The Most Popular Styles of Yoga Explained
Yoga teaches us to relax physically, focus on our minds, and keep our problems in perspective. It also helps to counteract the stresses and strains of the modern world, making it the perfect antidote to the rapidly changing pace of our busy lives.
Yoga is a place of discovery and connection with your own body that encompasses balance, proper stretching techniques, breathing, meditation, centering the mind and spirit — that’s yoga in its real form.
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The key to connecting with your mind, body, and spirit through yoga is to match your practice with your personality and your physical needs. There are so many different styles and flavors of yoga—from a rigorous and sweaty Ashtanga class, to an alignment-based, heart-opening Vinyasa class, to the gentle, soul-awakening Restorative class—each style of yoga will give you a different way to connect with the ancient wisdom of yoga
Styles of Yoga Explained
Float. Hang. Bend.
Aerial yoga — sometimes called anti-gravity yoga — involves traditional yoga poses with the added support of a strong, silky hammock that hangs from the ceiling. The hammock is used as a supportive prop in poses like pigeon or downward dog, and helps you more easily perform inverted poses (like headstands and handstands) that might otherwise be beyond your abilities or comfort levels. It’s also used for a cocoon-like savasana (the final resting pose at the end of a yoga class).
Aerial yoga combines traditional yoga with moves inspired by pilates, dance and acrobatics.
WHO MIGHT LIKE AERIAL YOGA:
Those who want a nontraditional yoga experience, or anyone who wants the benefits of inversions but might fear going upside down on their own.
Breathe. Focus. Move.
Based on ancient teachings, this style of yoga was popularized in the late 1970s in Mysore, India. The dynamic physically demanding practice synchronizes breath and movement to produce an internal heat designed to purify the body.
Ashtanga yoga postures are grouped into six series; each series building on the one before. Students “flow” rapidly through the sequence, linking one asana to the next with an inhale or exhale – a breath-synchronized movement, or vinyasa.
It typically takes a practitioner between 60 to 90 minutes to get through the complete sequence.
WHO MIGHT LIKE ASHTANGA YOGA:
Anyone who likes routine or a more physical yet spiritual practice.
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Sweat. Balance. Sweat.
Bikram Yoga was founded by the guru Bikram Choudhury in 1974. Practiced in a room heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 percent humidity and contains a set series of poses. It’s comprised of 26 postures practiced in systematic sequence with 2 breathing exercises. The aim of the practice is to gain focus and discipline, while detoxifying the body and gaining strength and flexibility.
Don’t confuse hot yoga with Bikram. Hot yoga is similar because it is taught in a heated room, be it doesn’t go through the exact same trademarked series of 26 poses. Hot yoga is very popular and you can find any style of yoga taught in a heated room.
WHO MIGHT LIKE BIKRAM YOGA:
Anyone who likes to sweat, someone who wants a more physical practice, or those who like routine.
Move. Hold. Learn.
Hatha yoga derives its name from the Sanskrit words for sun and moon, and it’s designed to balance opposing forces. The balance in hatha yoga might come from strength and flexibility, physical and mental energy, or breath and the body. Hatha is a blanket term for many different yoga ‘styles’ that use the body as a means for self-inquiry with asana, pranayama and meditation.
A traditional Hatha Yoga class will most likely include a series of asanas (yoga postures), done one after another, without much attention on the transitions between them. You can expect to hold poses for around five breaths each, making it a fairly accessible practice for most students.
WHO MIGHT LIKE HATHA YOGA:
Anyone looking for a balanced practice, or those in search of a gentler type of yoga. Hatha is a slower-paced practice, which focuses on breathing and basic poses, so it’s a great practice for beginners.
Alignment. Body. Mind.
B.K.S. Iyengar developed his classical, alignment-based practice in India. This type of yoga became popular in the US in the 1970s. B.K.S. Iyengar refined the use of props in the practice of yoga to allow all practitioners access to the benefits of the postures regardless of physical condition, age, or length of study. While considered optional in many practices, multiple props are used in Iyengar classes — including chairs, walls, and benches, in addition to more common ones like straps, blocks, and bolsters.
