Understanding Different Types of Yoga

There are as many reasons to practice yoga as there are different types of yoga to understand.

Understanding Different Types of Yoga

Meditation, breathing, flexibility, strength, and balance—there are as many reasons to practice yoga as there are types of yoga. Aficionados of the global phenomenon practiced for centuries in India, swear by the health benefits, both physical and spiritual. For beginners or those unconvinced by yoga’s superstar status, be assured it’s not only for girls or hippies, and you don’t have to like incense or wear yoga pants. So don’t be afraid to try it if you are interested in finding a new way to clear your mind, want to improve your posture, tone your muscles, or perhaps open your mind to a different form of therapy.

Depending on your level of fitness, personal character, and reasons for practicing yoga, there is bound to be a perfect style just for you no matter what your age or background. Some things to consider are whether you want to practice yoga solely for the fitness aspects or to understand and deepen the spiritual as well as physical aspects of your body. Do you have any medical conditions or injuries that may affect the kind of yoga you do? Or if you already practice and prefer to get specialist attention then consider one-on-one classes rather than open ones. The following is a guide to understanding what type of yoga will suit you best no matter why you want to start.

Hatha Yoga

Image via YogaTime

Many beginners start with Hatha yoga, as it's gentle, generally proceeds slowly, and focuses on the different poses (asanas) rather than the breathing and meditation aspects (pranayama). It is the practice as opposed to the philosophy of yoga that is emphasized, and while it may not be as smooth in the routine, it does help to relax the body and mind. It covers a broad range of asanas, but many classes will opt for those that are more common.

However it may be worthwhile to investigate the teacher and class further to ascertain if the style suits your expectations, as hatha yoga classes can vary. Common poses include downward dog and the mountain pose.

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga describes various styles, but generally refers to physical movements aligned with breathing. It’s a relatively more energetic style and flows without pauses often interconnected by sun salutations. It’s unlikely the teacher will explain each pose thoroughly so as not to disturb the flow of the movements and concentrate on getting a full physical workout. Other names include flow yoga or dynamic yoga. Again, it its recommended to either talk to the potential teachers before joining the class, or trialling a few different ones to get a feel for whether they suit you as vinyasa classes, like hatha yoga, can vary a lot.

Ashtanga Yoga

This style is definitely more challenging, with a higher level of fitness required as the routine will be more rapid and the poses more difficult. It was introduced to the western world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and is suitable for those looking for a more physically rigorous style but will also ensure you practice a particular type of breathing in order to keep pace and focus your mind; You may need to hold each pose for five breaths each. Of all the types of yoga, it is one that provides a set routine of asanas in the same sequence, and is good for those who prefer consistency in their routine. The order of asanas are compiled into six series, progressively increasing in level of difficulty. There is a variation of ashtanga called Mysore yoga, a more traditional style, so students are able to be taught one-on-one by a specific teacher but in a group setting. The concept is for those who wish to practice ashtanga yoga but at their own pace, developing the sequence of poses at their own breathing pace.

Power Yoga

Also physically challenging, power yoga is similar to the ashtanga and vinyasa types of yoga. One of the more physical and athletic styles, it was developed to attract a eestern audience by American teachers Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest who studied under Sri K. Patthabi Jois. Contrary to ashtanga, it does not follow a set routine of asanas, but rather leaves it to the respective teachers to devise and guide the class in the poses and breathing exercises.

Typical gym exercises, including squats and push ups, can be included in some routines. The focus on flow, strength, and balance are important in power yoga, but as the sequence and style can be diverse, prior discussion with potential instructors is highly recommended so you can match your goals and expectations better. It’s unlikely the teachers will be able to provide each student with specific attention. Other names for power yoga are flow yoga or flow-style yoga.

Bikram Yoga

Two characteristics clearly define Bikram yoga and contrast it to all the other types of yogaone is that it is held in room heated to approximately 105°F and 40 percent humidity, hence its other colloquial name "hot" yoga. The other is that the routine is always the same, comprising of 26 postures and two breathing styles. Established by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury, the entire class lasts for 90 minutes in total. For those who enjoy a more physical challenging style, sweating, and working out in warmer temperatures as well as predictability, Bikram yoga is for you. The heat is to induce toxins to be expunged from the body and encourage greater flexibility and strength by pushing deeper into the poses. If you suffer from hypertension or diabetes, it's best to check with your doctor first to ensure it won’t complicate these conditions.

Jivamukti Yoga

Literally meaning "liberation while living," jivamukti yoga is similar to vinyasa and ashtanga in regards to the flow of the asanas, but more heavily imbibed with the philosophy and ideology of yoga and its application to all other aspects of life. It involves music, mantras, and affirmations, and the instructor may structure classes on specific themes. It was developed by David Life and Sharon Gannon in the 80s, who also studied under Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Swami Nirmalananda. This style is appropriate for those who wish to involve themselves more deeply in the spiritual and mindfulness aspects of yoga and its application to their worldview, as opposed to the mere physical and relaxation benefits of yoga.

