A Man’s Guide to the 12 Most Popular Yoga Styles
Confused about all the different types of yoga on your studio's schedule?
You're not the only one.
There are so many yoga styles out there, it's hard to know which is right for you. But that doesn't mean there's just one, there could be many.
Probably not Dog Yoga though, I'm not convinced anybody needs that..
Different styles cater to different people, and you'll inevitably encounter fans of particular schools who will assure you that theirs is the "real yoga".
Real yoga is whatever works for you, and the different yoga styles cater to different moods and needs too. Some days you might want a strong Vinyasa class, whereas others you need to recharge with a gentle Restorative practice. What serves you one day, might not on another.
It's entirely healthy to practice a range of styles to get a balanced perspective.
In fact, if you're new to yoga, I'd absolutely recommend experiencing as many styles as you can. You never know which will resonate with you most, until you try.
To help you in that endeavour, here's a man's guide to the most popular yoga styles that you might encounter.
The word "Hatha" can be translated to "sun" and "moon".
Interesting I know, but it doesn't tell you much.. Hatha is a bit of a curve-ball really, because all yoga is technically Hatha Yoga. The name actually refers to any yoga style that teaches physical postures.
But you'll still often see Hatha on the schedule, so how does this work?
That's because Hatha has come to mean a grounding style of yoga. Where students work on one pose at a time, usually with long rests between poses. The slow pace and strong focus on alignment makes it a perfect style for beginners.
Is it for you? Hatha is great for everyone. It's a solid, all-round practice that both beginner and experienced yogis can enjoy.
Vinyasa Flow Yoga
The term "vinyasa" is used to describe a series of poses that are performed in quick succession in connection with the breath.
As there's no rest between poses, the yogi "flows" through their practice. Hence the name..
So really, Vinyasa Flow has come to be an umbrella term for all styles that practice sequences in connection with the breath. This includes the likes of Ashtanga and Power Yoga, but you'll also see Vinyasa Flow itself on many timetables.
The definition of Vinyasa Flow is pretty vague, so the interpretation is entirely down to the teacher.
Intensity and difficulty can vary dramatically. Some classes are slow and gentle, and some are fast and strong. Remember, the poses just have to be synchronised with the breath, but you can breathe pretty damn fast.
Is it for you? Vinyasa is the natural evolution from Hatha. It's taking your grounding and understanding in the individual poses, and turning them into a smart sequence. But there's no time to correct, so if you're new to yoga, I'd recommend at least a few classes of Hatha first to get your fundamentals down.
Yin Yoga, I bloody love it!
It's a very different breed to the Vinyasa and Power Yoga's of the world, in that it's almost entirely made up of passive poses. That's right, no pushing or flowing here. Just sink into each pose and relax.
Just like the Yin and Yang from Taoist tradition, Yin Yoga is designed to cultivate slow and restful energies to balance the active and expansive Yang energies of your life.
Let's face it, life is pretty Yang these days.
Yin has a strong focus on seated postures that really target the hips, pelvis and lower back. So us guys are going to feel some really strong stretches here.
What makes Yin unique is the length of time that poses are held. You can hold each pose for anywhere from one to 10 minutes, and if that sounds like a long time to you, it really is.
It has a profound effect on the way that your body stretches. As each minute passes and you sink deeper into your pose, you'll feel a new type of stretch. First your muscles, then your ligaments and tendons, and finally your fascia and connective tissues will start to expand.
Is it for you? Absolutely. Yin is a great complement to any yoga or exercise practice. I'd recommend everybody practice it. It can be especially useful for athletes and weight lifters as a way to maintain the health of muscles and connective tissues.
A style founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, student of T. Krishnamacharya, the man referred to as the "father of modern yoga". Iyengar Yoga is a practice that places great importance on precise alignment and anatomical awareness.
That sounds like it's a test for advanced yogis, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Iyengar yoga is arguably the most accessible of all yoga styles, as it utilises a great range of props and pose modifications.
The aim is to modify poses in various ways so that anyone can perform them in one form or another.
Is it for you? Iyengar Yoga can be enjoyed by anyone, and its excellent use of props and modifications make it great for people suffering from disabilities or injuries.
If you're looking for a challenge, you've found it in Ashtanga.
Ashtanga Yoga is a strong and dynamic form of Vinyasa Yoga, that follows a structured pattern with every practice. It's designed to produce "intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs" - Ashtanga.com
Ashtanga is tough, even for the most experienced of yogis. It's Vinyasa yoga taken to its strongest form, and it involves some of the longest and most gruelling yoga practices you can put together.
But if you're ready for it, it'll make you strong as hell. Anybody who can make it through the primary series is superhuman as far as I'm concerned.
