Navigating the world of Yoga can be overwhelming. It’s important to distinguish that Yoga is much more than what we have come to know it as in the West. Yoga is a philosophy, a way of life and the physical postures or asanas are only one step of an eight-fold path described by ancient Yogic philosophy.
Yet because of the recent explosion in popularity, the postures have become what most of us simply refer to as “yoga.” So when we explore different styles of Yoga, we’re really describing variations of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is a branch of Yoga that refers to the the physical postures and breathing exercises we commonly see today.
Let’s dive into the most popular styles of Hatha Yoga and explore which are most suitable for different needs.
Though Hatha refers to the branch of Yoga focused on the asanas, it also exists as a generic style of Yoga that we see today. Perhaps one of the best places for beginners to start is a Hatha Yoga class as they tend to be slow, and on the gentle side.
Yin is a relaxing style of Yoga that targets the deep connective tissues of the body and strives to calm and balance the mind. The poses are either done seated on laying down and each one is held for 45 seconds to two minutes. Unlike most other styles of Yoga, the positions are passive and students are encouraged to relax into the pose, letting gravity do most of the world. You will leave a good Yin class feeling relaxed and refreshed.
This may be the most popular style of Yoga found today- Vinyasa is often synonymous with “flow yoga” or other similar terms. The style is more athletic but still suitable for beginners because teachers usually offer multiple variations on each pose and encourage students to take the practice at their own pace. Distinctive characteristics include flowy sequences where each pose is connected to one another and the movements are synced up with the breath.
If you are versed in Yogic philosophy, seeing an “Ashtanga Yoga” class may confuse you because in Sanskrit Ashtanga Yoga refers to the “eight-limb path,” or the eight steps laid out by Sage Patanjali that a Yoga practitioner can follow to reach the highest form of meditation. However today when you see Ashtanga Yoga advertised it probably refers to the style coined by K. Pattabhi Jois that works with a specific series of postures, which are very physically demanding and challenging. For this reason, we wouldn’t recommend beginners venture into an Ashtanga Yoga class. But for more experienced Yogis looking to build strength and discipline in your mind and body, this may be just the right style for you.
What has become known as Kundalini Yoga is an interesting blend between Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga, meaning that it combines devotional qualities of Yoga with movements aiming to control the mind and body. The practice focuses on releasing what’s known as kundalini energy, a powerful force that lays dormant at the bottom of your spine. Kundalini classes work on this through intense, invigorating postures, dynamic breathing exercises, chanting and mantras. You may find yourself challenged mentally as much as physically in one of these classes.
If you’re looking for a good sweat, this might be just what you’re looking for, but beware that the room is heated to a humid 105 degrees F (40 degrees C). No matter where you practice Bikram Yoga, you will find the same 26 postures, each performed twice. The founder Bikram Choudhury claims that the series of poses is scientifically designed to oxygenate your entire body in a proper sequence and restore all bodily systems to a healthy working order.
Like the name might have you guess, this style of Yoga is deeply calming and relaxing. Restorative Yoga includes passive stretching and poses held for several minutes; an hour long class may only include 5-6 poses. The classes typically rely on props to help students find complete comfort ease in each position. When you need to wind down from a long day or reset your body and mind, treat yourself to some Restorative Yoga.
Iyengar Yoga is a style of Yoga founded by B.K.S. Iyengar that focuses on alignment and precise movements. The poses in these classes are typically held for longer and rely heavily on props to help students get into the proper positioning. Once students have the proper alignment, they can deepen the pose, working to build strength, flexibility and body awareness. Iyengar Yoga is suitable for any level of Yoga practitioners and particularly good as a therapeutic Yoga for people with injuries.
If you love Yoga as much as we do, you might like our beautiful watercolor Map of Yoga - featuring styles, schools, festivals, and history from around the world.