You don’t have to be in search of spiritual enlightenment or able to stand on your head to enjoy the many forms of yoga on offer today.
Here’s how to find the one for you….
If you’ve never tried yoga, you probably imagine it to be a relaxing exercise that relieves stress and makes you flexible – but that’s just for starters. Depending on which of the many types you choose, those benefits can extend to increased strength and endurance, injury prevention, boosted brainpower, improved digestion, sleep and hormone balance – even a better sex life.
With so many different classes springing up, our guide will help you pick a type that appeals – after that, it’s a case of finding a class and giving it a go. ‘Many teachers have developed their own blend of several styles, says yoga teacher Sarah Oakley . ’So try out a few classes – maybe go along to classes your friends like – then go with the one that feels most comfortable.’
1. The gentle choice: Hatha
Hatha involves practising certain asanas (poses) and working with the breath. According to the British Wheel of Yoga, it’s the most widely taught class in the West and is often described as the gentlest form. Classes may be adjusted to suit special requirements such as disabilities and pregnancy. ‘A class may involve dynamic moves, such as Sun Salutations, to warm up, followed by standing and seated poses and finally relaxation,’ says teacher Sally Lovett. ‘The focus is on attaining the correct position and alignment, so the teacher will come round and assist. Whether there is some meditation or the class is more physical depends on the teacher.’
Devotee Jennifer Aniston says it keeps her body strong and helps her sleep better
2. The all-rounder: Iyengar
Developed by yogi BKS Iyengar, this type of yoga is based on Hatha but uses lots of supports or ‘props’, such as foam blocks, harnesses, straps and cushions, so people of all ages and abilities can attempt the asanas at their own pace and level. Methodical and progressive, it can be good for beginners, those who need injury rehabilitation or anyone with disabilities. It’s methodical, with a focus on correct posture and alignment.
A US study, published in the journal Spine, found Iyengar yoga therapy to be effective for relieving chronic lower back pain. Twice weekly classes were found to improve functional disability, reduce pain intensity and relieve depression.
3. The workout: Vinyasa
Often called ‘Vinyasa flow’ or simply ‘flow’ yoga, this combines a series of flowing postures with synchronised breathing for a fairly intense, fast-paced workout. The emphasis is placed on the breath and flow between movements, rather than perfecting your alignment in one pose. And this continuous movement means it can have added cardiovascular and toning benefits. If you’re not a fan of the repetition of some styles of yoga, give Vinyasa a go – other than beginning with the Sun Salutation series, no two classes will be the same.
‘Vinyasa can be almost like a dance with its synchronised breath and movements – in fact it can be done to music,’ says teacher Emma Heald.
4. The spiritual class: Sivananda
In this class you follow a sequence of 12 asanas, breathing and relaxation exercises. Classes always end with 15 minutes of deep guided relaxation, so it’s perfect for people looking for mental and spiritual, as well as physical, relaxation. More spiritual forms require you to be mindful and ‘in the moment’, so many people report an increase in mental clarity and focus in the rest of their life.
‘While there’s a strong focus on the fitness benefits, equal attention is given to developing wellbeing through a yogic lifestyle with proper breathing, relaxation, a healthy diet, meditation and positive thinking,’ says Sivananda teacher Sarah Oakley.
5. The power poses: Astanga
Want toned arms and abs of steel? This is your yoga. Also known as power yoga, Astanga describes a more vigorous, physical practice, beloved by Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow. Like Vinyasa, there’s an emphasis on breath work and flowing from one movement to the next – but here, the order of the poses never changes. It’s based on six, increasingly challenging, series of asanas. Once you’ve mastered a series, you’re left to work through it at your own pace before moving up to learn the next one. So in an advanced Astanga class you won’t see pupils holding poses and teachers adjusting them – it’s all about self-practice. Great for sporty types, but be aware there can be an element of competition!
6. The meditation tool: Kundalini
Before arriving in the West in the late 1960s, Kundalini yoga was quite a secret form, practised by a select few. It concentrates on drawing Kundalini (serpent) energy up from the base of the spine, the root chakra (energy centre), and up through the other six chakras of the body. It incorporates asanas, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation and chanting, using mantras like ‘Sat nam’ (I am truth). Expect a little more seated work than in other yoga styles and lots of work on your core and around the spine. Kundalini is a way of life for model Christy Turlington and comedian Russell Brand, who has tattoos of the seven chakras on his arm.
7. The sweat session: Bikram
You probably know Bikram as the ‘hot yoga’. Classes are performed in a heated studio (temperatures reach 40°C, designed to replicate the Indian climate) so you really get a sweat on – and it’s so popular that specially heated studios are popping up all over the UK, with back-to-back classes each day. The idea is by sweating you really cleanse and detoxify your body as you exercise. Designed by Bikram Choudry, this version is based on a series of 26 asanas. Together, he believes, they promote the proper functioning of every bodily system. It’s suitable for complete beginners, as everyone works at their own level, although the challenge is in getting used to the heat.
*Weight-loss results will vary and are down to your individual circumstances and the amount of weight you have to lose.