There tends to be a common misconception that yoga is the “easy” way out since it sounds like a form of fitness that doesn’t demand much energy or make you sweat as much as a HIIT workout might. However, this ancient Indian practice not only leaves your heart pounding but is also a great way to destress (ideal for Hong Kong parents). With yoga being a popular option, and more studios and fitness centres in Hong Kong offering classes, there are plenty of styles to choose from depending on your needs. Depending on what you choose, you could leave the studio sweating from head to toe feeling invigorated, or totally blissed out and ready to sleep. If you’re new to yoga and it all sounds like Sanskrit, let us help you figure out while style is right for you.
Editor’s note: In light of the current situation in Hong Kong, please call ahead to ensure that the mentioned facilities and classes are still running. Though some are offering classes online, others have closed while the government’s social distancing directives are in place.
Hatha Yoga is the oldest and the most traditional form of physical yoga and refers to any type of yoga that teaches asanas (physical postures), breathing exercises and meditation. Almost any yoga studio that you find in Hong Kong provides Hatha classes, and there are classes that suit different experience levels. If you are new to yoga, a Hatha Beginner level class is a good place to start as it tends to be a slower-paced and accessible for beginners. Since poses are generally held for a few breaths, you’ll get the opportunity to feel your body in the poses and gain mind-body awareness.
Best for: Newbies that have no idea what they’re doing!
Love cardio and looking to fit yoga into your daily workout? Find your flow in Vinyasa; a dynamic practice that links movement together using the breath. As you move through short-held poses, syncing them to the rhythm of your breath in fast-paced sequences, you will find yourself feeling pumped and breaking into a sweat in no time. Vinyasa sequences can be challenging, so it’s best suited for intermediate and advanced practitioners. Teachers will create varying sequences, so you can have a different practice every time!
Best for: Anyone looking for a more challenging yet fun and dynamic practice.
Ashtanga is similar to Vinyasa in the sense that it involves postures linked by breath and movement, but Ashtanga Yoga is a system that includes six set sequences of poses done in a specific order every time. The six series (even the first one called the Primary Series) are challenging and physically demanding. Traditionally, the Ashtanga student has to be told by their teacher when they are ready to progress onto the next series.
Best for: Avid, disciplined, routine-followers who enjoy challenging themselves in the same sequence every time.
Prepare to sweat buckets like never before in a heated yoga room (temperatures vary from studio to studio and can range between 32-41 degrees celsius). There are several types of hot yoga: some are set sequences inspired by the Bikram series, others are Hatha or Vinyasa sequences designed by the teacher. Whichever style you choose to practise in a hot room, remember that the heat adds on an additional challenge to your practice (physically and mentally), so it’s not recommended for beginners. Pregnant women and people with diabetes or any sort of cardiovascular problem should not practise hot yoga. Those who love hot yoga say that the practice helps them detox, condition their body and focus their minds. If you plan on taking up this challenge, make sure to stay super hydrated!
Best for: People who love to sweat and boot camp fanatics.
Had a long day juggling work and the kids, and ready to decompress? Restorative yoga is a super zen style of yoga that uses props to support the body, minimizing stresses on the joints and allowing your muscles to completely release. Visualise your body sighing ahhhhh as it deeply relaxes in poses held for longer periods of time. Restorative yoga is a wonderful practice to restore your energy and nourish the nervous system.
Best for: Anyone feeling fatigued, high strung and in need of deep relaxation.
Think of yin yoga as the opposite of the more physically strenuous “yang” styles of yoga (such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga). While yang yoga targets working muscles, yin yoga aims at lengthening the deep connective tissues surrounding the joints. The idea is that these tissues need a certain amount of stress applied gently over a longer period of time to stay healthy – in yin yoga, you’ll be passively holding poses for a few minutes and allowing those tight tissues to surrender. Props are provided to facilitate muscle relaxation, but unlike restorative yoga, you aren’t necessarily supporting all your joints in yin yoga. Energetically speaking, yin yoga improves the flow of chi or prana in the physical and emotional layers of our body. In other words, you’ll feel amazing inside out after a yin practice!
Best for: Type A personalities looking for balance and anyone looking for long-held, meditative stretches. If you spend most of your time lifting weights or practising arm balances and handstands, you’ll likely benefit from introducing more yin to your system.
Studio to try: Pure Yoga, various locations, www.pure-yoga.com
Pre- And Postnatal Yoga
If you’re expecting a baby (congrats!), prenatal yoga classes will help you build self-awareness on the mat, ease physical discomforts and to prepare yourself for childbirth. You will stretch and strengthen your body, practise good postural alignment, and learn poses that can potentially facilitate the birthing process. You will also practise breathing and meditation techniques that help you stay calm during pregnancy and labour. Leave the class feeling calmer, more relaxed and more confident about your pregnancy and upcoming birth of the baby!
After giving birth, attending postnatal yoga classes will help you regain strength and awareness post-birth. Postnatal teachers will teach you how to engage proper techniques to recondition your core muscles and pelvic floor, and how to strengthen the body to help with postpartum recovery. Practising yoga also helps you cope with negative emotions and stress that might have been caused by the birthing experience or the transition into motherhood.
Best for: Expecting mamas usually start prenatal yoga after their first trimester when discomfort generally subsides and energy level rises. After birth, it’s advisable to wait at least 6 weeks or until you have gotten the green light from your medical care provider to start exercising again.
Put that perfectionist cap on and learn how to master the technique of body alignment in each pose with Iyengar Yoga. Precision and accuracy are key in this style of yoga as you work with fine-tuning postures that you have to hold for a period of time before moving on to the next one. Each student is given props such as yoga blocks, blankets, straps, ropes and chairs to find their proper alignment. If you’re one that loves constant movement, you’ll be amazed to see how physically and mentally challenging it is to stay still.
Best for: Those with injuries or those that want to learn more about their own body.
Kundalini Yoga uses kriyas (sets of practices) that include movement, chanting, breath and meditation to help you elevate your consciousness. Kundalini refers to the dormant energy force resting in the base of the spine, and the practice is believed to activate and stimulate this energy to elevate physical vitality. At the same time, it’s a deeply relaxing and restorative practice for your mind.
Best for: Those that want to explore the true realm of spirituality.
Let’s face it – most of us living in HK need to slow down and find some time to turn inwards. While all forms of yoga include a meditative element, there are classes specifically designed to teach you how to meditate or to guide you through meditation practices. Meditation is the practice of cultivating awareness of the mind, sometimes you’ll hear teachers calling it “calming the monkey mind”! Meditation can be done in stillness and quietness as one practises mindfulness and breath awareness, or it can be accompanied by gentle movements, chanting or a sound bath. Whichever form of meditation you choose, it’s a profoundly beneficial practice that is accessible to everyone.
Best for: Everyone, especially those who are prone to chronic stress and anxiety.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2018 by Mashal Mushtaq and updated by Holly Wong in April 2020.