Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Yoga

Yoga appears everywhere these days as social media platforms celebrate the aesthetic; Instagram feeds are full of the bendy elite seemingly blissed out in pretzel positions on far-flung tropical beaches. But whilst yoga may be advertised as this ideal, making beautiful and often unachievable shapes is not the reality or the core of the practice.

Originating from India, Yoga is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning to join together; a complete union of the mind, body and soul, and returning to one’s inherent peace. Whilst the Western world first adopted the physical postures for aesthetic gains, yoga today has developed with a greater understanding of the Eastern traditions and wisdom teachings, with many seeking a deeper meaning from their practice.

Arthur Elgort, Conde Nast Archive

Traditionally the desired effect was to sit longer during meditation, stilling the mind and letting go of the ego. The aims of the physical side of yoga are in the embodiment, the feeling of being grounded and the cultivation of awareness, intelligent alignment and mobility in the body, all from a place of strength, balance and non-judgement. Yoga is the balance within the mind and the body, created with the breath as the guide. Below, Vogue speaks to several internationally renowned yoga teachers about the different types of yoga.

Bridget Woods Kramer on Hatha Yoga

Bridget began practicing in India in 1975, holding the highest level of accreditation as a teacher. Leading annual Anusara-inspired trainings at Triyoga in the UK and also in Bali, Bridget teaches in Cornwall and London and holds retreats and workshops worldwide.

The Sanskrit word Hatha translates as “force”. The word can be broken down into two words: “Ha” meaning sun and “Tha” meaning moon. Originally the practice of Hatha yoga focused on mastery of the physical body as a preparation for a spiritual practice: the control over the physical body to develop a hold over the chattering mind and as a way to connect to spirit.

The practice is focused on yoga poses (asana), breathing practices (pranayama), meditation and moving the subtle energy or kundalini (kriyas). Many styles today originate from these Hatha practices, such as Vinyasa, Iyengar and Ashtanga.

In the past 50 years, the focus of yoga has been very much about the physical postures and has been used as an exercise technique. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t work solely on the alignment of bones and muscles, it helps with circulation, the lymphatic system, releasing the fascia and connective tissue to increase our lung capacity. It quietens thoughts and calms the mind, and can be practiced to both energise or calm due to the balancing effect upon the body depending on the technique you use.

Yoga is about being more in tune with oneself, taking a moment to sit with and listen to what the body needs. Start by doing the poses you love, that feel good for you and learn to do them well, so that you build a love of yoga and then along the way add the poses that you loathe.

Try to do a little every day, even 15-20 minutes, some days it may just be one restorative pose to rebalance your nervous system. To begin with, don’t get too caught up in getting the perfect form, begin with 5-10 mins of simple movements, connecting with your breath. If your exhausted you may just need to rest in the restorative asana Viparita Karani: Lying with your hips rested on top of a bolster, or some cushions, with your legs resting up on the wall. After 5 minutes of this, you maybe more energised to try 15 -20 minute practice. But remember to slow down and lengthen the breath.

I would recommend finding a teacher who resonates with you and a class with a focus on teaching alignment, movement and breath. Yoga is for everybody but not every style is for everyone! Try out different classes and search for a teacher and style that works for you.

Bridget Woods Kramer

Anna Ashby on Restorative Yoga

Anna has been studying and practicing yoga for over 25 years and holds the highest level of accreditation for teachers in the UK and US. Teaching yoga at various levels, as well as restorative classes, she also teaches on the reputable Triyoga Teacher Training programme, which she founded. Anna also holds regular workshops and retreats nationwide.

My yoga practice often begins with a few restorative postures. I do this to help turn my focus inwards and settle my mind and body. This becomes the platform from which I unfold a more vigorous practice or enter into a meditation practice, depending on what is needed at that moment.

Restorative yoga evolved from the seminal work of B.K.S. Iyengar, who developed it over the course of the 20th Century to work with people who suffered from chronic conditions and illnesses that prevented a more dynamic physical practice. When combined with an active practice, restorative yoga can provide an important balancing effect that supports conscious relaxation and rejuvenation, as well as promoting evenness of mind – one of the traditional goals of yoga practice.

Distinctive from other introspective/therapeutic practices, restorative yoga postures are mostly supine, lying on one’s back. The body is often supported with the use of props, such as bolster cushions, blankets and blocks that hold the body in a position and bring about a relaxation response. The length of such supported holdings helps to release chronic muscular tension, assisting natural softening in the body and the comforting feeling of being held.

The aim is to slow down the nervous system. Using natural breathwork is key to this fundamental shift of the nervous system. In a typical hour’s practice, you may practice only four poses, perhaps ending in a meditation. The pace is slow and quiet and if possible, the practice is held in a low-lit room. The atmosphere should be one of nurturing care.

