Why Yoga is for Every BODY: Ten Traditional Practices Explained so you can Decide which one is Right
Yoga is for every BODY!
Today yoga is most commonly associated with the postures and poses – or ‘asanas’ – as they are referred to in Sanskrit; but interestingly enough the poses/asanas were considered only a small part in the whole sum that makes up a full yoga practice by original yoga traditions in India.
Instagram has helped make yoga a bit of a trend in wellness – and perhaps inappropriately – in fitness:
…And while I believe that more and more of us wanting to learn and practice yoga is a positive thing, and see the benefits of so much yoga being shared on the gram; like everything, for me the most important part of the practice is making sure that the intention behind it is appropriate, healthy and supportive of our growth…
…Sadly, our social media thirsty culture means that when we think of yoga, images of sun kissed, skinny, bendy blondes in unattainable poses on a beautiful beach are conjured in our mind, along with this idea that yoga is some form of fitness routine – all of which can be very off-putting, and doing an injustice to what is actually a healing and spiritual practice.
In truth, yoga is diverse. You do not have to look a certain way or have a certain amount of flexibility in your body to practice!
…Because yoga, and ALL of the amazing disciplines that fall under the meaning of yoga, including breath, meditation, kindness, focus, dedication, love, morals – and yes, the poses – really are for EVERY BODY; be it a young body, an old body, a strong body, a vulnerable body, a confident body, a toned body or a healing body – each being bodies which share a common goal – coming together in some form of community to practice the ancient wisdom of yoga.
So, what is yoga?
The word ‘Yoga’ literally means ‘to yoke’ or coming together in ‘union,’ so a nice way to think about this is the union of breathing techniques, meditation, a morale and loving way of life, combined with a moving/physical practice to improve relaxation, control of mind and enhanced well-being.
In the most ancient yoga text, The Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as ‘Chitta Vritti Nirodha’ or ‘the modification of the mind fluctuations’
Essentially, yoga is a mind and body practice with a 5,000-year history in ancient Indian philosophy, with clarity of mind – not fitness – as the primary goal. However after centuries of seeing the practice evolve, there is an understanding that it is easier to heal your mind through your body first – and that in working to create a healthier body, which more of us understand how to do – a desire and understanding as to how to heal the mind will follow. – This principle made most ‘famous’ by Yoga Guru BKS Iyengar.
While the yoga practice is thousands of years old, it only arrived in the West in the late 1800s and more firmly took roots within the last few decades. Since then, yoga has gone from a practice associated with hippies, to one that’s practiced by nearly 37 million people all over the world. Furthermore, in today’s age, ‘yoga’ isn’t just ‘yoga’ and you only need to look at your local studio timetable to see that for yourself.
From traditional practices such as Ashtanga and Hatha to evolved literations such as Creative Vinyasa, Power Yoga, Rocket Yoga – all the way to the likes of ‘Yin ang Gin,’ ‘Hip Hop Yoga’ ‘Yogacise,’ Naked Yoga…. And even Goat Yoga, it can be very hard to decipher between the practices and work out which one is for you – which is why I am here to help!
So, what are the ten most common types of yoga, and which one is for me?
It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong when it comes to yoga, and a good teacher should make you feel comfortable in that knowledge.
And, don’t be afraid to keep trying until you find a style and teacher that work for you! Yoga is a place of self-discovery and connection, so as you grow through your yoga journey, you’ll likely find that your tastes, preferences and needs grow too.
1. Kundalini Yoga
Yogi Bhajan, teacher, and spiritual leader, brought this style of yoga to the West in the late 1960s. “Kundalini” in Sanskrit translates to “life force energy” (known as prana or chi in the yoga community), which is thought to be tightly coiled at the base of the spine – taking form of a serpent.
Kundalini yoga sequences are carefully designed to stimulate or unlock this energy and to reduce stress and negative thinking.
Most practitioners wear white in class – a high vibe colour believed to deflect negativity – and a full practice typically involves chanting, singing, meditation, and kriyas (specific series of poses paired with breath work and chanting).
Is Kundalini for my body? This is a very spiritual practice and if you’re more interested in the physical benefits of yoga it might be too much to try Kundalini before any other styles. This practice is perfect for anyone in search of a physical, yet also spiritual practice, or those who like singing or chanting.
2. Vinyasa Yoga
‘Vinyasa’ means ‘to place in a special way’ and this movement is coordinated with breath, making this a more physically dynamic, free-flowing yoga practice.
Vinyasa flow, was adapted from Ashtanga Yoga, and is a very popular and widely available practice style, and depending on the way the ‘flows’ are sequenced, can be perfect for beginners through to more advanced practitioners. You’ll often see words like slow, dynamic, or mindful paired with vinyasa or flow to indicate the intensity of a practice.
Is Vinyasa for my body? Vinyasa yoga is suitable for those who’ve never tried yoga as well as those who’ve been practicing for years.
3. Hatha Yoga
While many people think Hatha means slow, it actually takes its name from the Sanskrit words for sun and moon, so can actually be a strong practice and is designed to balance opposing forces.
The balance in hatha yoga might come from strength and flexibility, physical and mental energy, or breath and the body, and to be considered a hatha class, the practice must include a asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation. This means that style of yoga including Iyengar, ashtanga, or Bikram can technically consider themselves to be hatha yoga as well.
Is Hatha for my body? Hatha is great for anyone looking for a balanced practice, willing to try strong or soft practices, and incorporate breathwork.
4. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga consists of six series of specific poses taught in the same order. – There are only a handful of practitioners in the world who can practice series six; most practitioners reach the second series, considered intermediate, so physically, this is a challenging practice.
