Yoga classes – What does that even mean?

Yoga classes – What does that even mean?

I remember when I started on my Yoga journey and would see schedules listing all the different names of yoga classes on offer. Not once, apart from obvious things like Power, would I have any idea what the name meant, let alone that it was trying to guide me into the style of yoga I would practice and that is apparently something I should know?! 

So if you are anything like I was, here is a quick breakdown of what means what and the similarities and differences. So next time you are lucky enough to be faced with a packed schedule full of yoga lingo, you can know what’s good for you. 

Ashtanga

The king of yoga, Ashtanga is a set sequence that is owned by Sr K. Pattabhi Jois. It is part of 6 sequences that practitioners can work through, only once they are able to master the previous sequence. It is a demanding form of yoga which requires strength and flexibility. After a while of practising this, it becomes a dance, as the body knows what’s coming next.You can work deeper with breath, making it both an internal and external experience.  You can look up Ashtanga Primary Series on Google and view the whole schedule. 

Vinyasa

Vinyasa means ‘breath to movement’ but in the studio world it tends to mean a focus on salutation based sequences. This is the flow that includes the flow pictured with the post.

It can be fast, slow,  and powerful for beginners and advanced. It is completely open to interpretation in this way, as the teacher gets to share the flow they are working on which is why I feel it’s such a popular style. Practised because it comes with such open boundaries for expression and individualisation within the modern world of yoga. 

Hatha

Ha – Tha means Sun and Moon, the heat and the cool. I was once told that a Hatha sequence should flow like the cycle of life. 

You start in a shoulder stand representing leaving the mothers body, into child’s pose, through seated postures, onto your hands and knees for table top based postures, into standing as we learn to walk and balance, back down to our hands and knees, onto our backs and finally corpse pose, representing the end of the cycle. 

I always thought that it was a really beautiful way to think of your practice, just another cycle, a representation of your life. 

Hatha is the OG of styles practices and can be anything in terms of your sequence, again in modern studio terms this generally means the sequence won’t be based around a salutation.

Lyengar

Lyengar was a student, alongside Sr K. Pattabhi Jois, under the great Krishnamacharya (who we can thank for the emphasis of Asana in yoga). Lyengar’s style is not one I have ever personally practised. It tends to be harder to find studios of this style, or it has been in the places I have lived anyway. 

Lyengar gave a heavy importance to alignment and would often ask students to hold postures for 7 minutes at a time throughout the sequence. There are lots of props involved, minimising the risk of injury and making sure a student can get into each Asana to the best of their ability with lots of breath-control emphasised throughout the practice.

Restorative

One of my favourites. Lots of blocks, blankets, bolsters and straps – all the comfy things.

Restorative and Yin often get confused and the props are one of the defining differences. This will become clearer once you have read both descriptions. 

Restorative yoga is working with the central nervous system, it usually has longer holds but not as long as Yin. The idea is to bring the body, mind and breath into a complete state of calm. To come down into a rest and repair state within the parasympathetic nervous system and get out of fight or flight. It can be a real challenge if you’re a 100 miles a minute person/ coffee addict/ overworked/ overstimulated being. 

That’s the challenge with restorative, it won’t look great on your Instagram account as you’re generally not doing anything too difficult. You are learning to relax the body with conscious relaxation, not watching TV on the sofa and not falling asleep. Being aware of what your body, breath and mind are experiencing and just being present with that.

Yin

Yin on the other hand generally doesn’t need to use props for their Asanas. They are also working with the breath and the nervous systems but also the Fascia. Think of this like a mesh webbing that goes over our entire muscular system. 

The intention of Yin is to apply just a little stress to the connective tissues in the body to increase your flexibility by using the longer holds and thus increasing joint circulation. It can range from ultra relaxing to feeling the stress being put on the body and also relaxing. 

It really depends on two things in my experience – the style of the teacher and your connection to your body and breath. If you have good breath-control, if you can discriminate against your thoughts and stay present, it is a wonderful practice. If that is still a challenge for you then Yin too will be a bit of a challenge. But also check yourself, that which we have an aversion to, is perhaps that which we must seek to explore.