Yoga is now a mainstream practice in the West, with the ancient Indian discipline giving rise to a popular modern health and wellness activity around the world.
But while the more active practices like hot yoga, vinyasa flow and power yoga have gained popularity due to their body-sculpting benefits and can be found in studios and gyms up and down the country, there are other styles that are lesser known.
In honor of National Yoga Awareness Month, we’re trying out some other forms of yoga and the incredible benefits that they can offer:
Best for: athletes; flexibility.
Yin is a passive yet powerful form of yoga. Poses are held for much longer than in a hatha class - typically, somewhere between 3-7 minutes - to gently stress the connective tissues, helping the body to find more flexibility and openness. Although the poses are passive (that is, you’re not bearing weight), don’t be fooled into thinking the practice is not challenging: once you have worked to your ‘edge’, you’re encouraged to stay there and not move out of the pose (unless you’re in pain, of course). The task of stilling your mind is the greater challenge, but the benefits are well worth it.
Yin yoga is an ideal complement to the more strength-building styles like power yoga and vinyasa and is a great practice for athletes to help stretch out muscles, keep the body flexible and prevent injury. It’s definitely worth fitting it into your exercise routine, to counter the ‘yang’ of muscle-building and strengthening exercises.
Best for: deep rest and relaxation; stress; immune system boosting.
Restorative is the yoga equivalent of being carried to bed and wrapped up in a warm duvet with a cup of tea. Restorative yoga uses a large array of props to support every inch of your body so that you can fully, completely and deeply rest. A typical class will have no more than a handful of poses and good restorative teachers have a magic knack for knowing when you feel even the slightest discomfort, and will come and rearrange your props so that your body can fully relax. You’ll spend a good amount of time in each posture, allowing the body to release and the nervous system to wind down into the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ response.
Restorative yoga is ideal for when you’re feeling frazzled and in need of winding down. It’s also great if you feel like you’re on the cusp of a common cold - allowing the body to relax so deeply can help strengthen your immune system to fight off any incoming bugs.
Best for: sleep; deep relaxation.
Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation that takes practitioners into the deeply relaxed brainwave state you get to just before you fall asleep. There are many different forms of guided meditation but they all typically involve sensing the body and breath. They may also include guided visualizations. There is evidence to show that Yoga Nidra can help sufferers of stress, pain, trauma and PTSD and although many people like going to classes to spend time with a teacher, there are many recordings and online resources available to do the practice at home.
We liked iRest Yoga Nidra, a secular form of the practice that is backed by extensive research - try one of their recordings here.
Best for: a moderate-intensity workout; inversions; or deep relaxation, depending on style.
Aerial yoga has gained popularity in the last few years, not least because of its ‘Instagrammability’. But aerial can either be a seriously fun workout, or a deeply relaxing form of yoga, depending on the style of the class.
Aerial uses large silks that are suspended from the ceiling and can be used in a multitude of ways - from a cradle that supports every part of the body, to a body support that holds up some of the body’s weight in arm balances and inversions.
In 2016, the American Council on Exercise conducted a study on aerial yoga, concluding that the more active classes - which are often a hybrid yoga-acrobatics workout - are equivalent to a moderate-intensity workout and can help you to lose body fat and improve cardiovascular fitness. This makes it a great low-impact option that is a real challenge for balance and fitness. It’s also a great way of getting comfortable with being upside down, and can help to take your normal mat yoga practice up a notch.
In its most relaxing form, gentle aerial yoga is a wonderful and deeply soothing practise that allows you to rest in a private cocoon and explore movement in a supported way. The silk can offer support in mat poses to help isolate body parts and increase the mind-body connection, or it can be used to hold the entire body up as you move mindfully through your range of motion. It also makes for the most delicious, fully-supported savasana (final resting pose).
Whether you want to hang upside down and challenge yourself, or slow down and explore mindful movement, we highly recommend giving aerial yoga a try.