In a previous blog post (available here) I reviewed the 6 branches of yoga in details. In this one I will focus specifically on hatha yoga, because it is the branch of yoga which is the most spread across the western countries and it is subdivided in a lot of different types of practices. This all can be quite overwhelming at first, when you are new to yoga and looking for a class that suits you, therefore I intend to clarify this a bit.
What is hatha yoga ?
Hatha yoga is the branch of the physical body. It is believed that the word hatha is a combination of Ha (sun) and Tha (moon), which are as well refered to as masculine and feminine energies or yin and yang. Hatha yoga aims to bring balance between those two polar energies within our body and our mind. This state of balance can be considered as enlightment and the way to enlightment in hatha yoga is made by witnessing the changes taking place in our body-mind thoughout the practice. The practice is based on asanas (which are the different postures) and a strong emphasis on the breath. The breath being percieved as a connector between body and mind, inside and ouside world.
Hatha yoga refers as well to a style of yoga which is slow pace, where the postures are held for a few breaths and where there is a strong focus on breath and meditations. It is a very nice style for beginners as it really allows you to start gently with the right alignments.
Vinyasa is a practice where every movement is coupled with a breath. It is a physically challenging practice. It is quick paced and the poses are usually not held very long. There is no typical structure to a vinyasa class, which means that the sequences and the asanas will usually vary from one class to another one. This heat generating practice will usually have you sweat through cardio and core asanas, before moving to some more relaxing poses and end with meditation.
It is as well refered to as the “eight limbs of yoga”. It is a very physical practice, not suited for beginners. It is composed of six series of postures. One student starts from the first serie, which will be repeated at every class, until the student is ready to move on to the next level. Moving from one series to the next might take years of practice.
Kundalini is a very spiritual form of yoga. As well as physical exercice, it involves a lot of meditation, breathing techniques, chanting mantras, visualisations and sound. The purpose of this practice is to awaken the kundalini energy that resides at the bottom of the spine. This is typically a form of yoga that is suitable for people who expect more of a yoga practice than just physical exercise.
Created by the guru Bikram Choudhuri it is composed of 26 postures that are repeated twice, as well as 2 breathing exercices. The particularity of Bikram yoga is that it is practiced in a heated room (41°C) with high humidity. You can expect to sweat a lot in this conditions, which is supposed to have high purificating properties. This temperature and humidity are meant to emulate the traditionnal weather conditions of India.
Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, this method is focused on teaching the students proper alignments for the body. The movements are very precise. The postures are held while holding your breath. The poses are practiced with props, such as straps, blocks, covers and polsters.
This form of yoga is very similar to bikram yoga, but the sequences are not limited to 26 yoga poses, they might change from one class to another. It will obviously make you sweat quite intensly, so you bottle of water should better not be too far from reach.
This is a slower paced form of yoga. Yin yoga is all about inner piece and relaxation. One enters the poses slowly and they are held for a longer time than in other styles (1-2 minutes). This form of yoga focuses more on flexibility than on strength building. By holding the poses for so long, the connective tissues are releasing deeply.
It is a deeply spiritual practice. As well as the postures, it incorporates music, chanting, breathing techniques (pranayama), deep relaxation and meditation.
By the use of props, such as blocks, straps and polsters, this style of yoga offers a lot of modifications to the traditional poses in order to activate the parasympathetic system and reach a state of deep relaxation. This type of yoga is really calming, soothing than athletic.
This is a more spiritual form of yoga, where the emphasis is more on relaxation, breath and meditation than on chanllenging asanas. The practice is flexible and the poses offer modifications to suit the body and achieve relaxation.
Created by Anna Forrest, this type of yoga is focusing on emotional healing through an intensly physical practice. The poses are held for a longer time and there is a strong emphasis on core work and connecting to your inner self.
It is a very community oriented form of yoga, where the sense of connection to the divine is highlighted. There is a strong focus on alignments in this type of yoga. Props are being used in order to get into the poses.
Power yoga is a very athletic and fast paced practice. There is a lot of strengthening asanas and sequences in a power yoga class. It is usally a rapid flow, but sometimes some poses can be held for a while in order to get the muscles firing up.
It is a form of yoga that is practiced in pair and that couples asanas and acrobatics.
It combines classical elements of yoga, as well as elements of gymnatics and aerials. Gravity is very important in this practice and it taken into account when practicing the asanas. The practitiones are hanging on a piece of fabric (similar to a hammock) hanging from the ceiling.
On top of the above mentioned types of yoga, there are a multitude of other trends such as beer yoga, weed yoga, dog yoga, naked yoga, goat yoga…
While I am pretty opened about the different styles of yoga that exists, I personally do not like the idea of using substances such as alcohol or cannabis during the practice, as I believe this alters the connection we have to the present moment. That being said, I really encourage you to try different styles and maybe mix them, in order to find the style the more suited for you.