find a desciption of all the above in my article about Modern Yoga Styles.
Making sense of all those names and philosophies may be daunting for a beginner, so here’s a short guideline to choosing what’s best for you:
- First and foremost, it is important to stay open-minded and not get fixated on one specific type of class, as you may need a different approach at different stages of your yoga journey.
The most logical way to start, is with a slow, static style like Iyengar or Sivananda, which will allow you to learn the asanas, understand alignment and prepare your body for the next step. You will need a strong foundation, to ensure a safe and mindful practice, especially if you’re ultimate goal is to progress into very ambitious methods like Ashtanga.
- It is good to remember that the eight-limbed system which is the basis of yoga, lists asana before pranayama. So physical preparation, should always precede any breath-oriented practice.
- Once you have mastered the basic asanas, you can then proceed to deciding what method will best suit your needs. Here you have the choice between dynamic, physically demanding, vinyasa styles like Power Yoga and Ashtanga, pranayama-focused classes like Kundalini Yoga, and a Restorative type of practice that serves as deep relaxation and is a great way to slow down and observe the more subtle aspects of asanas.
- But let’s remember, that it is not an either-or dilemma. We are not required to devote ourselves to one particular method. I am a firm believer in going with what feels right. And, especially in the yoga community, which can sometimes be pretty orthodox, maintaining a certain level of independence and granting yourself the freedom to explore whatever direction your heart pulls you in, is crucial.
You may love sweating in out in a Hot Yoga class, but some days your body might need to unwind and a restorative practice will be exactly what you need. Being aware of those subtleties and allowing yourself the kindness to submit to them, is one of the most important lessons yoga can teach us.
Keep in mind, that the style only partly determines how the class actually looks like. Since most methods are pretty flexible, alot depends on the teacher. So finding the right one for you, is an important aspect of establishing a regular, motivating practice. To find out what to look for in a teacher read How To Choose Your Perfect Yoga Teacher.