My first exposure to yoga was as a child. I followed my mum along to a class when I was about 7 or 8, sat on the side and watched.
That is all I remember though.
My next exposure was through experience at the age of 24. I signed up on a whim at a new studio in Malaysia. The studio – that doesn’t exist anymore – was a classic Hatha based class with a lot of focus on pranayama and meditation. I lost interest after the second class. My desire from yoga was to maintain my physical flexibility I worked hard to gain as a student of ballet for over a decade. Meditation was not appealing to me. Sitting in quiet with only my thoughts as company was exhausting and boring.
At 28 and after a breakdown, anxiety and depression, I tried yoga again. But this time with a little more knowledge, a little more humility and an open mind.
It changed me completely. The classes weren’t necessarily different but what was different was the person I was. I let go of all expectations, judgments and preconceived ideas, and simply showed up week after week for class. I let the practice work through every layer of me until it hit my heart center. It was like I was cracked open and everything just flowed through me.
If you’re thinking about starting yoga and feel unsure, overwhelmed by choices or intimidated by bendy bodies, I’m here to tell you that all of those uncertainties and thoughts are normal.
The proliferation of yoga studios today can be hard to navigate. Vinyasa flow, Yin Yoga, Restorative Yin, or Ashtanga Yoga – which one should you sign up for as a beginner?
Restorative yoga – a deep, restful practice
If you’re looking for a practice to restore you – perhaps to wind down after a long day – a Restorative Yoga practice is what you’re looking for.
This form of yoga utilises props such as yoga bolsters, blankets and blocks, and is typically quiet practice bar gentle music on the background. An hour class would only have 5 to 6 yoga postures as you are given time to settle into the best posture with props for yourself – with guidance from the teacher of course. Once you are in your desired posture, settle and ease into it.
The environment of which the classes are taught in play an important role here as they ultimate goal of the practice is to simply relax. Dimmed soft lights, candles, or essential oils are some of the accompaniments you might find in a restorative yoga class.
Restorative Yoga works to calm the parasympathetic nervous systems by coming into postures – with extensive use of yoga props – to support the body. If you have high stressors in your life such as a demanding job, and are constantly rushing from one thing to another – restorative yoga may be just what you need in your life.
Yin Yoga – a quiet, meditative practice
Yin Yoga is commonly mistaken as restorative yoga – naturally, as Yin Yoga is also a practice that brings you into stillness. In fact, it is often referred to as the quiet practice.
Like Restorative Yoga, a Yin Yoga practice extensively utilises yoga props for support and ease. The aim of Yin Yoga – unlike Restorative Yoga – is to work towards healthy connective tissues by introducing long-held postures targeting specific areas of our bodies. It is common to stay in a posture anywhere from two to 10 minutes for experienced Yin Yoga practitioners.
READ ALSO: A free Yin Yoga sequence for home practiceAs Yin Yoga was founded on principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, each posture in Yin Yoga corresponds to a meridian point in the body. When our meridian points are open and healthy, qi (chi) flow is promoted which in turn allows for deep healing to occur from within.
Iyengar yoga, Hatha yoga, Ashtanga yoga – a traditional, strength-building practice
Iyengar, Hatha, and Ashtanga Yoga are steeped in tradition, even until today. These are some of the most popular forms of yoga and was made popular in the west through the teachings of notable individuals, BKS Iyengar, and Sri K Pattabhi Jois from from Pune and Mysore, India.
As someone who used to practice Ashtanga, this style of yoga requires dedication to the practice 6 days a week. Authorised and certified teachers are required to maintain their own regular Ashtanga Yoga practice to ensure they carry on the traditional teachings.
There are two forms of Ashtanga Yoga practice; a led practice – where a teacher calls out the postures with students following suit, or a Mysore-style practice – where students show up and proceed to practice on their own as the teacher walks around and guides as necessary. The great thing about a Mysore practice is you are able to move and practice to your own rhythm, following your own breaths. There is no expectation to do as your neighbour is doing.
As a beginner to Ashtanga Yoga, it can be deemed as intimidating as you are expected to memorise your practice sequence. However, don’t be afraid! We all start from somewhere and even as a beginner, a good teacher will guide you through the postures from the beginning. The primary series – where everyone begins from – takes you through a series of sun salutations before moving onto standing postures and so on.
Ashtanga Yoga can seem boring to some as you consistently practice the sequences until the teacher feels you are ready for the next. This means as a beginner you may only practice the warming up sequences for a while before moving onto the next. The reason for this approach is to ensure that your body and mind is appropriately conditioned and strong enough to proceed to the next posture.
Vinyasa Flow – a fun, creative practice
I like to think of Vinyasa Flow as a mash up of several styles but predominantly, Ashtanga Yoga. Vinyasa doesn’t refer a specific style and instead refers to sequences using the linking of breath and movement. A Vinyasa Flow yoga class can be medium to fast-pace but it can also take a slow, mindful form – almost like moving through honey.
Vinyasa Flow is a wonderful style to practice if you are familiar with foundational sequences such as surya namaskars / sun salutations, virabhadrasana 1 and 2 / warrior 1 and 2 and seated postures. As a true beginner, I don’t recommend jumping into a Vinyasa Flow class simply for the reason that it will be challenging to follow along.