What is a Hatha? And is Vinyasa Contagious? A Guide to Yoga Styles for the New(ish) Student.
by Marci Jory
So you’re new to yoga…GREAT! We ADORE new students! Maybe you decided that you want to get more fit, increase your flexibility, or reduce stress. Perhaps your doctor, counselor, or physical therapist recommended that you start taking yoga. It doesn’t matter when or why you decided to start down the path to wellness, what matters is that you are taking those first steps! Congratulations on that!
If you are new to yoga or haven’t had much experience…even if you have, you might not know exactly where to start. Vinyasa. Hatha. Restorative. Bikram. Kundalini. Yin. Iyengar. Anusara. The types of yoga and names for different styles are virtually endless these days! With so many different types of classes with cryptic or fancy names, maybe you are confused. Don’t worry! You definitely aren’t alone.
Now take a deep belly-breath, grab a cup of tea..or wine…(whatever makes you happy) and we will explore the issue together. It’s ok…I will walk this road with you.
If you are just starting your yoga journey or are new to Thrive Yoga & Wellness, we recommend that you start with any of our classes with the name “Hatha” in it…Renew Hatha, Meditative Hatha, Gentle Hatha…Hatha, Hatha, Hatha…they are ALL Hatha classes. (You can watch the short video I made on the subject here).
The difference in these classes really has more to do with the unique mood and style that individual instructors are trying to create in their classes. These classes are all perfect for the beginning or been-away-from-yoga-for-awhile students. They are also great for students who prefer a more gentle, slower class with not as much up-and-down action during their class. Other classes that would be appropriate for beginners are Restorative, Dynamic Restorative, and Kundalini (see class descriptions here).
Now that you know the classes we recommend for new/newish students, you can go sign up for your class now. Then come back and read on for a lovely chat about some of the different styles of yoga out there. Go ahead…I will wait right here for you!
When I tell students, “You should start with a Hatha class before taking a Vinyasa class,” very often I get a blank stare and a reply that goes something like this, “What is a Hatha? And is Vinyasa contagious?” Okay so they don’t really ask that question, BUT many new students are completely confused and overwhelmed!
As we begin to dive in, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong style of yoga class. One of our teachers says, “it’s about fit or connection [with the instructor], no good nor bad, right nor wrong. It is about what feels right for YOU, your body, your soul.” Every body is different and unique with different needs. Those needs may change over time, and that is OK!
Let’s talk yoga! My favorite! Please note that these are simple, short explanations of a few common styles of yoga and are provided here as a general overview rather than exhaustive explanations.
It might be helpful to think of Hatha yoga as an umbrella term that refers to the yoga postures (asana) and styles practiced when we normally think of yoga. Really, most yoga we do in the West is Hatha. Vinyasa, Power Yoga, Yin, Restorative….all forms of Hatha. However, usually Hatha is used to describe more slow, gentle classes that don’t generally have flow between postures. Hatha classes can be a great place to start as they tend to be slower and give students a chance to get to know basic yoga postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and relaxation techniques. A Hatha class can still be challenging but generally speaking, they tend to be slower, more structured, and spend more time in each pose. The structure and techniques used in Hatha classes will also be influenced by each instructor’s unique style. Some of us teach a more flow style, while some are more focused on alignment etc. Think of Hatha as dipping your toes in the yoga waters. Come on in, the water is fiiiine!
Vinyasa classes tend to be a bit more vigorous than Hatha classes. Vinyasa uses a series of postures called Sun Salutations that are linked together using the breath to connect the movements. Like Hatha, Vinyasa is also a general term that covers any type of yoga that links movement with the breath and sun salutations. Vinyasa is a breath-centered practice that is smooth and flows with the breath. I like to call it “flowy”. Yep, that’s a thing. I often tell my students to imagine they are dancing with the breath. Let the breath take the lead. You can imagine it’s a slow dance…this might not be the time for hip hop or Salsa. For a more athletic/exercise-y (yes that is a word. I just made it up) practice, try Power Yoga. Again, the style of the class will be informed by the instructor’s training, background, and unique personality. For example some classes are more alignment based and some are more focused on feeling the breath. Try out Vinyasa classes with several instructors and see which you feel most connected to.
Ahhhhh...Restorative yoga uses props…Lots. Of . Props. Bolsters (aka pillows), blocks, straps (and more blankets, bolsters, blocks, and straps…You get the drift) are used to support the body as it relaxes and restores. Postures are passive and held for several minutes at a time allowing the body to relax into each position. Restorative yoga provides deep relaxation for the body and mind. This is a great complement to more rigorous and “exercise-y” yoga classes and is an amazing way to calm the nervous system and decrease stress. It is one of our students’ favorite classes.
If you have ever used props (i.e. blankets, bolsters, blocks, straps) you have been influenced by the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar. Mr. Iyengar passed away about 2 years ago and was one of the greatest influences on modern yoga here in the West. Iyengar yoga is focused on alignment and the use of props to help achieve safe alignment within postures. Although we don’t have “Iyengar” classes at Thrive, we have instructors whose teaching is heavily influenced by the teachings of Iyengar. These instructors tend to teach classes with poses held for longer periods of time and a lot of…you guessed it…alignment cues.
Like restorative yoga, Yin yoga postures are held for several minutes at a time. The primary goal of Yin yoga, however, is to stretch the connective tissues of the body. Yin is said to bring great mental clarity as holding these postures for longer periods teaches students to turn inward and ignore distractions. Yin is a fantastic way to increase mobility and flexibility in the body and is also good for athletes. Unlike restorative, Yin yoga uses gravity to facilitate deeper stretching and does not use props in the same way they are used in restorative. Many of the teachers at Thrive employ Yin-like postures toward the end of our classes.
Kundalini yoga is different in many ways, from the rest of the classes at Thrive. Kundalini does have physical movement, exercises called kriyas, but the focus is on the breath (prana) and the effects of the breath moving through the body. Kundalini classes focus on moving the breath/kundalini energy up from the base of the spine. A lot of breath work…like…a lot. For those of us used to hatha-type classes, Kundalini might feel a bit different…dare I say strange, to us. It is worth a try and I always leave feeling giddy! Seriously, I know why Kundalini instructors always seem to be smiling. It’s all that oxygen and Kundalini energy doin’ its’ thang!
There really are so many variations and styles of yoga. My advice is, don't get bogged down by trying to have it all figured out. You have the basics now. Try as many classes as you can until you find the perfect fit for you! With over 30 classes per week, I bet there will be several classes at Thrive that will work with your schedule and needs!