By Meagan Mccrory.
Hundreds of variations and hybrids of yoga have found their way into studios and gyms around the world. As a beginner or even seasoned practitioner, how do you know if the option you’ve chosen is best for you? Our menu can help you pick the right class.
I had dismissed yoga as too gentle in my early twenties, based on a seniors class I attended with my grandmother. But by the time I graduated from uni, my mum had convinced me to try vinyasa. I loved it. Then, 18 months later, the studio that had drawn me in closed. I had to find another teacher, and at the same time, I felt the urge to deepen my understanding of yoga. I began to take as many different classes as I could. Some were vigorous, while others were slow and methodical; some presented tidbits of philosophy, while others had spiritual elements; and some were playful and friendly, while others were stern and serious.
Eventually I found Anusara. I revelled in its emphasis on alignment, athleticism, and Tantric philosophy and ended up teaching Anusara-inspired yoga. But in 2012, the Anusara community fell apart because of scandal. At the time, I was working on a book that researched different styles of Hatha Yoga, the practice of asana or poses. I wanted to help people find a style they thrived in just as I had in Anusara, and now I needed a little guidance, too. I interviewed dozens of leading teachers, took more than a hundred classes, read manuals and books, and watched DVDs. I had fun incorporating into my classes the new things I’d learned, and I continue to do so. But if you don’t have the time and inclination for this kind of exploration, the logical question is, where to start? Perhaps what I’ve discovered can help.
Firstly, consider your reasons for practicing: are you looking for a sweaty workout, or are you attracted to yoga’s more restorative benefits? Are you searching for a spiritual experience, or relief from back pain? Next, consider your preferences and needs: Do you want personalised attention or are you motivated by a community vibe? Do you like to be pushed or do you need a more compassionate approach? And then be honest with yourself about possible physical, financial, and time limitations.
The truth is, you may not even know what you’re looking for until you start trying on styles, but you’ll know when you’ve found the yoga that’s right for you. Be mindful of how your body feels during and after class: The pace and level of practice should feel challenging but not overtaxing, and you should feel more relaxed, open, and grounded in your body after class, not more stressed and disconnected. Pay attention to the emotional and mental shifts that take place throughout class, too. Notice what inspires you, or whether you’ve checked out and lost interest. The best indicator of a good fit: You’ll want to take the class again.
“It’s important for a student to find yoga that she resonates with,” says Tim Miller, director of the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, California. “Do whatever it is that makes you want to do yoga.” Know that there’s no right or wrong, superior or inferior style. And remember that asana practice (Hatha Yoga) is just one limb (of Raja Yoga) of 4 paths of yoga outlined in sacred texts. If a physical practice feels limiting, explore one of the other three branches – the yoga of service (Karma Yoga), or the yoga of devotion (Bhakti Yoga), or the yoga of the mind and self-inquiry (Jnana Yoga). If you are sticking with Hatha, all forms of the practice have three things in common: breath, poses, and the opportunity to be present. Conscious, diaphragmatic breathing performed through the nostrils is the cornerstone of most yogic practices. There’s a set of basic postures found across many styles (although how they are taught can vary widely). And, the lynchpin: all asana classes demand your presence on the mat while you cultivate a stronger mind-body connection.
“There are many schools and traditions and lineages of yoga philosophy,” says Noah Mazé, a student of senior Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Tantric teachers, and creator of Noah Mazé Yoga. “There’s going to be commonality to all of them, and there are going to be many real differences, too.” So don’t feel bad if your newfound beloved yoga style suddenly no longer feels right—your needs can change from week to week, month to month, and year to year.
Whether you are seeking, or just curious about your compatibility with your current favourite yoga, it might be worth exploring new styles. Explore until you find a practice that resonates for you right now, and don’t forget to stay open-minded: you may find that your journey soon takes you to another style, or even branch, of yoga!
AcroYoga is a partner-based practice that blends yoga with the playfulness of acrobatics and the loving touch of healing arts. A base and a flyer work together to explore movements and postures in a safe atmosphere. This style aims to cultivate connection, community, and trust.
Co-founders: Jason Nemer and Jenny Sauer-Klein
A gentle practice, Ananda emphasises alignment, pose modification, pranayama, energy-control techniques, meditation, and applied yoga philosophy. Students are encouraged to remain relaxed while silently repeating a specific affirmation in each pose.
Developed by Swami Kriyananda from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda
This set series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises is done in high heat for 90 minutes. Bikram Yoga’s specific sequence of poses is said to systematically work every part of the body, bringing fresh, oxygenated blood to internal organs, glands, and fibers, while the heat serves to speed detoxification.
Founder: Bikram Choudhury
Dru Yoga is a graceful and potent form of yoga, based on soft flowing movements, pranayama, mudras and visualisation. With its foundations set firmly in ancient yogic tradition, Dru works on body, mind and soul by improving strength and flexibility, building a heightened feeling of positivity, and deeply relaxing and rejuvenating your whole being.
Founder: Mansukh Patel
INTEGRATIVE YOGA THERAPY
This personalised practice uses a variety of yogic tools, including gentle adaptations of the postures, breathing exercises, guided imagery, and meditation, to address specific health issues like heart disease and depression. It is designed for medical and mainstream wellness settings.
