The Picky Poser’s Yoga Style Guide
by Catherine Morris | June 21, 2020, updated about 2 months ago
Part religion, part philosophy, and part fitness regime, yoga is one of the most diverse physical practices out there. The diversity in the various forms and types of yoga is great, if you're in the know––but not so great if you have no idea what type of yoga is right for you.
So where to start? Googling a list of yoga studios available in your area may well give you a headache (there's a pose for that), because they’re all offering something different. What’s the difference between Hatha, and Kundalini? They all sound good, and promise more flexibility, strength, and inner peace––but how do you know what's going to be a good fit for you?
The short answer is––we don’t know. We’re not you. Your favourite flavor of yoga will depend on what you want to get out of your practice, what your health goals are, and your personality. To help you match your namaste with your needs, we've put together a handy guide. So if Hatha and Kundalini are just mouth sounds to you, read on.
Traditionally, Hatha is a generic term for any yoga that pairs poses with breath––which is basically all yoga. To add to the confusion, Hatha has become a class of its own in the West and is now the most common discipline available.
If you do decide to take a Hatha class you can expect slow controlled poses (otherwise known as ‘asanas’). Don't go in looking for a sweat fest. This is a slow-paced routine that focuses on gradual movement in and out of poses, not powering through to see who can salute the sun fastest.
You might like Hatha if –
You're a yoga rookie and out of your comfort zone
With Hatha being widely available and beginner-friendly, you won't be the only novice in your class, which is helpful if you're the kind of person who is nervous trying new things.
Hatha offers beginners a thorough grounding in the basic poses before gently moving onto more challenging asanas. In other words, nobody's going to expect you to twist yourself into a pretzel right away. Instructors will usually suggest adjustments so you can do your own version of the more advanced poses.
A focus on alignment ensures yoga newbies get comfortable with the trickier asanas before they move on. If you just love being in child's pose or want to hang out in mountain for a while, Hatha is the style for you.
You fall over a lot (i.e. you need better balance and strength)
Your usual Hatha class is not a frenzied hive of activity, but don't underestimate this style. Hatha will challenge you.
Downward dog may look like a cinch, but try holding that sucker for five minutes without your shoulders and core complaining. The same goes for plank––even the basic poses will test your back, arms, and leg muscles––especially if they don't get much love in your day-to-day.
There's a ton of balance work in a Hatha class, which engages those frequently-ignored stabilizing muscles. Your stabilizers keep you upright and functional on a daily basis, but after a good Hatha class you'll never take them for granted again.
You may hear Kundalini devotees talk about an 'awakening'. If so, they're not rhapsodizing about their morning coffee. In the ancient tradition, Kundalini yogis referred to a dormant energy coiled like a serpent at the base of the spine. Showing up on your mat can release that energy––making you more self-aware and more appreciative of how the body and mind work together. It'll also give you a pretty good post-yoga glow.
Don't worry if you're scared of snakes, only metaphorical reptiles make it to class… normally.
You might like Kundalini if –
You want that zen-like buzz
Anyone interested in an involved yoga practice that is gentle, restorative, and focused on mental wellbeing would enjoy Kundalini. It's basically therapy without all the talking.
If you’ve been feeling like screaming at the kids, screaming at your boss, or screaming into a pillow, Kundalini has the answer. It'll take you out of your head, and into your body through mindful movement. You might not become a blissed-out serene goddess or god, but you'll get a zen-like experience that makes the rest of the day that much easier.
You want to find your tribe
Some yogis like to show up to class, run through poses and leave. Others are looking to hang out and connect.
If you're easily embarrassed or self-conscious about getting your om on in a group of strangers, Kundalini is not the yoga style for you. It's a communal practice. Classes can involve group chanting or reciting a shared mantra together. This isn't a group of disparate exercisers, it's a support group that does yoga. Some kundalini practices also involve free movement, guided meditation and music. The idea is to move your body, tune into the energy in the room, and have fun.
Iyengar yogis are not messing around. They engage in highly-structured poses where the devil's in the details. Don't be surprised if props appear. This style relies heavily on tools like yoga blocks, bolsters, and straps to help you safely lunge, twist, and stretch through the asanas.
