Beginner’s guide to yoga: Which style is best for you?

Living Well | Megan Whitfield | Posted on 27 July 2020

A guide to the different styles of yoga and which is best for your body.

Would you like to be stronger and more flexible, less stressed and anxious, better able to focus? And how about achieving all this at home with just a few square metres of floorspace and a rubber mat?  

Welcome to yoga, the ancient Indian practice that has made its way around the world by teaching connection between body and mind. And if you need another reason to put it on your to-try list, research from the University of South Australia has recently found that movement-based yoga can significantly improve mental health.

Yoga stretch


“Our research shows that movement-based yoga improved symptoms of depression (or improved mental health) for people living with a range of mental health conditions including anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and major depression,” says lead researcher Jacinta Brinsley. “So, it’s very good news for people struggling in times of uncertainty.”

As many of us settle again into a slower pace of life and readjust to home workouts, many yoga studios have opened their doors (virtually), giving a chance to explore whether this practice is for you.  

But with so many styles to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start, so we’ve broken down the most common forms of yoga to get you downward-dogging in no time. 

Hatha

Difficulty level: Beginner

Best for: Building core strength, fine-tuning alignment, understanding the poses.

What’s involved: Hatha is a common style for beginners is it focuses on getting techniques and poses right. As such, it tends to be a little slower than other styles of yoga. Hatha uses basic postures – some combined into a series – to build strength and flexibility while focusing on rhythmic, controlled breathing. Hatha can also be an umbrella term to describe many of the yoga forms taught in the West. It is a good gateway for entering into yoga as you spend more time setting up each pose, but be sure to look for beginner-specific classes as it can become challenging as you move into more advanced holds.

Yin

Difficulty level: Beginner, with scope to choose more challenging poses. 

Best for: Those seeking a very mindful practice, with its slow, meditative movements of all parts of the body. 

What’s involved: Yin is a slow, calming practice. It focuses on connective tissue rather than muscle, targeting areas such as your hips, shoulders and spine as you engage in deeper poses than you would with other forms of yoga. In Yin, the emphasis isn’t on moving freely through positions, but holding poses for longer (often three to five minutes or more) and connecting with your breath. 

Vinyasa 

Difficulty level: Suitable for beginners, but poses can be adjusted to your skill level and flexibility. 

Best for: Stress reduction, and an approachable introduction to yoga. This is a very popular form of yoga, particularly in the West. 

What’s involved: Vinyasa is about learning to move with your breath. It’s a less static practice than others, where you ‘breathe your way’ from one pose to the next. The flow of movements are considered and continuous.

Restorative  

Difficulty level: Beginner. 

Best for: People looking for an entry to yoga and stress relief, and those with chronic illness or fatigue. 

What’s involved: Restorative yoga is a good practice to help ‘recharge your batteries’. It’s a very gentle, meditative form of yoga. A session will typically include props such as cushions or bolsters and a blanket, with poses held for a long time to practise stillness and allow muscles to relax. 

Yoga pose
Yoga pose

Iyengar 

Difficulty level: Intermediate. 

Best for: People who want to learn the mechanics of each pose and understand how the body moves. 

What’s involved: The practice is quite technical and slow, and focuses on the alignment of the body. It uses many props, including blocks, straps and occasionally ropes. 

Ashtanga 

Difficulty level: Advanced. 

Best for: Those who are looking for a stricter, more regimented practice and are willing to dedicate a lot of time.  

What’s involved: Ashtanga is a dynamic and more physically demanding form of yoga and, similar to vinyasa, is focused on movement from one pose to another. However, it uses a set, precise sequence of postures that participants learn. Once this is complete, they can move on to the next series.  

Bikram 

Difficulty level: Advanced; some hot yoga classes are moderate. 

Best for: Anyone who likes to sweat.  

What’s involved: For those who like it hot, Bikram yoga classes take place in a room heated to around 40 degrees Celsius. The idea is that this can help participants go more deeply into their poses and bring the heart rate up for a potentially higher-intensity workout. It’s a static, structured yoga experience with each session following the same 26 set poses over 90 minutes. 

Alternatively, you could try hot yoga, which again takes place in a heated environment (about 35 degrees) and doesn’t require the set structure of certified Bikram classes.  

Meditation 

Difficulty level: Beginner. 

Best for: Reducing anxiety, learning to control your breathing and taking time for yourself.   

What’s involved: Many yoga classes incorporate meditation into their sessions, and studios may also offer standalone meditation classes. It is the practice of focusing your thoughts, rather than focusing on your external environment or stressors, and relieving tension in your body.  



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