Is it for you? If you're an experienced yogi, and you're looking to challenge yourself and really embrace a strong yoga lifestyle – Ashtanga could be right for you.
For me, Forrest Yoga always conjures images of pagan druids performing a ceremonial rite or something.
In truth, it's nothing to do with forests..
It's a strong physical practice, developed by Ana Forrest. Combining some of the structured Vinyasa elements with a lot of core work and a some of it's own unique positions. It's a hell of a work out, and it sometimes feels a bit more like a Pilates class than yoga.
To me that's not a bad thing. I've tried Forrest Yoga a few times and I loved it's creative elements. It feels fresh, and dynamic. Tapping into just enough of the spiritual side, without being bound by it.
Is it for you? If you're looking for a challenging practice, that will build some serious strength, Forrest Yoga could be for you. It's also a big proponent of inversions, so it's ideal if handstands are your aim.
Probably the most platonic fun you'll have with a girl (or guy).
Acro Yoga is a striking combination of acrobatics and yoga (duh). It's fun, it's playful and it brings in elements of trust and touch that aren't found in other styles.
It's about as far removed from traditional yoga as it gets, but it still retains many of the core values while mixing in its own.
It's performed in pairs, where one yogi acts as the base to allow the other to "fly". Contrary to what you might be thinking, anybody can get involved, and men can fly too.
Is it for you? Well, proponents of the style say it's for everybody, and I know I'm keen to try it. So if you feel like exploring something different. Go for it.
Power Yoga is another ambiguous term, but it's usually seen as the attempt to make yoga into a pure workout.
No surprises that it's primarily seen in gyms around the world. But it's not without value.
It was originally modelled on Ashtanga, taking many of the strong vinyasa elements and repackaging them into a more accessible system. Teachers are not bound by any series and can teach poses in any order.
Is it for you? If you like your practices full of strong sequences, and with a little less on the spiritual side, Power Yoga could be good for you.
Kundalini is the crazy uncle at the party.
It's bold, unique and has some crazy-ass moves.
It's actually a blend of various traditional yoga styles. Taking elements of chanting, meditation and physical practice from each.
The result is a practice that is physically challenging, and spiritually stimulating. The practice of Kundalini Yoga is supposed to awaken a dormant energy at the base of your spine. A serpent of Kundalini energy, that rises through the chakras and expand your consciousness.
Is it for you? Kundalini is not for the faint-hearted, but if you're looking for a comprehensive practice that explores the deepest aspects of yourself – you've found it.
You may have heard of Bikram Yoga for all the wrong reasons. It's a style invented by the controversial "guru", Bikram Choudhary.
Bikram Yoga is a highly structured form of hot yoga.
We're talking a 40 degree (Celsius) heated room full of sweaty people, each performing the same 26 poses in a gruelling homage to Kolkata, Choudhary's birthplace.
Is it for you? Despite the fall from grace of it's founder, Bikram Yoga can is still practiced around the world. If you like hot yoga, and you're looking for a challenging practice, this could be for you.
A Mysore Yoga class is probably not one to join on a whim.
It's essentially Ashtanga (so we already know its tough), but it's taught in a different way. In fact, it's barely taught at all..
There's a teacher, but no class leader.
Students technically practice Ashtanga together in the space, but they're each doing their own practice, at their own pace. The teacher is there only to give one-on-one guidance.
It's a traditional teaching method from Mysore, India. As taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga.
Is it for you? If you're an experienced yogi, confident in your Ashtanga practice, Mysore Yoga is an interesting option to explore. Otherwise, it's not going to do a lot of good for most people.
Finally, we have Restorative Yoga.
It's similar to Yin Yoga, in that it focuses on deep, passive stretches.
The only real difference is the intention of the practice. Where Yin seeks to balance your energies, Restorative aims to heal your body and soul.
To this end, Restorative Yoga also employs more props and modifications to cater to all bodies, including injured and disabled.
Is it for you? If you're fit and healthy, you can still benefit greatly from a Restorative Yoga practice, but you may find more use from other styles. If however, you have an ailed body that you'd like to work on healing, Restorative Yoga may be perfect for you.
Alright, we've covered a lot here, but this is by no means an exhaustive list!
There are plenty of other styles out there, with new ones emerging all the time. But most yoga studios run with the tried and tested. If you're keen on trying some of the weirder classes, you'll probably have to search for a dedicated studio or specialised teacher.
If you're a beginner, you're probably best sticking with Hatha and maybe Yin or Restorative too. If you're more experienced, then it's a good time to start exploring the others.
I think there's value in trying every style, and I'm working my way through the list too.
No time like the present...