Which is right for you?
Have you ever looked at a Yoga studio's schedule of course offerings, only to see a bunch of unfamiliar terms- Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Slow Flow, Gentle Yoga, Yin Yoga, Power Yoga, Bikram, etc. leaving you feeling discouraged and wondering which class is right for you? In our previous blogs in our series on Yoga, we went over what Yoga is, its meaning and history, as well as a deeper look at Hatha Yoga. In this blog, we will give you a complete guide to the different styles of Yoga as Exercise, so that you can find the best style of Yoga for your practice!
If you read our previous blogs, you might remember that what many people call "Yoga" today, has come to be known as "Yoga As Exercise." A modern form of exercise, with a heavy focus on posture, mobility and flexibility; that may or may not include focus on the breath, energy practices and elements of meditation and mindfulness. All types of Yoga as Exercise fit under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga. Hatha can be translated as "forceful" or "willful." This is because Hatha Yoga focuses on more forceful, or physical aspects of Yoga, compared to subtle aspects like meditation.
Now lets dive in and look at the different types of Yoga you might find at your local Yoga Studio.
Types of Yoga
1. Vinyasa Yoga:
Vinyasa Yoga, often called "Vinyasa Flow," is a very common and popular style of Yoga. You will likely find it offered at nearly all Yoga Studios. Vinyasa Flow classes have a heavy focus on linking breath with movements and often have a quick pace to the pose sequences, not holding any one pose for long. You transition from one pose to the next fluidly, flowing through the sequence. Vinyasa Flow classes often start with a gentle warm up, followed by flowing, dynamic movements and may or may not have longer held poses or meditation towards the end of class.
- You might enjoy Vinyasa Flow if...
You are completely new to Yoga or a long term Yoga practitioner. There is a reason this type of Yoga is so popular. It is a nice mix of both Yoga and fitness. If you are completely new to Yoga, it might be helpful to try out a beginner's class or slow flow class, to help familiarize yourself with some of the basic Yoga asanas (poses), as pace can be quick, often with little explanation to the finer details of each pose.
2. Power Yoga:
Power Yoga was developed in the United States in the 1990s. It is very similar in style to Vinyasa Flow classes in that it often links breath with movements and focuses on dynamic, flowing movements. As the name suggests, Power Yoga has a heavy focus on fitness and exercise. Poses are not held for long and class sequences move at a rapid pace with both strength and cardiovascular fitness in mind. Power Yoga classes are often less rigid (Teacher styles can vary a lot) and less spiritual.
- You might enjoy Power Yoga if...
You want a class that focuses more on fitness and less on the spiritual aspects of Yoga. Former and current athletes also might enjoy this style of Yoga. As this style of Yoga is very rapid and requires a high level of fitness, it is helpful to already be familiar with Yoga poses and have a baseline level of fitness prior to taking a Power Yoga class.
3. Restorative Yoga
Restorative Yoga is very different from the previous two styles. Restorative Yoga has an emphasis on healing the body through Yoga asana. Restorative Yoga uses simple poses, which are often held for at least five minutes and up to 20 minutes. As such, the classes might have very few poses and they might not have any linked or flowy sequences. Restorative Yoga also employs the use of many props, such as bolsters, straps, Yoga blocks and blankets. Restorative classes often have the participants disengage their muscles, for deep relaxation.
- You might enjoy Restorative Yoga if...
You are not looking for a workout, but want to focus on healing and loosening the body.
4. Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga was created by an American martial artist. Yin Yoga and restorative have many similarities, in that they are both slower paced classes that hold poses for longer periods of time and there might be just a few poses per class. Yin is unique in that it has a focus on working fascia, a type of connective tissue.
- You might enjoy Yin Yoga if...
You are looking for a less fitness focused class, that focuses on deep stretching and relaxation. You like restorative yoga, but want something less focused on the use of props and want to target fascia instead of muscle tissue.
5. Yin Yang Yoga
Yin Yang Yoga is a type of Yoga that mixes the more rapid, active styles (Yang) of Yoga (think Vinyasa Flow or Power Yoga) with the slow, long held poses of Yin Yoga. Yin Yang Yoga classes might be better named Yang Yin Yoga, as classes typically start with a warm up, followed by a quick succession of dynamic, flowy sequences to get loose and create heat within the body, before ending with a couple of poses held for a long time to maximize flexibility and relaxation.
- You might enjoy Yin Yang Yoga if...
You want a balanced class, that focuses on fitness, as well as flexibility and relaxation.
6. Iyengar/Alignment Yoga
Iyengar Yoga was developed by BKS Iyengar and has a strong emphasis on alignment and biomechanics. Iyengar Yoga teachers prefer students to wear tightly fitting clothes, so that the teacher can see each joint and limb position. The focus of Iyengar Yoga is on correct alignment and posture. Classes often do not allow music to be played in the background, as they believe it can be distracting from the poses. Often times, rather than being called Iyenger Yoga, many studios use the term "Alignment Yoga" instead, as Iyengar Yoga is trademarked and trainings take years, instead of 200 hours.
- You might enjoy Iyengar Yoga if...
You are already familiar with Yoga asana and are looking for a deeper understanding of each pose, because poses are held for longer and often broken down into minute details compared to Vinaya Flow or Power Yoga.