Each pose and each series is “given” to a student when their teacher decides they have mastered the previous one, and you cannot progress through the sequence – or to the next series – until they are mastered, so this is a very disciplined practice that involves a lot of ego work, and patience.
Ashtanga teachers give hands-on adjustments, and in Mysore-style studios (named after the city where the practice’s guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, lived and taught), each student has a unique practice.
Is Ashtanga for my body? Ashtanga yoga involves a very physically demanding sequence of postures, so this style of yoga is definitely not for the beginner. It takes an experienced yogi to really love it. Ashtanga starts with five sun salutation A's and five sun salutation B's and then moves into a series of standing and floor postures, and is great for anyone who likes routine, wants to be challenged mentally and physically, and connect to a very traditional and spiritual practice.
5. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is a slower - or even STILL - style of yoga in which poses are held for up to five minutes or more. It is a type of yoga with roots in martial arts, (working with Chinese or Taoist Chi/Qi energy, as opposed to the Indian term, Prana) as well as yoga, and it’s designed to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility.
The practice focuses on the hips, lower back, and thighs and uses props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks to let gravity do the work, helping to relax. While other forms of yoga focus on the major muscle groups, yin yoga targets the body’s connective tissues.
Holding poses for this length of time benefits the mind as well as the body, providing a chance to practice being still.
Is Yin for my body? Yin maybe simple but it isn’t without challenge. This can be a very hard practice for someone with a very active mind, and is great for anyone looking to develop a meditation practice, in need of a stretch out after a tough workout, or anyone interested in a slower-paced practice.
6. Restorative Yoga
Even more chilled out than Yin, if you walked by a restorative yoga class, you might think everyone was taking a nap on their mats. This form of yoga uses props to support the body. The goal is to completely relax into poses, which are held for at least five minutes but often longer.
Restorative differs from Yin because you are encouraged to fully relax, whereas with Yin, while over time it becomes very relaxing – you are being asked to work on the edge of discomfort to stress (in a healthy way!) fascia tissue. Like in Yin, you might only do a handful of poses in a class, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drift into sleep during them, and the focus is primarily to down-regulate the nervous system.
Is Restorative for my body? This practice is perfect for anyone who needs to de-stress, those dealing with pain, and those struggling to relax.
7. Prenatal Yoga
Yoga can be a wonderful way for mums-to-be to relax, connect, move the body gently and focuses on easing pains associated with pregnancy, such as sore hips or an aching low back. Prenatal yoga provides stress relief, exercise, and self-care in one session, and the breathing exercises can come in handy during labor and delivery.
Since this is a practice designed specifically for mums-to-be, it excludes poses that might be too taxing or unsafe for the changing body, and often includes plenty of exercises to prepare your body for delivery, like squats and pelvic floor work.
Is Prenatal Yoga for my body? If you are a mum to be, or a new mamma easing back into some exercise – or in need of calming the mind, then this is perfect
8. Aerial, Anti-gravity or ‘Fly High’ Yoga
Aerial yoga — sometimes called anti-gravity yoga — is relatively new – deceptively relaxing! – and quickly catching on. It involves traditional yoga poses with the added support of a strong, silky hammock that hangs from the ceiling.
The hammock is used as a supportive prop in poses like pigeon or downward dog, and helps you more easily perform, or overcome the fear of being upside down, in inverted poses (like headstands and handstands), and means that when you close with Savasana (the final resting pose at the end of a yoga class) you can do so your own personal cocoon.
Is Arial for my body? Arial is great for those who want a non-traditional yoga experience, or anyone who wants the benefits of inversions but might fear going upside down on their own.
9. Iyengar Yoga
Named for its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, who developed his classical, alignment-based practice in India. This type of yoga became popular in the US in the 1970s. Iyengar yoga is known for the high level of training required of its teachers and for its resourceful use of props. While considered optional in many practices, multiple props are used in Iyengar classes — including chairs, walls, and benches, in addition to more common ones like straps, blocks, and bolsters.
Iyengar is suitable for people of all ages and skill levels, as the props are there to support, has a strong focus on alignment and is a practice in which poses are generally held for a long time while adjusting the absolute detail of the pose.
Is Iyengar for my body? This practice is suitable for anyone who likes detailed instruction, those with physical limitations, or those in search of a more classical form of yoga.
10. Tantra Yoga
Last but not least, a personal favourite of mine is Tantric Yoga – not to be confused with tantric sex – two different branches of the Tantra way of life.
Traditional tantra is divided into red tantra and white tantra. White tantra is often a term used to refer to the solo practice, which incorporates yoga and meditation whereas red tantra is a more sexual practice.
While both use sexual energy, the goal of the two practices is different. The goal of red tantra is to create a deeper bond with a partner, while white tantra is about creating a deeper bond with yourself – and like with Yin and Yang, you can’t have one without the other.
Just like the idea that without self-love, you can’t fully love another, or receive love from another; Red tantra is your opportunity to bring everything you’ve learned in your solo practice into an exchange with a lover. So, without a solo self-loving Tantric practice, what can you bring to a lover?
A typical tantra class involves breathwork, hip opening poses, vocal toning, jaw and tongue relaxation techniques, pelvic awareness and sometimes partnering up if pairing is an option in the class. Tantra Yoga is a modality that is both playful and educational, helping with reducing stress, anxiety, or depression, getting a better understanding of and love for oneself, improving sleep quality, improving confidence and gaining an increased capacity for self-love and intimacy.
Is Tantra for my body? If you are ready to explore playful and become more aware of your sexual energy and connection between breath, body, mind and sexuality.