The Iyengar method develops strength, endurance, and optimal body alignment, in addition to flexibility and relaxation. The Iyengar method develops self-awareness, intelligent evaluation, and profound inward reflection. The attention to detail and cultivation of awareness is meant to not only maintain physical safety in the practice but to develop the mental benefits of a complete meditation in action.
No two classes are ever exactly the same. The variation in sequencing of Iyengar classes is influenced by the level and condition of the student, time of day, time of year, and many other factors.
WHO MIGHT LIKE IYENGAR YOGA:
Those who like detailed instructions, anyone with physical limitations, or those in search of a more classical form of yoga.
Chant. Move. Meditate.
Yogi Bhajan, teacher, and spiritual leader, brought this style of yoga to the West in the late 1960s.
Kundalini yoga is also called the “yoga of awareness.” An uplifting blend of spiritual and physical practices, Kundalini Yoga incorporates movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation, and the chanting of mantras, such as Sat Nam, meaning “truth identity.” The goal is to build physical vitality and increase consciousness.
This is accomplished by challenging both mind and body with chanting, singing, meditation, and kriyas (specific series of poses paired with breath work and chanting). Typically, a kundalini class starts with a mantra (a focus for the class), then includes breathing exercises, warmups to get the body moving, increasingly more challenging poses, and a final relaxation and meditation, says Parker.
WHO MIGHT LIKE KUNDALINI YOGA:
Anyone in search of a physical, yet also spiritual practice, or those who like singing or chanting.
Energy. Vitality. Truth.
Developed and founded by Beryl Bender Birch, Power Yoga is a fast moving sequence of postures designed to build strength, stamina and flexibility in your body.
Derived from the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, another powerful and physically demanding style of yoga, power yoga works with building heat in your body and moving quickly through vinyasa sequences.
Like vinyasa yoga, power yoga traces its roots to ashtanga but is less regimented and is more open to interpretation by individual teachers. Power yoga is generally more active and is done at a quicker pace than other styles of yoga.
WHO MIGHT LIKE POWER YOGA:
Those who like ashtanga but want less rigidity, anyone who wants a good workout, and anyone who wants a less spiritual yoga practice.
Breath. Flexibility. Centeredness.
Yoga can be a wonderful workout for moms-to-be. It often focuses on easing pains associated with pregnancy, such as sore hips or an aching low back. Prenatal yoga provides stress relief, exercise, and self-care in one session, and the breathing exercises can come in handy during labor and delivery.
According to Mayo Clinic, studies have suggested that practicing yoga during pregnancy can:
- Improve sleep
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth
- Decrease lower back pain, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath
Prenatal yoga can also help you meet and bond with other pregnant women and prepare for the stress of being a new parent.
WHO MIGHT LIKE PRENATAL YOGA:
Moms-to-be and new moms who are easing back into exercise.
Relax. Restore. Reboot.
Restorative yoga is a gentle, slow, still style of yoga that involves long, passive holds (5 minutes or longer) in a series of 4-6 restful poses. Yogis are often supported by props to enhance or deepen their experience and achieve a state of total relaxation and release.
Restorative yoga classes are based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, a foremost yoga teacher who pioneered the use of props to support the body, enhance alignment and allow for the accessibility of yoga for everybody.
Most restorative yoga classes include a combination of therapeutic elements like essential oils, touch assistance, guided meditation and soothing music. They are the perfect supplement to more active classes like hot yoga or vinyasa yoga and a great recovery tool for those overcoming illness or injury.
Yogis of all levels will benefit from a rejuvenating restorative yoga class. It’s one of the best ways to counter a fast-paced, stressed-out life off the mat. Restorative yoga helps balance the mind and body, relieve tension and anxiety, improve the immune system, stretch deep fascia, increase flexibility and pave the way for meditation.
WHO MIGHT LIKE RESTORATIVE YOGA:
Anyone who needs to de-stress, those dealing with pain, and someone who struggles to relax.
Flow. Float. Balance.
Adapted from the more regimented ashtanga practice, Vinyasa yoga is also called “flow yoga” or “vinyasa flow”. The word “vinyasa” translates to “place in a special way,” which is often interpreted as linking breath and movement. You’ll often see words like slow, dynamic, or mindful paired with vinyasa or flow to indicate the intensity of a practice.