Iyengar Yoga

Created by B.K.S. Iyengar from Pune, India, Iyengar yoga is distinguished by its focus on holding each pose, balance, and posture. It is related to the ashtanga style, which is understandable since Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois were former students of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Another key feature is that students are assisted by other materials like chairs, blankets, blocks and belts to help them attain and maintain the asanas. These supports aid those with injuries or those that have difficulty balancing, as well as encouraging the transition between each posture. It’s a gentle, slower, and less physically demanding form of yoga, and appropriate for those with health issues and beginners.

Sivananda Yoga

Perfect for both beginners and experienced yoga students, sivananda yoga can be designed for all levels and physical capacities. It is more holistic than the other types of yoga, comprising both lifestyle elements outside the practice of the poses and classes. As such, chanting and meditation can often be included in the class, and the overall routine is gentle and relaxed. The style strongly focuses on five key principles of correct breathing (asanas), proper breathing (pranayama), correct relaxation (savasana), correct diet (vegetarian), positive thinking (vedanta) and meditation (dhyana). It generally consists of 12 different asanas, developed for the specific purpose of strengthening the spine and improving flexibility. It will begin with a savasana (relaxation posture) and a short cycle of surya namaskara. Established by Swami Sivananda, it was later introduced to western audiences by Swami Vishnu-devananda who went on to open the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center.

Viniyoga

Gentle, and focusing on each breath while formulating and holding poses, viniyoga is another great style for beginners. Instead of caring too much about the technicalities of each pose, the stretches are good for relaxing and improving flexibility, recuperating from physical ailments and understanding better how your muscles work. Another distinction is the emphasis on the individual and their needs and specific goals, and is thus a highly adaptive form of yoga. It places much of the responsibility of what students achieve, on each individual themselves. Viniyoga was established by T.K.V. Desikachar who wanted students to lead themselves through self-discovery, although the spiritual side of this style is not as all-encompassing as other types of yoga.

Kundalini Yoga

Image via Kundalini Yoga Boston

Incorporating meditation, chanting, mantras, and postures, kundalini centers on the philosophical principles of yoga. Yogi Bhajan first introduced this style to the western world, and it is one of the more distinct forms because it combines breathing and concentration on energy flow through the body rather than physical poses. A core characteristic is the repetitive breathing exercises. Each kriya, a particular kundalini movement, is performed in time to each breath. These poses catalyze the energy in the spine to flow throughout the rest of the body, specifically to disperse it to the seven chakras. Appropriate for all levels, the breathing can be a bit tricky to master, especially the alternate nostril breathing technique, but it can be a relaxing and reflective style that attends to both the body and the mind.

Yin Yoga

Developed by Paulie Zink, a Taoist yoga teacher who was also proficient in martial arts, yin yoga may not seem as physically challenging as other types of yoga, especially as it involves meditation and a more relaxed pace. However, don’t be fooled by the focus on its predominantly seated postures. These have to be held from five to 10 minutes each, and you will need to build up to it at the beginning. Yin yoga aims to increase your flexibility and releasing stress in the joints, by applying moderate pressure to connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons in hips, pelvis and lower back areas. People who have to heal their joints and relax their mind should try this style.

Restorative Yoga

Akin to Iyengar yoga, this form encourages students to use different aids such as blocks, straps, and bolsters so you can focus on relaxing rather than using energy worrying about how to hold the pose. That’s because each stretch or posture can be held for 10-20 minutes each. One of the more relaxing, meditative and passive type of yoga, the stretches can be drawn out to increase the feeling of completely abandoning control and clearing the mind while improving flexibility.

Integrative Yoga Therapy

Not as popular or well-known, integrative yoga therapy aimed to instil yoga as therapeutic practice for recognition in traditional medical institutions such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers. It was developed by Joseph Le Page in the early 1990s. It combines all the elements of yogapractical postures, breathing, mantras and meditationin a holistic package for health professionals to use as a healing program, and hence differs from other types of yoga.

Give Yoga a Go

So there you have it—a quick rundown of the major types of yoga that are commonly available in your local gym, community center, or in online yoga classes. Whether you are looking for a more physical workout to get the blood pumping and muscles toned, a way to unwind at the end of the day, or a complete lifestyle change that involves changing your thinking patterns, diet and ability to focus, yoga can provide a wide array of benefits for your spirit, mind and body.

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Mackenzie Lu
Mackenzie Lu
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Mackenzie Lu

Namaste. Active yogi and life enthusiast. It has become her mission to spread the benefits of having the mind, body, and soul in tune with one another.

See all posts by Mackenzie Lu