Your Ultimate Guide to Different Yoga Types
For Beginners: What is Yoga?
Yoga is a system that optimizes the mind, body, and soul through movement, meditation, and breathwork. The word itself means “to yoke” or “union” which reveals the core purpose of the practice of yoga which is to unite your mind with the energy that connects all things. In that journey, your health improves by training the mind and body.
Yoga was developed thousands of years ago in India and was passed from teacher to student until it began to spread around the world as yoga masters brought their teachings to other places. Yoga was taught at the legendary Woodstock festival and The Beatles were some of the first celebrities to popularize it. Because yoga has been around for so long, there is a huge variety of techniques within the practice. You can look at it as a tree with many branches.
Yoga teachers such as Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S Iyengar, Yogi Bhajan, and a small group of others are considered the ‘fathers’ of yoga in the West. Each of them founded a type of yoga that was steeped in the lineage they were experts in while also gearing it to the culture and needs of the people in some circumstances.
What Are the Benefits of Practicing Yoga?
People fall in love with the good vibes that yoga induces and it has become widely popular with many studios offering unique experiences such as heated classrooms or relaxing gong for deep relaxation. People find their confidence goes up and their waistline goes down as they learn the poses and have a healthy community of fellow yogis to see every day.
Yoga makes you strong yet more flexible, gives you more energy, and even brings a healthy appearance, not to mention the benefits of stronger intuition which it also enhances. People are using it to manage stress, reduce and prevent sickness and pain, and become more positive, spiritually connected purposeful people in the modern world. Oh and if you want to learn how to stand on your head with no hands, yoga can help you improve your balance too!
How Many Different Types of Yoga Are There?
Yoga has been around so long in so many places that it has developed different lineages or styles. Yoga is not a static set of guidelines but a constantly evolving creative process helping people create that union of mind, body, and spirit with the core practices of movement, breathwork, and meditation. Once it came to the West, people looking to modernize the practice to make it more relevant or appealing, added their own spin to the practice by creating different themes to market their unique brand.
Because there are now 22 main different types of yoga in the West, you can take one class and find it very different than another. One may focus on yoga poses, another may focus on types of yoga breathing, and another may focus on types of yoga meditation. The at-home-yoga practice is also taking off as people are streaming their favorite teachers in their living room.
The great thing about having so many different types of yoga is that it makes it easy for people to find something they like. Understanding the different types of yoga practice will help you figure out what will be the best for you and where you are in your life right now.
Yoga generally involves something you do every day and eventually, yogis encourage you to develop a meditative state all day so you can create that sense of union all the time. To start, you’ll want to get on your mat and listen to an experienced teacher who will help you learn the basics. You may want to try a few different kinds. Many people starting out want to know, what are the different types of yoga, in order to have some grasp of the range of styles, purposes, and difficulty level. We’ve compiled a brief overview of the kinds of classes you’re likely to find at a studio or online.
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What Are The Different Types of Yoga?
1. Yin Yoga
This is a relatively new style of yoga created in the 1970s by Taoist martial arts and yoga instructor Pauli Zink. Yin yoga has become more popularized because of its stress-relieving effects. It is a slow and gentle type of yoga where you are in a pose for about three to five minutes at least.
It involves slow deep breathing and relaxation of the muscles. There is no sweating or forcing of stretches and the goal is not to build muscle. It releases the fascia to reduce muscle soreness and speeds up recovery time. It also helps with insomnia, anxiety, and is good for those recovering from emotional or physical trauma.
An example of a pose you would do in this style of yoga is feet up the wall pose. There are many yin props such as blankets, bolsters, straps, blocks, pillows, and eye covers often used in this cozy yoga style which is also sometimes referred to as therapeutic yoga, restorative yoga, or gentle yoga.
2. Vinyasa Yoga
Popularized by Pattabhi Jois in the 20th century, it has much older roots. The practice of flowing breath to movement is the most quintessential marker of Vinyasa yoga. The sequences of poses vary allowing a teacher the liberty of creating a class that is more difficult or that focuses on a specific area of the body. It is more aerobic than many of the other forms of yoga as you are moving throughout the class at a faster pace.
It starts out slow to warm the body up and usually works towards a peak pose which the body has been prepped for in the class and then it slows down for a relaxation session at the end with savasana.
