Different Styles of Yoga


Photo by Dmitry Kotov // Unsplash

If you are just beginning your yoga journey, you may feel slightly overwhelmed by the number of different types of yoga. Perhaps you've been a long-time student of a certain style and are curious to explore other styles. Since its origins in India thousands of years ago, yoga has branched out into countless different varieties. The good news is that everyone is bound to find one that suits them in various situations as long as they have the curiosity to explore! The following yoga styles (briefly summarized) are just a few of the common ones that you might hear about today.



Hatha

This is an umbrella term that encompasses many different styles of yoga, all of which combine mindful breathwork with physical postures (poses) and often contain meditation as well. It is the kind of yoga that generally comes to mind when people hear the word yoga. Most traditional yoga styles are considered Hatha yoga, and many modern ones that are common today branched off of a Hatha style.


Iyengar

This is considered a traditional yoga style founded by one of the "fathers" of modern yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar. It is characterized by postures that are statically held for long periods of time, with a high focus on attention to detail and precise alignment. Props are also used extensively, such as chairs, benches, walls, straps, blocks and bolsters.


Kundalini

This style used to be a closely-guarded secret, but it was brought to the West and popularized by teacher and spiritual leader, Yogi Bhajan, in the 1960s. It focuses on releasing and stimulating the energy coiled at the base of the spine and drawing it upwards through the seven chakras with a combination of physical postures, breathwork, singing, chanting and meditation. Practitioners often wear white in order to block negative energy and increase aura.



Vinyasa

Like Hatha yoga, vinyasa is not a specific style of yoga in and of itself, but rather encompasses many different styles. It is a Sanskrit term meaning "to place in a special way." In yoga, it refers to the smooth flowing of one pose into another, often accompanied by coordinated breath. Due to this "breath-to-movement" characteristic, vinyasa falls under the umbrella of Hatha yoga. However, because of the amount of movement inherent in vinyasa yoga styles, these classes tend to be more physically intense than styles that focus on stillness and holding poses for longer periods of time. Modern teachers and studios today will often use the terms vinyasa or Hatha on their schedules to specifically differentiate between classes focused on movement and flow vs classes focused on static holds respectively.


Ashtanga

Sometimes called Ashtanga Vinyasa, this is one of the most common vinyasa yoga styles today, as well as one of the most traditional, popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois, another "father" of modern yoga. It is very structured, with 6 increasingly difficult sets of series or sequences containing specific poses. Each student must learn, memorize and "master" each series (which could take multiple classes) before given permission by the teacher to move on to the next series.


Mysore

Named after the south Indian city in which Jois taught, Mysore is simply a type of Ashtanga yoga class in which the teacher does not lead all the students in a synchronized sequence. Instead each student practices his/her/their own individual Ashtanga series at his/her/their own pace, while the teacher acts as support with physical adjustments and verbal cues for each individual student.


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Power

This term was coined separately but around the same time in the late 1980s by Beryl Bender Birch in New York City and Bryan Kest in Santa Monica, California. It was developed to make Ashtanga yoga more accessible to runners and other athletes who were often too tight and inflexible to perform the poses. Over time, power yoga evolved into a general term that referred to any yoga class (it doesn't have the be Ashtanga) that is focused on delivering a "modern workout," which often includes upbeat music, cardio and strength-building exercises. It is commonly used as a "gateway" yoga style that eases beginners into their yoga journey through yoga's physical aspects and eventually opens them up to the spiritual aspects.


Hot

Hot yoga is a general term for any kind of yoga class practiced in a heated (and often humid) environment, anywhere from 90° to 108° F (32° to 42° C). The most common hot yoga classes are in vinyasa, power vinyasa and Bikram styles.


Bikram

Almost synonymous with hot yoga, Bikram was developed by Bikram Choudhury to replicate the traditional yogic climate of India. It consists of a set sequence of 26 specific poses and 2 breathing exercises practiced at 105° F and 40% humidity for 90 minutes. It has extremely exact rules for a class (or even a studio) to be allowed to be called Bikram, and its certification for instruction is strictly regulated. Bikram yoga has a highly devoted following among modern yogis, but is not recommended for beginners due to the extreme environment.


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Acro

This fun style combines partner yoga with acrobatics and elements of Thai massage. One partner acts as the "base" and the foundation of the practice by lying flat on his/her/their back and using his/her/their hands and feet to elevate the "flyer" into the air. The flyer moves into dynamic postures with the base's support, which can include inversions (going upside down) and therapeutic massage. Trust and open communication are extremely important, and there is often a third person that acts as a spotter for safety and alignment.


Aerial

Aerial, or anti-gravity, yoga is a recent development that consists of practicing yoga postures while using a silk hammock suspended from a ceiling. The prop supports the yogi by reducing much of the pressure that gravity puts on the body, which allows for freedom to grow in flexibility and strength. The hammock also makes it it easier to perform more challenging poses that would normally be difficult without assistance on the ground, such as handstands!


Yin

Yin is considered the opposite of the rigorous, dynamic, strength-building styles of yoga. It focuses on stretching and relaxing the body through long holds and using supportive props like blankets and bolsters. Rather than activation and engagement, yin yoga is about letting go, sinking deeply into the postures and simply letting gravity do the work. It allows for the practice of stillness, in both the body and the mind. Its calming effects make it commonly practiced before sleep.


Restorative

Often associated with yin, restorative yoga has many of the same characteristics, but is focused on healing the body from an injury. The main difference is that in restorative yoga, comfort has a much higher priority, whereas in yin, discomfort is welcome in order to target deep tissues and challenge the mind to achieve peace and stillness in the discomfort.



Photo by Wee Lee // Unsplash

Yoga has thousands of years of history and countless styles to be explored beyond the ones in this article. I hope these quick summaries were helpful to understand the difference between each style, and I hope that they inspired you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new!

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