“I want to become a Yoga teacher” - If you are reading this article, then more than likely you have uttered these words before. Perhaps it is your weekly yoga class that has inspired you, or the Instagram yogis strutting their stuff on top of the empire state building or cliff edge that has got you thinking “this is definitely for me”. I remember uttering this exact phrase not too long ago myself. I knew that adding “Yoga Teacher” to my little tool box of skills would not only give me the option to change my career, but also strengthen my personal practice and give me the opportunity to work with people rather than for people.
The problem that you might be having though, is what style of Yoga to train in. Some of you may already know the exact Yoga style that calls to your soul, but I bet that there are more than a few of you reading this article thinking, “there are different styles of Yoga?”.
After a few years of attending what I now realise were Hatha Yoga classes at my local gym (helpfully just tabled “yoga” on the timetable) I told my friends and family that I wanted to train as a teacher. Jumping onto the world wide web to find a school I was overwhelmed by the many different types of Yoga that are available and I didn’t even know which one I enjoyed.
Suddenly I felt very confused about which school to pick as they all taught different styles. Many of the styles I had never heard of, or practiced and a few I couldn’t properly pronounce! Having now been in the yoga world for a fair few years I want to clear the muddy waters and explain to you the difference between the most popular styles of Yoga so that you can make an informed decision of which one you want to specialise in.
I would go so far as to say you should attend a class in each of the ones that call to you, to really be sure of which path you want to travel down. That is not to say that you cannot study multiple styles of Yoga, and many schools teach multiple styles, but it is always good to be well prepared. Let's get too it shall we?
What is Yoga?
To get started, it is important to know that “Yoga” as a concept does does not mean what you think it is. You might say that you practice Yoga, what is most likely true is that you practice Asana, which is the physical movement of Yoga.
Yoga is an ancient Indian discipline which, in Sanskrit, has many meanings one of which is “to join, connect and balance”. Controlling the breath, meditation and physical movements designed to cleanse the body and mind make up the three main elements of what Yoga is. However, these three elements just scratch the surface of what Yoga is and can do for a person.
Yoga is a means to an end, it is the means to achieve “Moksha”, or freedom. It is a practice to cleanse and free the body and mind from bondage, judgement, insecurities, inadequacies and the sense of limitations.
What are the traditional branches of Yoga?
Now that you know a little more about what Yoga actually is, let us have a quick look at the different traditional six branches of Yoga that fit these elements.
- Hatha Yoga - The practice of physical postures (Asana) to transform the body and mind.
- Raja Yoga - Meditation if the focal point, as well as adherence to the eight “limbs” of yoga
- Karma Yoga - The path of service, what we experience today is created by our actions in the past.
- Bhakti Yoga - A path of devotion, a positive way to channel emotions and see the divine in all creation.
- Jnana Yoga - The yoga of wisdom, the path of a sage or scholar. Study of the traditions of Yoga.
- Tantra Yoga - The pathway of ritual, to make something sacred. Experience the divine in everything we do.
The different styles of Yoga
As you can see, Hatha Yoga is the branch of Yoga that focuses on postures and movement. Therefore it is the foundation and basis of nearly all Yoga Asana practices in the West. There are many definitions of what “Hatha” means. One of these is that “Ha” means the Sun and “Tha” the moon. Therefore, Hatha means to balance the forces of the sun and the moon, the Yang and the Yin.
Hatha Yoga classes are typically slower led classes that focus on poise and balance in each posture, allowing the student to feel into their body and breathe through the sensations. Many beginner level Yoga classes are Hatha classes, due to their slow pace and emphasis on proper alignment.
The postures in Hatha Yoga do not have to “flow” together with the breath. Rather, each posture is held for a number of breaths to deepen the posture and really feel into the body. As each posture is held for a longer period of time there is no real need for them to flow together. The student can change position and move to the next posture. That being said, it is typical that standing postures are grouped together, followed by balancing postures, seated postures, supine postures and finally inversions.