Founder: Joseph Le Page
Incorporating chanting, meditation, pranayama, philosophy, and music into a vigorous flowing asana, or vinyasa, practice, Jivamukti is a physically and intellectually stimulating method. This system emphasizes bringing ancient teachings alive in a contemporary setting.
Founders: David Life and Sharon Gannon
Asana, pranayama, relaxation, and meditation are Kripalu Yoga’s primary tools for promoting physical and mental health, and deeper levels of self-awareness. This practice offers a compassionate approach to self-study as students modify and discover what works best for them.
Developed by Amrit Desai from the teachings of Kripalvananda
A multidimensional spiritual practice, Kundalini Yoga uses rhythmic movements, breathwork, and sound to stimulate and move energy through the body. Alternating between exercises known as kriyas and short periods of relaxation, the practice has been known to release stored emotions.
Founder: Yogi Bhajan
Laughter Yoga is a combination of deep-breathing and laughter exercises (that quickly turn into real and contagious laughter). The practice, which uses eye contact and childlike playfulness to initiate laughter, is said to release endorphins and reduce stress.
Founder: Dr. Madan Kataria
PRANA VINYASA FLOW YOGA
A creative, energetic, and fluid form of vinyasa, Prana Flow is guided by the flow of pranic energy through the body, resulting in near-continuous movement. It incorporates elements of ecstatic dance, moving meditation, Bhakti, Ayurveda, and music.
Founder: Shiva Rea
Restorative yoga typically involves only five or six poses each class, supported by props that allow you to completely relax and rest. Held for 5 minutes or more, restorative poses include light twists, seated forward folds, and gentle backbends.
Based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar
This gentle practice revolves around the principles of proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet (vegetarian), positive thinking, and meditation. Classes follow a set combo of breath and postures, with structured relaxation between poses.
Developed by Swami Vishnu- devananda from the teachings of Swami Sivananda
Viniyoga adapts yoga poses and techniques and applies them to each person’s needs, interests, abilities, and desired results. Highly skilled therapeutic teachers emphasise breath, the biomechanics of yoga poses, safe sequencing, holding poses for longer periods of time, and repetition.
Developed by Gary Kraftsow from the teachings of T.K.V. Desikachar
This dynamic, physically demanding practice synchronises breath and movement to produce an internal heat designed to purify the body. With its many vinyasas, this style is great for building core strength and toning the body. Prepare to sweat as you briskly move through a set sequence.
Founder: K. Pattabhi Jois
Ishta Yoga integrates the ancient sciences of Hatha Yoga, Ayurveda, and Tantra. Its breath-centered, alignment-oriented practice combines elements of Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga and incorporates subtle-energy techniques like mantra and visualisation meditations to expand awareness and generate emotional well-being.
Founder: Alan Finger
By paying close attention to anatomical details and the alignment of each posture, Iyengar Yoga is the practice of precision. Poses are held for long periods and often modified with props. This method is designed to systematically cultivate strength, flexibility, stability, and awareness, and can be therapeutic for specific conditions.
Founder: B.K.S. Iyengar
Power Living is a modern day physical & philosophical practice that focuses on developing a person’s spiritual well being as much as their physical and mental health. A combination of vigorous, flowing, heated asana, yin yoga, meditation, and active self-inquiry, Power Living Yoga is designed to condition the whole body while encouraging students to step into their full potential.
Founder: Bryan Kest
This practice is designed to help you sit longer, and more comfortably, in meditation by stretching connective tissue around the joints (mainly the knees, pelvis, sacrum, and spine). A passive practice, Yin Yoga involves variations of seated and supine poses typically held for 3 to 5 minutes, accessing deeper layers of fascia.
Founder: Paulie Zink
Enjoy yogic sleep as the teacher takes you through a guided meditation that systematically brings awareness to each part of the body. Students find a deep state of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. The ancient practice of yoga nidra is said to help reduce symptoms of stress.
Popularised by Satyananda Saraswati
EMERGING STYLES OF YOGA IN AUS
You’re likely familiar with many of the styles of yoga gaining popularity in the States and beyond. Here in Australia we’re cottoning onto the plethora of ways in which we can practice yoga as well, with everything from Satyananda to Hip Hop Yoga being practiced widely around the country. We’re seeing the likes of Zen Ki Yoga, a Japanese practice based on the 12 meridians, popularised in Australia by Janie Larmour. My Health Yoga, developed by Carrie-Anne Fields, is gaining a following and training thousands of teachers annually. John Ogilvie, Director of Byron Yoga Centre has developed the Purna style, based on the Sanskrit word meaning ‘whole’ or ‘complete’. This practice aims to not only incorporate the physical asana practice, but to holistically introduce students to meditation, philosophy and pranayama. Yoga Synergy, created by Simon Borg-Olivier, is based on a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology, combined with modern medical science and traditional Hatha yoga. This practice is now being taught around Australia and the globe and is well known for training some of the most inspiring teachers with expertise in anatomy and physiology.
About the author:
Meagan McCrary is the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga and is a 500-hour E-RYT, having studied with Martin and Jordan Kirk, Noah Mazé, and Desirée Rumbaugh.