The comfort, care and guidance offered in a restorative practice naturally results in the impulse to sit, turn inwards and become still to engage in a meaningful exchange with the nuance of the breath and ever deeper layers of being. To experience the kind of shift out of a chronic stress pattern that restorative yoga and meditation offer takes time – time for the nervous system to register, recalibrate and shift gears to where the experience of space and stillness becomes the new normal.

Anna Ashby

Vicky Fox on Yoga for Cancer

With a decade of experience teaching, Vicky teaches yoga at every level, as well as Yoga for Cancer, privately and with classes all over London. Encouraging students to be kind and listen to their bodies, Vicky’s classes focus on alignment, build strength and cultivate self-compassion. European retreats and regular workshops are held throughout the year.

Research shows us, that there are huge benefits to exercising pre, post and
during cancer treatment. The Yoga for Cancer classes can be really beneficial as they give people a chance to take back some control and to learn some tools that they can take with them from their experience and use in their everyday life. Yoga gives you the opportunity to take time to stop, to breathe and to observe what is happening in both the changing physical body and the mind.

By following the breath and staying present, we can create a buffer between how we feel and how we respond to situations. Not judging or labelling anything as good or bad but just being with what is. One can hate a situation and cannot change the external, but you can start to work on changing the internal. Acknowledging and accepting what is happening, not pushing it away but just ‘being’ with what is, this is the most challenging part of the class. It is not the building back of muscle strength, lost through chemo or surgery, or even the increasing range of motion you can get from moving with awareness in a safe way. The challenge is just being in the pose, just being in the present moment with what is.

When we are anxious, our sympathetic nervous system is dominant and the breath is typically shorter and more shallow. So not only can we use the breath to stay present but we can use the breath to soothe the nervous system and induce the relaxation response. By breathing an equal inhale and an equal exhale we start to stimulate the parasympathetic side of the nervous system and allow the body to shift into rest and digest, restoring and renewing the body.

The classes have a combination of relaxation and restorative poses, strength building, stretching and exercises that work on opening areas that are tight or restricted by scar tissue or surgery. Every pose can be adapted so the classes are open to any diagnosis and any stage of recovery or treatment. Often people are exhausted so we normally end the class with a choice of restorative poses that should help them leave feeling more energised. My favourite is legs up the wall as it’s a great example of how you can achieve something by doing nothing!

Vicky Fox

Nadia Narain on Pregnancy Yoga

Nadia’s experience of holistic practices are second nature, having taught yoga for over 20 years. Nadia’s classes are for everybody at any level. As both a certified pregnancy yoga teacher and hypnobirthing instructor, Nadia is also a practicing Doula and leads the Pregnancy Yoga Teacher Training at Triyoga. She has shared her wisdom in Self Care for the Real World and Rituals for Everyday, co-authored with sister Katia as well as her Pregnancy DVD.

When I first started teaching. it used to be the case that people started their yoga practice whilst pregnant. 20 years later, I have seen during my classes and trainings that there are so many more people with an already consistent practice that still come during their pregnancy.

The classes are designed so at any stage during pregnancy one can attend, experience and reap the benefits of every pose. Unless there is a specific medical condition, there is no need for any variations or despondent feelings. The class is designed to empower, and is a place for you to hold a space to connect with your baby and yourself.

The beautiful thing about a pregnancy yoga class is that you are in a class with women all in the same boat. You are in a community with other pregnant women, all at different stages of pregnancy. I will see a woman in her 12th week sitting next to someone at 40 weeks and I love it, no one is less or more pregnant, just at different stages of pregnancy. It can be a special place for mums and mums to be; full-time working mothers have said it is the only time they get to connect to their baby and their body. Some women with more than one child say it is their chance to connect with this one. Whatever you reason for going, it the perfect self-care for any new mother.

It is important to acknowledge that your body is going through a huge amount of change with a whole human growing inside, so as much care and nurturing as possible is important. During pregnancy the body releases a hormone called relaxin, which relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis. This is an incentive for many who have never tried yoga before to take up a practice, however anyone very mobile and already quite flexible in their body should move with caution and not over-stretch.

You may have to try a few different classes to find a teacher that speaks to you and how you feel, so try a few and take care to listen to your body and always let your teacher know if anything hurts or feels unusually uncomfortable: we are here to help. If you take a regular yoga class still, let your teacher know you are pregnant and avoid twists and inversions.

Nadia Narain

Carolyn Cowan on Kundalini Yoga

Carolyn discovered yoga in India over 20 years ago. As an international Kundalini teacher, she is heavily inspired by Hindu spirituality. Carolyn teaches Kundalini weekly in London and is also an esteemed Psychosexual Therapist hosting many educational and supportive workshops and events in the UK.

My awareness, as a teacher is that yoga builds confidence, connections and friendships. It eases loneliness, gives you faith in yourself. By attending a regular class, you join a community and a worldwide tribe; with yoga as a part of your focus you can go on to train as a teacher, empowering yourself and changing the lives of others.

