Updated: Apr 18, 2022
This is a very popular question that I am asked personally but also that my yoga teacher trainees are often asked, and for some reason there is still some confusion so I thought I would take the time to explain what's happening out here in the yoga world!
Whether you're a seasoned yogi or you’re stepping onto your mat for the very first time today, the knowledge that yoga comes in many different forms can have a transformative effect on your practice. Indeed, yoga is a discipline as diverse as the individuals who practice it. Most types of yoga are rooted in the same basic poses or asanas; however, different elements of each style make for unique experiences that ultimately differentiate each different kind. Learning the distinctions between the different types of yoga will not only broaden your mental horizons, but it will also allow you to pick the style that feels right for you. Although the following list is far from exhaustive, allow this exploration of fourteen popular yoga styles to enhance your understanding of this beautiful union of breath and movement we call yoga. With so many types of yoga out there, how do you find the one that’s right for you? You may have tried yoga at a local studio or at your gym, but visiting one type of yoga class doesn’t mean the studio down the street teaches the same style.
This gets confusing for the beginner yogi and sometimes there is a possibility to being turned off to yoga thinking there is only one “kind” of yoga (actually there IS only one kind, but I will explain how they vary)!
1. Hatha Yoga
While a Hatha class is usually an ideal starting point for those who are newer to the practice or looking for a less intense experience, it is important to note that Hatha in and of itself is a general term that can refer to many different variations of practice. Because Hatha is an umbrella term, it’s a good idea to ask your local studio about the tempo of the class before attending if the pace is a primary concern for you. The word "Hatha" itself translates to "force". The common feature of Hatha yoga in all its iterations is the unification of asanas (yoga postures) with pranayama (breathing exercises) to bring peace to the body and mind.
So basically everything is Hatha Yoga !
This is a very popular term and one that is used often but for many it is misunderstood. Vinyasa yoga is popular and is taught at most studios and gyms. “Vinyasa” means linking breath with movement. The postures are usually done in a flowing sequence, or “vinyasa flow.” The fluid movements can be memorized and done as a moving meditation, almost like a dance.
The popularity of this style of yoga comes from the sensual movements, pleasant music, usually (but not always) practiced in a dark room, or sometimes by candlelight and with the eyes closed.
Ooh! Sounds so nice, and it is! Once again, Vinyasa may fall into covering many different types or styles of yoga, so most yoga ends up falling into a vinyasa based practice so don't be intimidated when you hear this term!
3. Astanga Yoga
Astanga means “eight limbs” and encompasses a yogic lifestyle. Most people identify Astanga as traditional Indian yoga. Like Vinyasa yoga, the Astanga yoga asanas (postures) synchronize breath with movement as you move through a series of postures.
It was brought to the United States by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the early 20th century. The series of postures are practiced the same way every time and consist of Sun Salutation A, Sun Salutation B, a standing sequence, primary/intermediate series and closing sequence. The practice is usually performed without music, and sometimes without verbal instruction (in silence).
To me this practice is like poetry and epitomizes a poetic connection of breath and movement (vinyasa). One of my personal favorites!
4. Iyengar Yoga
Also based on the Eight Limbs of Yoga, Iyengar yoga is named after B.K.S. Iyengar, a famous yogi from India. It was popularized in the West about the same time as Ashtanga yoga.Iyengar and Jois were students in the same school of yoga and their practices compliment each other perfectly!
The emphasis on this practice is alignment in the asanas using breath control through pranayama and the use of props (bolsters, blankets, blocks and straps.) This style of yoga is usually taught without music and at a slower pace designed to assist students to get deeper into the posture.
Iyengar Yoga is named and created by B.K.S. Iyengar who was considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world and named one of the 100 most influential in the world by Times Magazine. Based on Hatha yoga, Iyengar yoga is different from other types of yoga in a way that focuses more on body alignment and precision. Iyengar maximizes the opening of the body and places a great importance on how the posture is executed. Iyengar yoga utilizes props, such as yoga blocks and belts, to assist alignment and perform the sequence correctly. All about the quality of poses rather than the number of poses, you are sure to feel the benefits of each strengthening pose.
5. Hot yoga
Not to be confused with Bikram!
Hot yoga is sure to get you fired up. What sets Hot yoga apart from other high-power styles is the setting: this yoga occurs in a heated room that is typically set between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat is a great way to detoxify and assist flexibility. The movement itself comes in the form of varying sequences and breathing exercises that are usually done twice. Hot yoga is not for the faint of heart, but it will certainly leave you looking and feeling like a fitness warrior when you finish your practice.