Teachers notes: As a teacher of Hatha Yoga you can change the sequence of each class, focusing on a specific body area (e.g. hip openers) or a peak pose to work towards (e.g. Crow). You do not have to flow each posture through from one to the next with the breath.
Who is Hatha Yoga for: This style of Yoga is best suited to students who want to take their time and feel into each posture. If you like to take things slow and really work on a specific area of the body at a time, then Hatha could be for you.
Vinyasa means “to place in a special way” or order. Where Hatha Yoga focuses on the individual postures, Vinyasa focuses on linking those postures in a sequence that flows with the breath. Often a Vinyasa class will have music that will match the sequence and the breath will be used to guide the student through each posture.
Each posture is held for a very short period of time before moving onto the next. These classes can be fast passed and intense, though generally a teacher will inform you if they are beginner, intermediate or advanced level.
Vinyasa is possible the most popular style of Yoga class available, as students enjoy the fluid nature of the practice and not having to stay in one posture for too long.
Teachers notes: As a teacher, you can build your own Vinyasa sequence and change it from one class to the next. As with Hatha, you can focus on a specific area of the body or peak pose.
Who is Vinyasa for: If you enjoy variety in your practice and have a creative nature then Vinyasa may just be the one for you. Vinyasa teachers enjoy planning their classes and developing sequences that flow together.
Ashtanga Yoga was developed in the 1970’s by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. It is a practice that follows a prescribed sequence through the primary, intermediate and advanced levels or series. Each series follows the same introduction of 5 x Sun Salutation A and 5 x Sun Salutation B, before moving onto the specific sequence for that series.
Ashtanga is taught in a Mysore format, which means that each student moves through the sequence at his or own pace, with the teacher being there as a guide and to adjust where required. Being fluid in nature, Ashtanga has similar qualities to Vinyasa, the main difference being that you could walk into any Ashtanga class in the world and the same class would be taught (depending on the series).
Teachers notes: Once the students know the sequence there is little guidance that you need to give them from a sequence perspective, but you can add your own flare to guiding them the breath and by giving technical information about the benefits of each pose and alignment cues. You may also be lucky enough to form a following of students who return time and time again to your classes, which means you can watch them transform, which is a gift for any teacher.
Who is Ashtanga for? This style of Yoga is idea if you like routine in your life, this is because you will take to your mat and complete the same postures each day. It is also ideal if you like to have a base line to measure how you improve in flexibility and strength.
Hot Yoga is a generic term for any Yoga class that is held in a room that is heated, normally to 90 degrees (F). Most classes will also increase the humidity of the room to make breathing more difficult, and therefore work your lungs. The concept was developed to mimic the hot and humid climates of India, to give a more authentic approach to the practice.
There are many different types of Hot Yoga, the most popular and well known being Bikram Yoga. This style of Yoga is a sequence of 26 postures that are the same no matter where you practice. In that regard it is similar to Ashtanga. Other types of hot Yoga are Hot Flow Yoga which is normally a Vinyasa style class in a heated room and Yin Hot Yoga, which is a traditional Yin practice that is heated.
Hot yoga became popular due the the number of benefits that were cited, such as increased flexibility, weight loss, detoxing properties and cardiovascular exercise due to the increase in heart rate. However, there has been many studies conducted that cite health concerns of this practice.
Hot Yoga may help you to lose weight and increase your flexibility, but it can also cause dehydration, injury and over-stretching of tendons and ligaments. Whereas muscles are designed to stretch, tendons and ligaments are not. The hot conditions of the class mean that less time is needed to warm up the muscles. This might mean that you notice your flexibility increase but you could be doing damage to your tendons that have not been conditioned to this type of work out.
Teachers Note: As a teacher of Hot Yoga you need to be aware that if you want to teach Yoga full time, it may not be good for your health to only teach Hot Yoga. A good option is to train in a style of Yoga that really calls to you and the add additional qualifications to learn how to adapt that to heated environment. This will mean that you look after yourself and can teach more classes.