You might like Iyengar if –
You're injured, inflexible, or simply stiff
Iynegar is all about taking your time and moving into asanas with integrity. Props can be invaluable for people dealing with an injury, hypermobility, or tight joints. It's also recommended for yogis who are seniors.
Let's face it––in today's world of cramped cubicles and endless screen time, we're pretty much all in a permanent state of having back pain, recovering from back pain, or about to get back pain. If you're a worker bee, or someone who spends a lot of time in front of a computer monitor––probably with poor posture––Iyengar can help you realign and show your spine some love.
You're very detail-oriented
Technique is king in Iyengar. If you are the type of person who colour codes their fridge, or arranges their bookcase alphabetically (by author, obvs), this yoga style will hit you in just the right spots.
In every pose careful attention is paid to positioning, balance, weight, areas of tension, and grounding. There's a lot going on, and a lot to learn, but Iynegar gives you the chance to know asanas inside and out, which helps you begin a lifelong practice on a solid foundation. After you spend all that time down in the details, you'll be able to float into crow-pose without face-planting in no time––that’s the power of precision.
It's sometimes referred to as 'power yoga' and the clue's in the name. Wear your best gym gear, because you will get sweaty.
You might like Ashtanga if –
You're already an athlete and want to mix things up
If you've got a fitness routine that works for you, great––but even the best routines can grow stale. If heading out for a run for the eleventy millionth time has lost its lustre, try adding a little variety with Ashtanga. You will find that stretching and flexibility work will make you a better all-round athlete. It can also help you heal any non-yoga related injuries from your other athletic pursuits––like that time you lifted a very big weight over your head, and your arms just could-not the next day.
The demanding asanas are done in combination with breathwork, encouraging mindfulness without sacrificing any opportunity to push yourself physically. Many fitness fanatics prioritize physical strength and stamina over mental wellbeing, but by incorporating Ashtanga into your exercise schedule, you can have all three.
You get bored easily
There are two types of people––those who flourish with a set-in-stone exercise routine, and those who find it so excruciatingly dull they turn to burpees just for a bit of variety. If you're the latter, Ashtanga is the yoga for you. While it involves set sequences, there are a number of different asanas, and yogis are encouraged to find what works for them. Instructors will guide, but not necessarily lead a class––giving you the freedom to move as you see fit.
This is a mix and match variety of yoga. Everyone brings something different to the yoga mat when they show up. Mondays, you might be carrying some pre-work anxiety, but by Friday it could be post-week exhaustion. Whatever you come with, dump it into your practice, and enjoy the focus on breath, focus, and flow. Ferociously independent people tend to love Ashtanga.
The core tenets of Sivananda are health, peace, and unity. If you think karma and selflessness are a refreshing addition to your workout, you've found your yoga home.
You might like Sivananda if––
You're a yoga purist
You know that guy at a party who takes a sip of wine and can tell you the region, year, and vintage? Well those people exist in yoga circles too. Die-hard yoga enthusiasts have a real love for the practice, and an appreciation for its rich culture and history.
These are the types you're likely to find in a Sivananda class: people who aren't there to show off killer praying mantis pose––which is exactly as intimidating as it sounds––but those who want to tune into a lifestyle that's 5,000 years old and counting.
You're at the end of your tether
Sivananda isn't just about unrolling the mat and getting it done. Performed properly, the practice reaches into every corner of your life––encouraging care for yourself, for others and for your community as a whole. Sivananda incorporates five facets: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet and positive thinking.
The latter can be especially helpful for anyone struggling with their mental health. Classes follow a meditative format in a supportive environment. Self-reflection and prayer are encouraged, as is cleansing your chakra, because who doesn’t need a little spring cleaning of the soul.
Now that you’re in the know, you can hopefully pick the perfect yoga class. Once you’ve become comfortable with the various styles, you can have fun with them by mixing them up to continually grow and refine your practice. Because that’s the best part of yoga––it’s a journey, and even the most experienced yogis are constantly learning.
Which Doctor’s yoga instructors come from all disciplines and forms, offering in-person sessions or virtual classes. Head over to our online platform to book an appointment and find the style that works for you.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.