A Basic Guide
To Practicing Yoga /1

Choosing the right type of yoga for you

By Alvin Lee

Yoga is everywhere these days and you can easily find a yoga studio on almost every corner, and yoga classes are even available on the Internet. While I am happy that more and more people are taking up this ancient practice in their busy lives, there is a lot of information about yoga out there. To help those of you who are thinking about practicing yoga, or if you just want to know more, I will touch on the basic aspects of yoga, what to look out for and what are the prerequisites to practicing yoga. But really, there aren’t any such “prerequisites”. I will explain.

What is Yoga?

But first, what is yoga? Yoga is a spiritual, mental and physical practice that originated in India some 5,000 years ago. The word ‘yoga’ is from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means ‘to yoke’ or bind, and it is also often interpreted as ‘union’ or ‘joining’. What are we uniting or joining? For many, it is mostly learning to reconnect with our selves, with our minds, our bodies, our emotions, and our spirits for the spiritually inclined.

Practicing Hatha Yoga involves getting into
a series of poses designed to stretch different
parts of your body to relax the mind and body.

Also, yoga does not only refer to the physical practice of ‘asana’ (Sanskrit for yoga poses). Yoga also refers to cultivating other behaviours such as the practice of non-violence, integrity, truthfulness and more. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the physical practice called Hatha Yoga (Ha- and tha- means the sun and moon respectively referring to the balance of masculine and feminine aspects that is present in all of us). Practicing Hatha Yoga involves getting into a series of poses designed to stretch different parts of your body to relax the mind and body.

There are so many types of yoga out there. What should I know?

Since Hatha Yoga was first introduced to the West more than 50 years ago, many types of yoga have been developed for different purposes. The names for these types of yoga can be confusing but they can be generally divided into four categories (this list is not exhaustive):

Yoga - Salute to the Sun

Image: Ian Bothwell via

1. Athletic
Ashtanga Yoga
Jivamukti Yoga
Vinyasa (or Power / Flow Yoga)

2. Gentle
Hatha Yoga
Prenatal Yoga
Restorative Yoga
Yin Yoga

3. Invigorating
Bikram (or Hot) Yoga
Kundalini Yoga

4. Alignment-based
Anusara Yoga
Kripalu Yoga
Iyengar Yoga
Sivananda Yoga
Viniyoga Yoga

Athletic types of yoga are physically demanding practices and I would not recommend that complete beginners start with these types. Invigorating types of yoga are not as physically demanding but are better for practitioners with some experience.

Alignment-based types of classes respect that there are many and varied body types. Hence, the classes teach students to practice with the awareness of the unique differences in their bodies creating a higher-level of self-awareness.

I would recommend beginners to start with gentle and alignment-based types of yoga so that they can learn to be aware of their bodies, and be comfortable with their yoga practice before easing into the more demanding classes. Restorative Yoga is a gentle practice with the generous use of props such as pillows and blocks to help practitioners relax while still stretching their bodies.

There are exceptions to gentle practices. For example, while Yin Yoga is a gentle practice, it requires practitioners to hold a pose anywhere from a minute to five or even ten minutes. If you are not an experienced practitioner, you would get very uncomfortable very quickly, if not in pain.

Part 2 will look into the basic principles that practitioners should be mindful of when practicing yoga.

Feature image: Dennis Yang via

alvin lee yoga instructor

Alvin Lee
Originally from Singapore, Alvin is a yoga teacher, enthusiastic life hacker, self-help junkie, global traveller, experimental cook, pop culture critic, fitness fanatic, marketing consultant with artistic tendencies all rolled into one. He moved to Montreal because he loves the city’s culture, history and wonderfully broad-minded society. He may be reached at

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