Which Yoga style is best for YOUR mental health?

There are around 7.7 billion people on this planet, and we’re all individuals. Nothing can possibly be created to fit every single person, and that includes how our mind and body interact.

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You probably remember, particularly if you went to a mainstream school in the UK, how many different times your teacher spoke about ‘your revision type’, with endless aptitude questionnaires about whether you are someone who learns by listening and absorbing, logically and mathematically organising your learning, or revising everything using numerous coloured pens and visual pictures.

We learn about this in school, and yet we then enter a workplace that is intent on rigidity and repetition. You must all wear a suit or uniform to work, you must all get up before sunrise in order to prove your dedication and work for similar, set hours. Admittedly, the culture of this is improving in the work place, so now I ask you to consider your physical and mental exercise regimes. Just as there are thousands of different sports ranging from mountain hiking to team games to indoor gym workouts, there are also many types of yoga; yes, there will be one for you!

Attending a yoga class for the first time can be a very daunting experience, while you may be the CEO at work, during your lunch break or in the evening you suddenly become a brand new student hiding at the back of the class with no idea how you will ever master that pose. Try not to be intimidated, and don’t stop after one class collapsed on your mat, keep going! Yoga derives from the eastern world, so many words and phrases may be unfamiliar to you at first. To get you started, I wanted to explain about a few of the main different types of yoga you are likely to come across in your quest for the most suited class for you:

  1. Hatha Yoga - hailed as the ‘original’ yoga, this style is the basis of all yoga when it was first introduced to westerners in the 1930s. With slightly simpler asanas and a slower class pace, it is perfect for beginners. An ideal style for you to learn basic asanas (poses) and really connect to your mind and body, before moving into a faster paced class. Incidentally, ‘Hatha’ is made up of ‘Ha’ = sun, and ‘tha’ = moon. It is a reminder to combine and then balance your fiery, masculine energy with cooler, luna, feminine energy (and yes - we all have both!)
  2. Ashtanga Yoga - First introduced in the USA by the renowned Sri. Pattabhi Jois in the early 20th Century, this is a vigorous and structured form of yoga. Every student starts by learning the Primary Series - a set series of standing, seated and inverted poses, which you can practise in ‘Mysore’ classes. If you see ‘Mysore class' on a timetable, these are classes run in silence, with each student being taught and adjusted individually at their own pace. It is a very physical practise that requires mobility, flexibility and strength in equal measure. 
  3. Vinyasa - Vinyasa means ‘flow’, so as with Ashtanga, each movement should coincide with your breath, for example, “inhale, arms to sky, exhale, fold body forward”. The difference between these two styles are that this is a more western interpretation, allowing the class teacher full poetic licence. You may find your class has music, or involves some more fitness elements to it too. 
  4. Iyenagar Yoga - Based on the ‘8 limbs of yoga’ just like Ashtanga, the emphasis on these classes is in using blocks, props, ropes, walls and chairs to assist your practise. It’s a slower style of yoga, all about allowing your body to explore its full range of movement, and release any tensions.
  5. Yin Yoga - A compliment to any ‘Yang Yoga’ (muscle-forming yoga), you are led into a position and usually stay there for 1-5 minutes. Using blocks, blankets and cushions, this passive stretching class focuses on lengthening connective tissues and opening your joints to its full range of movement. This is a great class to do at the end of a long and tiring office day, releasing tension in your joints and letting your body gently and passively stretch.
  6. Power/Rocket Yoga - Western-style classes that may be with music. These are fast-paced classes designed by individual teachers, aimed to make you sweat!

There are many other styles of yoga including Jivamukti, Sivananda, Kundalini and Tantric Yoga that all have slightly different sequences, mental and physical focuses to help you reach your own enlightenment. Now you have an idea of the vast array of choices, its important not to give-up on yoga after one lesson. It’s a very personal practise, and you should take the time to explore different styles and teachers, and find one that resonates with you and your lifestyle. 

You should also remember to vary your exercise style regularly. You wouldn’t do the same sudoko pattern everyday during your commute - you’d get very good at it but would only be using a tiny bit of your brain! In the same way, make sure you do a variety of different exercise forms to work every area of your body.

The reason to attend a Yoga class rather than any other types of exercise classes, are to focus on your mental health and development just as much as your physical health. The movements performed in every class are hopefully meant to bring you to a state of active meditation, whereby you are fully present in your breath and your body, carefully listening to what your body needs, and not feeling the need to look at the person on the mat next to you who has been practising for 20 years and barely touches the floor during the class!

Take the time to research and try out different types of classes. Listen to your body, if you keep missing your after-work exercise class, perhaps that’s a sign it’s not the one for you! Remember that we are all different, we all develop, relax and work out in different ways, find the right way for you. 

Good luck!

Jeny Nevard

Ashtanga Vinyasa, Yoga Teacher

I completed a Psychology & English Literature degree and then worked as a Social Housing Area Manager in Kent for 2.5 years, assisting with tenants' wellbeing, including supporting and managing hoarders, and assisting in cases of drug abuse and domestic violence. I then moved to Sri Lanka and worked in community schools and National Psychiatric Hospitals, educating about mental health and running daily dance, art and speaking therapy classes. I now split my time between London and Goa, India, spreading awareness of the interaction between the body and mind as a Yoga teacher.
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