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

Living Well | Megan Whitfield | Posted on 21 May 2020

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

Developed over centuries and with roots in India and the Himalayas, yoga and its teachings of connection between the body and mind have made their way around the world, gaining particular popularity in Western cultures in recent decades. 

It’s little surprise, with benefits ranging from increased flexibility and strength, to stress and anxiety reduction and increased focus. New research from the University of South Australia has 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 we settle into a slower pace of life and adjust to home workouts, many yoga studios have opened up their doors (virtually), giving an opportunity to explore whether this practice is for you. 

With so many styles of yoga to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start, so with the help of Lisa Allwell, co-founder of Seed Yoga + Wellness in Melbourne’s south-east, we’ve broken down the most common forms of yoga to get you downward-dogging in no time.

Yin

What’s involved: Yin is a slow, calming practice. It focuses on fascias or 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.

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.

Iyengar

What’s involved: A form of Hatha yoga, Iyengar was developed by B.K.S Iyengar, who is credited with helping to bring a modernised form of yoga to the West. 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.

Difficulty level: Intermediate.

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

Vinyasa

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

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.

Yoga pose
Yoga pose


Ashtanga

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. 

Difficulty level: Advanced.

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

Bikram

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. 

Difficulty level: Advanced, with some hot yoga classes being moderate.

Best for: Anyone who likes to sweat. 

Restorative 

What’s involved: Another form of Hatha, 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.

Difficulty level: Beginner.

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

Meditation

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. 

Difficulty level: Beginner.

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