My style is Kundalini, which is very dynamic. There is a lot of chanting, instructed breath work, and at the start of the class there is always an intention to focus on throughout. The teacher sets a theme for the series, and we can then experience ourselves as present and aware of what we are playing with, energetically, as we move through the postures, breaths and meditations.

Sadly, we see a very narrow perception of the body on social media, but my experience of yoga centres is that this is not the actual experience. In my classes there are people of all genders, shapes and sizes and walks of life – it is a very mixed and inclusive crowd. The ages range from 10 to 85 and people wear whatever they feel comfortable in, from tight leggings to loose cotton or tracksuits.

For a beginner I suggest letting the teacher know you’re new to yoga, and don’t push yourself to pain. I teach with a strong grounding into the effect of each posture and the hormones released in each relaxation post-posture. Not one teacher is the same, and if you like one class, you may find another teacher very different. So try out different styles and teachers to get a good fit for yourself, it can become a life-long practice.

Carolyn Cowan

Other types of yoga


Created by Pattabhi Jois in India in response to ancient philosophical texts, Ashtanga follows a set sequence of six series of postures, which increase in difficulty from standing to seated. This style is fast in pace and usually practiced without music or props. The Mysore is the self-led practice of Ashtanga, where the student practices the series in their own time, often with the supervision of a teacher and at the crack of dawn.


If you are looking for a dynamic sequence with lots of movement then Iyengar isn’t the one, but if you are looking to get deep into the subtleties of each pose then you have found a great class. Created by B. K. S. Iyengar in India, the practice concentrates on the alignment of the body in a pose. Classes usually have a pose to focus on and build up to it with a small number of similar postures. Props are used and encouraged to help assist the body into alignment, adding length and support. Iyengar is a useful and satisfying class for any level.

Yoga Nidra

Translated as Yogic Sleep, a Sanskrit phrase to describe the state of consciousness in between waking and sleeping. The sequence begins quite active and encourages the body to find a deep state of relaxation, whilst maintaining full consciousness until the final relaxation pose. Perfect for anyone with trouble sleeping or under stress, as it naturally calms the nervous system.

Vinyasa/Yoga Flow

Vinyasa, one of the broadest terms in yoga, combines a series of postures from the Hatha yoga practice. Vinyasa translates as the movement between poses: it can be very active and focuses on the flow, with each movement in coordination with the breath. Vinyasa is great for increasing the heart rate, it is important to maintain balance with an active practice by incorporating a slower restorative practice such as Yin or Restorative yoga, particularly if you suffer from tiredness and stress.

Anusara Yoga

Based upon the postures of Hatha, Anusara is also heavily Iyengar based, with a strong attention on alignment and moving into postures with a steady foundation and supported strength. The practice is heavily focused upon the philosophical teachings from the yoga tradition, otherwise know as the ‘Yoga of the Heart’. Anusara acknowledges the divine and encourages students to soften and move with grace. It is great for anyone looking to work with their natural alignment, building strength and compassion.

Forrest Yoga

Created by Ana Forrest, this style is based on the postures of the Hatha yoga practice. The sequence includes many standing postures and incorporates strength building exercises with a focus on the abdominal muscles, using the core to build strength and create an energetic effect. Focusing on integral breathing, positions are held for a long time. The student is encouraged to work with limitations and injuries, to develop effective methods of dealing with emotional difficulties.

Yin Yoga

The class is very slow-paced, with the students holding poses for one to five minutes. Supported by props such as cushions, straps and blocks, the poses use little muscular exertion and focus on opening up connective tissues within a certain joint. Yin yoga can become quite intense very quickly, but with awareness of limitations and concentration on the sensations, alongside a warm body and sufficient time, the results can be very restorative. This is particularly good if you have been working at a desk or travelling.

Rocket/Power Yoga

Developed by Larry Schultz in San Francisco during the ’80s, Rocket yoga comes from the Ashtanga sequence, with a heavy influence from Vinyasa flow. If you are looking to build strength, Rocket is great, with lots of inversions such as handstands. The sequence also includes back bends and deep hip opening postures. It’s recommended for an experienced yogi, so if postures are too advanced students are encouraged to rest in child’s pose.


Founded by Sharon Gannon and David Life in New York in 1984, Jivamukti is a Vinyasa-based practice, modified from the Ashtanga sequence. Jivamukti classes are themed, referencing Indian philosophical texts with a focus upon cultivating compassion in all aspects of your life. Chanting, meditation, breathwork practices and readings are significant parts of a class, alongside a dynamic strength building practice. Jivamukti is an all-rounder class for the mind, body and soul.

Alongside the many options at yoga studios there are many community classes, online tutorials, and a wealth of books and DVDs to be discovered, proving that yoga can be accessible to everyone and anyone.


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