"Sarah's warmth and openness is so inviting, it is lovely to participate in any of her classes! Dancing or practicing yoga with Sarah is always a wonderful experience. She is a highly skilled and empathetic teacher, and a very fun person to be around!" - Miranda, PN, USA
What is Yoga?
There are many practices and disciplines that make up yoga. Though they are similar in choreography and overlap in some philosophy, and have become synonymous in some circles, they are distinct practices. We give an overview and then a short description of some of the types of yoga commonly seen on class schedules with an aim to educate new yogis and the yoga-curious! (For more detailed information on the development of and people associated with many distinct practices, see the Yoga Timeline, or read Subtle Body: The story of yoga in America, by Stefanie Syman.)
Yoga is a 4,000+ year old practice with roots in ancient texts including the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The philosophy and mythology of yoga come from various religious traditions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, and, though some practitioners concentrate on the spiritual aspects of yoga, people from all faiths can practice yoga. For some, it is a way of life with prescribed dietary, cleansing, and devotional aspects. Many contemporary Western yoga practices distill only the physical poses (asana in Sanskrit, the language of yoga) and the breathing techniques (pranayama), while others include, to a greater or lessor extent, a form of concentrated focus (dharana) and some form of meditation (dhyana.)
Ashtanga is a practice developed by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India in the early part of the 20th century. Jois was a relative and student of TK Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga. In Ashtanga style yoga, there are 6 set series, or routines, of poses, all with prescribed breathing patterns (pranayama), focal points for the eyes (drishti), and muscular energy locks (bandhas.) The series are performed in the same sequence for every practice. Teachers may lead group classes, or they may give class "Mysore style," meaning practitioners move at their own pace while the teacher circulates, giving one-on-one support and guidance to each practitioner. This is a dynamic, powerful practice that equips yogis with a balance of power, strength, flexibility, and focus. It may be an especially appealing practice for people who experience a lot of un-grounding in their daily lives, for example, traveling often, stressful work environments, changing jobs or living situations, hectic school schedules, or a high degree of unpredictability. The steadiness of the routines can have a very centering and steadying affect. This may also be an appealing practice for those who are looking for a devotional practice. More info at the Sharath Jois webiste.
Vinyasa is a flowing style of yoga that draws from the traditions of Ashtanga, for example, in the regular use of Sun Salutations. The major difference is that the routines in Vinyasa vary with each practice. Teachers generally set a theme for the day around a seminal pose, a mantra or quote, or inspiration from the natural world. Vinyasa classes vary greatly from teacher to teacher, however, most are physically demanding with more cardio requirements than some other yoga forms and will help practitioners build strength, body awareness, flexibility, and balance. This may be an appealing practice for someone who likes variety.
Yin comes from the Chinese lineage of yoga. Defined by Paul Grilley (based on the teachings of Daoist yoga by, among others, Paulie Zink) and Sarah Powers, yin yoga focuses on the subtle body (energy body) and on opening the connective tissues of the body (tendons, facia, ligaments, etc.) This style uses mostly low to the ground poses, held for longer periods of time (1-10 minutes) to create flexibility, mobility, softness and responsiveness. This may be an appealing practice for people who have other, very dynamic movement practices (like running, weight lifting, etc.), who already have an interest in martial arts, or who sit a lot in daily life, for example, office workers. The yin poses heavily on opening hips. For more info read Paul Grilley's book: Yin Yoga: principles and practice.
Restorative Yoga is the yoga of relaxation. This is the name given to classes that use very long held poses, with lots of props, and often with gentle music, to create an atmosphere of calm. This is a very good practice if stress-reduction is the major goal. Deep breathing and peaceful vibes can help ease anxiety and release habitual physical and mental tension patterns. Judith Lasater has several wonderful books about restorative yoga including, Relax and Renew; Restful Yoga for Stressful Times by Judith Lasater.