6. Bikram Yoga
I am wary of mentioning this form of yoga. It is not because of the practice, but because of the man that brought this practice to the states. He turned out to be the opposite of a Yogi and I personally wish his name would be banned completely.
With that said, Bikram yoga was designed by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, who brought the practice to California from India, and brought a trendy form of yoga to the western mind. Although he is a criminal and unethical, he did bring a strong practice to the US and the world and is worth mentioning the practice.
This class consists of the same twenty-six yoga postures and two breathing exercises. It is ninety minutes long and done in a room that is 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity. The room is bright and the students face mirrors to check proper posture and alignment. There is no music during class.
7. Jivamukti Yoga
I love and honor this practice of Yoga! Jivamukti was created in 1984 by Sharon Gannon and David Life in New York City. Jivamukti translates to “liberated being.”
Classes incorporates Sanskrit chanting, Pranayama, and movement (Asanas), with a theme or lesson for each class. This is a good blend of spiritual and physical exercise.
8. Power Yoga
Power yoga is a more active approach to the traditional Hatha yoga poses. The Ashtanga yoga poses are performed more quickly and with added core exercises and upper body work. The sequences are not the same every time, and there is often upbeat music. Vinyasa yoga can also be Power yoga, depending on the gym or studio that is hosting the class.
9. Sivananda Yoga
Sivananda yoga was brought to the United States by Swami Vishnudevananda in 1957. This is a yoga system based on the five yogic principals: proper breathing, relaxation, diet, exercise, and positive thinking. These work together to make a healthy yogic lifestyle.
The asana practice is usually twelve basic postures or variations of the Asanas, with Sun Salutations and Savasana. There is no music.
10. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga represents a considerable de-escalation from Hot yoga or Vinyasa yoga. Like Hatha yoga, Yin yoga is understood to mean that movement occurs at a slower pace. “Yin yoga [incorporates] principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine...with asanas that are held for longer periods. For beginners, asanas may be held from 45 seconds to two minutes; more advanced practitioners may stay in one asana for five minutes or more.” It is important to note that even though both Yin yoga and Hatha yoga are performed at a comparatively slower speed than their more fast-paced contemporaries, these styles are in no way easier. Rather, an emphasis on holding poses rather than flowing from one movement to the next targets different muscle groups, and may appeal to some personalities more than others. Yin yoga is a meditative practice that allows your body to become comfortable in a pose without doing any work (strength). It is also called Taoist yoga, and focuses on lengthening the connective tissues within the body. It is meant to compliment Yang yoga, or muscle-forming yoga practices.
If Yang is active, then Yin is passive, meaning the muscles are allowed to relax with gravity and rest. This is usually performed with the assistance of props, and there is little or no music in class.
11. Yoga Nidra
Otherwise known as yogic sleep, yoga Nidra seeks to ease participants into a state of deeply relaxed consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. Created by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in the early sixties, yoga Nidra uses guided meditation to induce this near-sleep state, and is considered within the yoga community to be one of the discipline’s most relaxing and transcendent styles. Another great thing about yoga Nidra is that it is easily learned and modified so that all levels of yogis can reap the benefits of reduced stress and improved sleep!
It’s also quite magical! We do them regularly! Check out our schedule for the next Free Yoga Nidra Class!
13. Restorative Yoga
When it comes to restorative yoga, the name says it all. Restorative yoga focuses on soothing both the mind and body through a combination of deep breathing and passive stretching designed to open and expand various muscle groups. Another great creation of the amazing B.K.S. Iyengar, restorative yoga is great for realigning and relaxing. In restorative yoga, asanas are held for much longer than in the typical yoga class, allowing participants the chance to fully open up and let go of tension.
Developed by American yogi John Friend in 1997, Anusara yoga is a relative newcomer to the yoga world. Based on the belief that we’re all filled with an intrinsic goodness, Anusara seeks to use the physical practice of yoga to help students open their hearts, experience grace, and let their inner goodness shine through. Classes, which are specifically sequenced by the teacher to explore one of Friend's Universal Principles of Alignment, are rigorous for the body and the mind.
There are many more types and styles of yoga practices, and each one is unique. When you find a practice or a studio that works for you, stick with it. Make your practice part of your life, and you will begin to harvest the benefits of your dedication and consistency.