Know your Ashtanga from your Vinyasa: A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

Know your Ashtanga from your Vinyasa: A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

So, you’ve decided to take up yoga. Great. But delving a little deeper have you found yourself flummoxed by the choices? Faced with timetables of Ashtanga or Vinyasa and a wide range of other weirdly named classes in between, how do you know (without trying them all) which is the right type of yoga for you?

If you know exactly where you want to go, a good starting point is to talk to the venue for an overview of what is on offer and what would suit you best. Fitness clubs such as Wickwoods have a range of yoga classes on offer, and they’ll happily give you the low-down on what each style offers before you join up.

You’ve picked a great fitness regime because yoga has oodles of benefits. Dakota Murphey has put together a potted guide with some of the health benefits and an overview of the 5 most popular yoga styles. Read on for our simple guide to help you decipher your Ashtanga from your Vinyasa.

The health benefits of yoga

Done properly, a regular yoga practice (whether at home or as part of a class) will have a positive impact on your health. There are some surprising benefits we bet you didn’t know about.

  • Improves your mood and lowers stress levels
  • Increases energy levels
  • Boosts your confidence
  • Lowers the risk of injury
  • Helps you lose weight
  • Increases flexibility
  • Improves muscle tone and strength
  • Helps with chronic pain
  • Benefits breathing capacity and lowers blood pressure
  • Improves your posture
  • Boosts immunity
  • Releases tension and relaxes you
  • Helps you to focus
  • Calms the nervous system and helps you to sleep   

Yoga lingo you’ll need to know

There are some commonly used Sanskrit words you’ll definitely come across in your yoga journey. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Asana – literally means seat, but translates as yoga posture
  • Bandha – internal muscular locks (when engaged they support the toning and lifting of the body)
  • Chakra – energy centres in the body (there are 5 between the base of the spine and the crown of the head)
  • Drishti – the focal point of your gaze during yoga poses
  • Mudra – a hand position or gesture used to aid concentration
  • Namaste – generally said at the end of a yoga class, meaning ‘I bow to you’
  • Prana – life energy or life force
  • Pranayama – the conscious awareness of breath
  • Yoga – the union of breath, body and mind

The 5 most popular yoga classes

1.) Ashtanga

Based on ancient yoga teachings, this method of yoga was transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). A rigorous style of yoga, the Ashtanga practice involves synchronizing the breath with a series of postures and movements designed to create heat in the body with detoxifying and purifying effects. It’s a physically challenging yoga style. Be prepared to sweat!

2.) Bikram

If you love to sweat. You’ll love Bikram. Relatively new to the yoga scene, the Bikram style of yoga was created in the 1970s by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury. He came up with a sequence of 26 poses designed to stretch and strengthen muscles and compress organs for the purpose of detoxification. The sequence is carried out in a heated room (hence the excessive sweating). Take plenty of water and a towel!
So why the heat? Apparently the heat strengthens the cardiovascular system by increasing the heart rate, while the poses massage the deep tissues, glands and organs resulting in the elimination of toxins. It also speeds up the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids, accelerating the fat burning effects of the yoga.

3.) Hatha

Hatha is actually a broad term used to encompass any of the physical practices of yoga. However, hatha today is generally used to describe yoga classes that are gentle and basic, with no flow between the poses. It’s a perfect choice for beginners, as it’s a slower paced type of yoga and a stretch based class with some basic breathing exercises. Many classes incorporate a short breathing meditation at the end.

4.) Iyengar

Iyengar yoga is a form of hatha, but with a focus on the alignment of the body. It is taught that there is a correct way to do each pose and that with practice everyone can one day achieve this. Props such as blocks, straps and pillows are often used to help students into the correct positions.

5.) Vinyasa

Like hatha, vinyasa is used to describe a broad selection of yoga poses. Vinyasa yoga is a more vigorous practice than hatha yoga and unlike hatha is based on a series of poses, which are matched to the breath. Vinyasa means ‘breath-synchronized movement.’ Vinyasa has a lot in common with ashtanga yoga, but is more flexible in its sequence. It mixes up the poses a lot more, rather than always performing them in the same order.

Good luck. We hope you find your perfect class!

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey works as an independent writer who enjoys sharing insightful articles and interesting stories on her experiences practising meditation and yoga. From working in the corporate world for over 10 years she has enjoyed spending the past few years working on herself and focusing on her family. When she’s not running around after her two kids, Dakota enjoys keeping up to date with all the latest methods and philosophies that help support and influence the wellbeing of humans.