Vinyasa yoga connects breath and movement – the poses “flow” from one to another in a fluid, almost dance-like manner on inhale or exhale. The flow can be meditative in nature, calming the mind and nervous system, even though you’re moving. There might be music, props (such as blocks, straps, or pillows), and burning incense depending on a teacher’s style – no two Vinyasa classes are the same.
The sequences are usually dynamic and physically challenging, and will surely incorporate “Sun Salutations”, “Warriors”, hip openers, back bends, and inversions, so be prepared to move loads, progress quickly, and sweat buckets in the process.
WHO MIGHT LIKE VINYASA YOGA:
Anyone who wants more movement and less stillness from their yoga practice.
Stretch. Breathe. Reflect.
Yin classes are slow in pace – the students go through asanas in meditative silence, mindfully holding each posture for about 3 to 5 minutes. The traditional Yin class has very little movement and consists of a sequence of 18 to 24 floor postures that are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor, release the hips and lower-back tension, and stimulate particular meridians (subtle energy channels in the body).
Based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang – yang representing active movement that generate heat in the body, while yin the softer, more passive activities that heal the body – Yin yoga was designed to help practitioners go deeper than superficial muscular tissues and target the joints, ligaments, and bones through passive stretches and long posture holds.
The long-held, deeply restful postures of Yin Yoga provide a welcome contrast to the more dynamic, Yang dominated practices that are popular in the modern, Western world. A remedy to our fast-paced lifestyles, Yin is a practice that encourages people to slow down–immersing in the kind of stillness that can lead to the expansion of consciousness.
Tara Fitzgibbon, one of the most well known Yin Yoga teachers in Australia, agrees. “Yin yoga gives us permission to be still. It provides balance against all of life’s Yang activities, and allows us to reach deeper levels of rest, which open us up to higher consciousness.”
WHO MIGHT LIKE YIN YOGA:
Those who need to stretch out after a tough workout, or anyone interested in a slower-paced practice. This style of yoga is perfect for active people looking to build flexibility, improve joint stability, and heal muscular tissues.
Relax. Awareness. Connection.
In Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep by Kamini Desai writes, “Yoga Nidra is not about doing more, it’s about doing less. Yoga Nidra is about releasing the struggling and striving to get somewhere. It’s the art and practice of doing nothing to arrive exactly where you want to be.”
To practice Yoga Nidra, you begin by lying on the floor (face up) in yoga corpse pose or Savasana. Then, based upon the guided meditation you’re following, you’re prompted to begin sensing the body and breathing in specific ways to incite a relaxation response in you. This relaxation response is the secret sauce to Yoga Nidra because it balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems – the left and right brain –allowing you to unwind into various, beneficial brain wave states.
Yoga Nidra, also known as dynamic sleep, prompts the body to relax deeply while the mind remains inwardly alert. One 30-minute practice of yoga Nidra equals approximately two hours of deep sleep.
In Yoga Nidra you enter a state of non-doing in which transformation happens from beyond the mind rather than through the mind. In this highly regenerative meditative state you can restore and rejuvenate your body, heal and recover from illness and re-wire your brain for greater mental and emotional balance and resiliency.
WHO MIGHT LIKE YOGA NIDRA:
Anyone looking for a relaxation practice that is intended to induce total physical, mental, and emotional relaxation.
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When choosing a yoga style that is right for you think about and feel what your body and mind need on a given day.
When you’re trying to determine which of the different types of yoga is best for you, remember that there is no right or wrong one— just one that might not be right for you at this moment.
Another important consideration when choosing a yoga class that is right for you is the instructor. There are many different approaches to teaching yoga. Some yoga classes are more focuses on particular poses that are more or less helpful for you personally. Others might be focused on meditation entirely. It is important to consider what you are hoping to get out of your yoga session when choosing a class.
Understanding that your experience with one instructor is not necessarily reflective of your overall yoga practice is also important. Finding an instructor and style that is right for you is the best way to transition to a regular yoga regime. Remember to try many different types of yoga, different instructors and different skill levels to choose the yoga that is best for you.
Finding the yoga style that is right for you might make the difference between a lifelong beautiful practice or rolling up your yoga mat for good.
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