A Beginners Guide to Yoga Styles, By Music
My mat is firm beneath my feet. The hot air of a true summers day snakes through the studios wide open windows. I step to the front of my mat, lift my arms overhead and allow the beat of Bob Marley’s One Love to glide me through Surya Namaskar A.
This is Vinyasa Flow yoga.
Dynamic, contemporary and practiced to music as if the playlist were a mirror for the highs and lows of sequences stolen from tradition for modern expression.
Making playlists that carry the flow of a finely tuned sequence delights me. It’s part of the reason I’m pulled towards Vinyasa. Practicing yoga to an array of sound as unique as the teachers individual sequencing takes me to my happy place.
That’s my bag, what about you?
Picture all styles of yoga as branches of one tree and that tree will be called Hatha.
Hatha, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘forceful,’ is used as an umbrella term for all styles of ‘forceful effort yoga.’ The asanas (postures) of Hatha evolved from India to the rest of the world over thousands of years and Hatha is now practiced at a slower pace that focuses on breath and precise alignment.
Hatha classes are ambivalent about music, some teachers play it, some don’t, but either way, Hatha is excellent for beginners as an entry point to the physical postures of yoga.
While I revel in the creative license that allows no two Vinyasa classes ever to be the same, I know many students who embrace the ordered structure of Ashtanga Yoga.
Popularised and brought to the West by K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga links breath with movement like Vinyasa, but sticks with the exact same poses in the correct order every time. There’s six individual series in Ashtanga Yoga (Primary, Intermediate, and Four Advanced) and in keeping with traditional teachings, you won’t find music in any of them.
This allows for the practice of internal focus in yoga called ‘pratyahara’ or ‘withdrawal of the senses.’ Pratyahara is the 5th of the 8 limbs of yoga, the roots of the traditional philosophy that yoga is grounded in.
Tradition lies at the heart of yoga practices such as Iyengar Yoga. Founded by B.K.S Iyengar, Iyengar yoga utilizes straps, blocks, folded blankets, chairs and bolsters to guide students through a method of 200 classical yoga poses and 14 types of pranayama.
Students rehabilitating an injury or needing extra support will benefit from the long-held postures that emphasise safety, precise alignment and pranayama (breath control).
While breathing punctuates the silences of most yoga classes, if you’ve ever stepped into a studio and stopped inhaling due to 40-degree heat, it’s likely you’re familiar with Bikram Yoga.
Bikram yoga, founded by Bikram Choudhury in the early 1970s, is a repetitive (controversial) style that utilises the same trademark sequences of 26 postures (performed twice) and 2 breathing exercises. The closest you’ll get to music in an official 90 minute Bikram class is the teacher's standardized dialogue.
If you do try Bikram and find you slip off your mat because it got too sweaty, try Hot Yoga, an offshoot of Bikram that evolved neatly into its own style after deviating from the set sequences and strict 40-degree heat. Temperatures range between 31 to 40 degree Celsius and, like the postures and their sequencing, playlists vary as much as the teachers.
If all this talk of yoga styles has got you tired, don’t sweat it. Turn things down a notch with Yin Yoga. This slow, floor-based practice was founded in the 1970s by martial arts and Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink and developed more recently by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers.
Yin encourages the release of connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, through a series of floor based, seated postures all supported with blocks, blankets, bolsters, and straps. Poses are held anywhere from 45 seconds to two minutes or longer and, combined with relaxing sounds, foster a meditative and physical practice in one.
Taking it down further is Restorative yoga, a passive practice that uses blankets bolsters and blocks to support students into relaxing and soothing the nervous system with the least amount of exertion possible.
Accompanied by the blissful sound of silence or at the most, soft instrumental music, Restorative Yoga is the quietest you’ll get before diving into Yoga Nidra, aka Yogic Sleep.
You aren’t literally meant to fall asleep in a Yoga Nidra class, but many of us (myself included) can’t help it. Some teachers have voices as smooth as lullabies, allowing you to slowly drift off until the inevitable rip of a neighbours out of sync snore Stir’s It Up in a way that reminds me the beauty of yoga comes in all sounds and styles.