7. Bikram/Hot Yoga
Bikram Yoga is type of Yoga that is done in rooms heated to about 105 °F or 41 °C and humidity of around 40%. This type of environment is meant to mimic the environment in India, where Yoga was originally created. Classes are less flexible than other styles, like Vinyasa Flow, as they consist of a fixed sequence containing 26 poses. Due to Bikram being trademarked and its rigid sequence, many teachers and studios often call these classes "Hot Yoga" instead.
- You might enjoy Bikram Yoga if...
You want a juicy and sweaty Yoga session that tests your fitness.
8. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga, not to be confused with the spiritual path of Ashtanga Yoga, is a type of modern Yoga as exercise class that has elements of flowy yoga movements and spirituality. Ashtanga Yoga is often based upon the Mysore tradition and has six set sequences, with each pose taught in order. Once a teacher has decided a student has mastered one pose, they are given the next pose in the sequence. Students are often given hands on adjustments by teachers.
- You might enjoy Ashtanga Yoga if...
You want a challenging style of yoga and you do not mind a rigid sequence and the need for a teacher.
9. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini Yoga is pretty different from the previous types of Yoga. Although it might help you increase your flexibility, its ultimate goal is spiritual (to unlock your Kundalini energy). Kundalini Yoga was brought to the west by Yogi Bhajan. Kundalini classes often start with mantra recitation, followed by warm ups, breathing exercises and Kriyas (purifications). Then some poses and sequences are done, before ending with meditation. You will often see Kundalini Yoga practitioners wearing all white, as they believe this helps ward off impurities and negative energy.
- You might enjoy Kundalini Yoga if...
You who want a less fitness focused, more spiritual oriented class and you like both singing and chanting.
10. Other Types of Yoga:
With Yoga's growing popularity, there are many other types of Yoga out there, with new types and styles being developed every day (Many of which are trademarked, like Forrest and Rocket Yoga). Whether this be rebranding like Hot Yoga instead of Bikram, or Alignment Yoga instead of Iyengar Yoga, they all share common elements of Yoga poses, some more traditionally, some less. Here are a few of the more common, yet lesser known types of modern Yoga.
- Prenatal Yoga is a type of Yoga specifically designed to help moms to be with both stress and physical pain often associated with pregnancy.
- Rocket Yoga is a type of Yoga that is based on Ashtanga Yoga, but was made to be more accessible than traditional Ashtanga Yoga (with the strict pose by pose progression and set sequences).
- Acro Yoga is a type of Yoga with more in common with acrobatics (where the acro part comes from) and circus arts than traditional Yoga. It is often done with a base (who lies on the ground), a flyer (who is in the air, supported by the base) and spotters for safety. The base and flyer move through poses and movements together.
- Forrest Yoga is a type of modern Yoga that was created by Ana Forrest and Jose Calarco. It has a focus on ceremony and spirituality, bringing in elements of Native American practices, Shamanism and New Age practices, as well as more traditional yoga asana elements. Its four pillars are breath, strength, integrity and spirit. It is known for its long held poses, long standing series and core work.
- Aerial Yoga is a type of Yoga that is done in the air, often with the use of props like aerial silks or hammocks. It is also sometimes called "Anti Gravity Yoga" and can aid in both traction of joints, like the hips, and difficult poses like inversion that some people might find uncomfortable without the use of props.
- There are additional Yoga styles you might be offered at a Yoga Studio, such as Yoga with weights (Vinyasa Flow style classes with the addition of light weights for resistance training), Yoga with dogs (bringing animals into the classroom, I've also heard of Yoga with goats, among other animals), SUP Yoga (Yoga done on stand up paddle boards), and slow/gentle Yoga (Vinyasa Flow style classes, just done at a slower, more relaxed pace, perfect for those new to Yoga or just looking for something more mellow and relaxing).
With the growth and popularity of Yoga and styles of modern Yoga as exercise, it can be hard to know what Yoga is, much less which style of class to go to. In fact, when I first started Yoga, I absolutely hated it. I'm not sure if it was who I was at the time, the style of Yoga I tried, or just the teacher. However, I am glad I gave Yoga another shot, as it has transformed both my body and mind. Over the years, I have tried many different styles of Yoga. Some have felt terrible and others blissful.
Eventually, I crafted my own practice that works for me, but even that has not been static. As I change and grow, so does my understanding of Yoga and my Yoga practice itself. Like many people, I came to Yoga through fitness and I was not good at it- a funny statement to my ears now. Prior to Yoga, I had focused primarily on strength, muscle building and sport skills. I started with Vinyasa Flow and Power Yoga, as they are often more fitness oriented and less spiritual (depending on the teacher). After a while though, I found myself getting injured through Yoga- something quite counterintuitive to the practice. Over time, I learned not to force poses and grew to appreciate the slower, more subtle types of Yoga, like Yin Yoga. My personal favorites are Vinyasa Flow and Yin Yang Yoga, but it took a lot of practice and trying different styles to find this out.
Now that you've read this blog, I hope you understand the different styles of Yoga a little better and that you will be able to find the type of Yoga that is right for you! If you're looking for free online resources and classes to help you jumpstart your Yoga practice, check out the Lotus Tribe Community Page. We here at Lotus Tribe encourage you to try Yoga today!