In anticipation of the International Day of Yoga on Friday 21 June, we thought we’d celebrate this auspicious occasion by looking at the popularity of yoga and compile our top ten types of yoga.
Although yoga as a discipline originated in India some 5,000 years ago, here in the UK we were first awakened to the inward-looking form of healing by the Beatles, who used inspiration from their trip to India and the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to create their legendary White Album.
Yoga’s come a long way, however, from the ashrams and transcendental meditation of the 1960’s. It’s since been adapted into various distinct types of exercise, depending on level of fitness and specific goals. Widely practised to boost physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, yoga is a gentle and holistic way to exercise, improving strength, flexibility and balance via a series of postures and breathing techniques. In today’s fast-paced, frenetic lifestyle, and our obsession with the body beautiful, it’s no wonder so many of us look to yoga as a way to disengage from the pressures in society. Not only can it improve general fitness and alleviate stress and depression, but yoga has also been shown to be beneficial for people with heart disease, high blood pressure and joint pain.
In recent years, yoga has been catapulted into the mainstream by social media and the endorsement of celebrities including Madonna, Kate Hudson and Jennifer Aniston and is now offered in leisure centres, bespoke yoga studios and village halls across the country. Indeed, there are now over 300 million yoga practitioners worldwide and ‘yoga’ was one of the most searched for words in 2016. The industry has created many lucrative spin-off businesses, including fitness apparel retailers such as Lululemon, Sweaty Betty and Fabletics, as well as festivals and holiday retreats.
The dominance of this industry is also clear from an economic standpoint. According to the IBIS World Market Report, yoga and pilates combined command a revenue of £875.4 million. Indeed, in the USA alone, the number of people doing yoga is set to hit 55 million by 2020, with revenue from the yoga industry projected to reach US $11.6 billion by 2020, up from around US $7 billion in 2012.
So yoga as a discipline, as a form of exercise, as a lifestyle choice and key contributor to domestic economies is here to stay. But there are many different permutations of this ancient discipline to choose from, so which one should you try? Here are our top ten, depending on your lifestyle, goals and general level of fitness:
Although taught as specific classes, ‘Hatha’ is actually the name given to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures (known as asanas) and breathing techniques (known as pranayama). For this reason, most types of yoga taught in the West can, in fact, be classed as Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga classes tend to be slow paced are a good introduction to yoga and will help you feel more relaxed, looser and stronger. This is a great choice for beginners and those with a lower general level of fitness.
Despite the scandal and controversy surrounding the founder of this type of yoga, Bikram Choudhury, this remains a popular form of hot yoga. Bikram classes follow a set sequence of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises, in a room artificially heated to 35-42 degrees C, with 40% humidity, but the heat of these classes and strenuous nature of the poses themselves mean that you should only undertake these classes with a good level of general fitness. Make sure you have a towel and bottle of water with you for this workout.
This is similar to Bikram yoga, in that classes take place in a heated room and you’ll sweat buckets, but the sequence of postures will differ. There are health risks associated with all types of Hot yoga, including heat exhaustion and in extreme cases, heat stroke, as well as dangers associated with elevated heart rates. Traditional practitioners warn against this form of yoga as it’s not about listening to your body and cultivating energy, more of an extreme workout that disperses energy. Again, just remember your towel and a bottle of water.
Ashtanga is a modern form of yoga, created by K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. Challenging and highly structured, this rigorous style of yoga follows a specific sequence of postures. A sweaty, physically demanding practice, this one is for more advanced yogis, and isn’t for you if you’re new to yoga or less physically fit.
Vinyasa is Sanskrit for ‘to place in a special way’ and these classes are known for their fluid, movement-intensive practices. In this class, you’ll smoothly transition from pose to pose, coordinating movement with breath. Vinyasa, also known as Vinyasa Flow, is a vigorous style of yoga, in which you’ll move through poses and sun salutations faster than other forms of yoga, so you’ll definitely work up a sweat. Not for beginners, this is great for those who prefer more of a physical workout.
Created by B.K.S. Iyengar – who started practising yoga in 1936 – and popularised in his 1966 book Light on Yoga, this is a meticulous form of yoga that is excellent for strength building and improving flexibility. In a typical class, you’ll move through a series of postures, finishing with the Savasana total relaxation pose. It’s all in the detail with this type of yoga, and your teacher will pay close attention to precision and alignment of each pose. In order to achieve the precise postures, you’ll need props including blocks, a blanket, straps and bolsters, but yoga studios can often supply any equipment required.
This is one of the most comprehensive forms of yoga, combining physical exercises, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation and the chanting of mantras. The purpose of Kundalini Yoga is to remove energy blocks and rebalance the body, which in turn increases physical vitality and consciousness. A gentle form of yoga, this one is suitable for people of all ages and abilities.
Yoga Nidra is essentially guided meditation designed to help you find inner peace and calm. A five-stage process, it will take you to the deepest state of relaxation while still remaining fully conscious. Used by the US Army to help soldiers recovering from PTSD, as well as recovering addicts, this form of yoga connects the body to mind and reduces stress, leading to better sleep and healing psychological wounds. If you’re above average stressed and are having problems sleeping, the this is the yoga for you.
This is a slow-paced, more passive type of yoga. Excellent for beginners, Yin Yoga is practised sitting or lying on the floor. It involves holding postures for longer periods of time – from 3 to 5 minutes depending on your level of experience. A calm, stretching class, this type of yoga is excellent for your joints, will help your posture and energise you, and is popular as an adjunct to more physical exercise classes or disciplines. Remember to wear warm, comfortable clothing as you’ll remain cool during a Yin session.
If you’re expecting, then specific Pregnancy Yoga classes will use gentle Hatha-style exercises and stretches to prepare you for birth. Yoga in pregnancy can not only boost energy levels and reduce anxiety but also help you maintain a healthy back and keep the body supple and strong, as your body changes. You’ll also learn Pranayama – breathing techniques – to help you with the labour and birth. If you’re already a yoga aficionado, you can continue with your current class, but make sure your practitioner knows, as certain poses will have to be adapted or avoided. Bikram and Hot Yoga should be avoided.
Whichever type of yoga you choose, we hope you find inner peace and reach your health goals. One thing’s for sure, when it comes to yoga there’s something for everyone. So why not book a class today? Namaste!