Who is Hot Yoga for? This style of Yoga is for you if you like it hot and a challenge! These are challenging classes that will leave you exhausted every single time. If you have no problem building up a sweat, working in the heat and teaching multiple classes per week in very hot conditions than (I take my hat off to you) this is the one for you!
Yin Yoga combines Hatha with Daoist Yoga styles to form a slow, non-active practice that is designed to release the facia that holds out muscles to release our tendons, joints and bones. A traditional Yin practice is influenced by the Daoist concept of “Chi”, which is the life force that runs through the meridian lines throughout our body.
A gentle Yin practice that focuses on the feminine, dark, non-active, stiff and inflexible parts of our nature helps to release energy blockages in these meridians. Each posture will focus on releasing energy blocked in different meridians that correlate to our internal organs. As such, Yin Yoga has very specific postures that are different in name, and often in position, from other Yoga practices.
The main difference that a student may find in a Yin class is that it is much slower, with each posture held between 3-5min, nearly all the postures are on the floor and multiple props are used to allow the muscles to completely relax and the movement to come from the joints and bones.
This style of Yoga is perfect for athletes, people who sit or stand in a static position for most of the day, or the elderly. This is because Yin Yoga is not designed to elevate the heart rate or to exercise the muscles. It is designed to release muscles, tendons, joints and bones.
Teachers Note: If you are looking to teach Yin, you can decide on if your classes will be strongly led in silence or meditation states with music, or if you will further your studies into the meridian lines to educate your students on which postures work the different meridians and why that is good. You do not need to do this as a teacher, however it is a way to differentiate your practice. You may also look into cleansing breathing techniques to take your students through while they hold each posture.
Who is Yin Yoga for? This style of Yoga is perfect for if you have suffered with injuries or physical traumas you may be drawn to Yin Yoga for its gentle, yet healing nature. Perhaps you have found relief from pain and injury through a Yin class and want to bring that same healing to others.
Up until now, we have gone through Yoga practices that have a traditional Hatha background. Kundalini differs in that it has a blend of three of the traditional branches of Yoga:
- Bhakti - A path to channel emotions,
- Raja - A path to meditation and
- Tantra - A path to ritual.
Kundalini Yoga was brought to the Western world by Yogi Bhajan in 1969. The work “Kundalini” defines the latent feminine energy laying dormant at the base of the spine. It is often represented as a serpent. During the practice, students move through Kriyas, which are specific packages of postures, breath and sound to achieve a desired result.
These Kriyas are believed to awaken this dormant energy and transcend it up through spine, through the seven chakras to clear unwanted blockages. The purpose of Kundalini Yoga is to create a modality for students to rid themselves of blockages and reach their full potential and life's purpose.
Each Kundalini class will incorporate chanting mantras, postures and meditation to create this “Kundalini Awakening” that is so powerful. A traditional class has an “all white” dress code which is said to smooth any distractive energy and create a calming pace to practice.
Teachers Note: Kundalini Yoga is not very everyone, as it is has a very specific focus and doest not just involve moving the body through difficult postures. Make your classes interesting and welcoming to students who are interested in trying it out. Walking into a room with everyone wearing white and having their heads covered could come across cultish; calm new students with a tea ceremony after the class or by opening the class with a bit of humour.
Who is Kundalini Yoga for? Kundalini Yoga often attracts people who have internal healing and traumas to recover from. The blend of the three branches of Yoga mean that the practice if more than just a physical one, it burrows deep into the soul and can create a spiritual awakening. You will know if this calls to you.
To Sum Up
These are only some of the many styles of Yoga that you may be interested in. If you are looking to further your Yoga education and attend a training, why not go along to your local studio and sign up to a few classes to figure out which one you prefer? It is important to learn which type of Yoga feels natural for your body and mind, and which you are more likely to return to the mat to practice each day.
You may really like the idea of Kundalini, but you find yourself practicing Yin in your own practice. The practice that you naturally gravitate towards will always be the one that you will gain more from. You can always continue your Yoga education and train in more styles once you have found the one that speaks to your soul!