One of the most common parts of the vinyasa style class is the sun salutation which has many varieties but includes the chaturanga or yogi pushup which helps you build strength. Learn about Sun salutations more before going to a class so you can follow along more easily. Vinyasa yoga will help you lose weight, build muscle, and improve flexibility. It’s great for relieving stress and by the end of class, you will feel your brain has relaxed.
It helps one become present and more in the body to achieve greater body awareness. You can find different variations of Vinyasa that can aid in improving digestion, complexion, and nervous system strength from the deep breathing technique. Additionally, it improves emotional well being by helping to free stuck emotions as all styles of yoga do.
A beginner’s vinyasa class will usually include the basic poses in a simple sequence whereas a more advanced class may include handstands and binds that require greater dexterity. Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Vinyasa Yoga. This is sometimes called power yoga or flow yoga.
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3. Hatha Yoga
This traditional practice can be traced back thousands of years and it is hard to pinpoint its exact century of origin in India. Hatha involves static poses that work on aligning the spine, building internal muscles to stabilize the joints, and also increasing flexibility. This form of yoga is said to have been traditionally used to prepare the body physically for meditation. Each pose is held for approximately five breaths, making it a much slower style of yoga.
This can greatly improve one’s ability to focus and still the mind. It brings a sense of calm as it is grounding and each movement is slow and controlled. It often is done in a quiet room without music so one can experience the simplicity of tuning into the body and breath. It can help create excellent posture to give one the ability to work in a seated position with less pain and stretches the large joints in the body that can become stiff due to lack of use or lack of proper stretching. It also teaches you a lot about your body.
A typical pose from this style of class is a warrior two pose that is broken down in detail so that one can feel all the small muscles in their body engaged from their flexed feet to the rotation of their shoulder blades. It is great for people who like details and fixing things and can challenge those who are impatient, but it ultimately teaches patience.
You will usually find Hatha yoga taught in beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels as there are many poses that build upon each other that the body will be able to do over time. The way one approaches learning the poses helps you reflect on how you approach things in your life. It teaches that having a beginner’s mindset allows you to keep learning even in a more basic pose. Hatha yoga helps you become present and drop the worry.
For more on Hatha yoga, read our Beginner’s Guide to Hatha Yoga.
4. Iyengar Yoga
This form of yoga was developed or trademarked rather, in the 1970s by B.K.S. Iyengar. His book ‘Light on Yoga’ has an extensive collection of poses with instructions as well as the physical and emotional benefits of each pose. This style of yoga is known as an alignment-based yoga because it is so focused on anatomy.
In a class like this, you may find yourself hanging from a wall with ropes or using a folding metal chair with stacked folded blankets. You develop an intimate knowledge of your body focusing on just a few poses in each class. This is a great form of yoga for those who have an intellectual approach to life and like as much information as possible.
A common pose in this style of yoga is hanging upside down like a bat with the bottoms of your feet together and the looped rope around your hips. While this use of gravity may seem intimidating, it is usually explained thoroughly so you feel safe getting into and out of a pose. Iyengar classes are a very unique style that people say you either love or hate. While you won’t be burning tons of calories, it can be very challenging to be in a pose for a long time and builds endurance.
5. Kundalini Yoga
This style of yoga has very ancient origins and traces back to the original raj, laya, and kriya yogas of traditional lineages in India. It was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan most prominently and he established a teacher training program as did the other fathers of yoga. It involves more strict lifestyle regiments of teachers who meditate before sunrise, grow their hair to improve the intuitive and energetic sensory system and take cold showers to strengthen the nervous system.
They also adhere to a strict vegetarian diet. Why all the rules? These yogis are after more than a handstand or six-pack and you won’t find the same kind of physical competition in class as you might find in a modern yoga class.
This style of yoga includes breathing, mantra, meditation, and movements that target your nervous system, your glandular system, and work on building your energy field. It is the most esoteric and spiritual of the more popular styles of yoga and because it is based on cultural practices foreign to the west, it can confuse people who aren’t aware of the energetic purpose of some of the practices.
The benefits include increased energy, feeling very positive, intuitive, and confident. It is said to help transform you from an egoistic life to one of service and meaning by aligning you with your soul.
A common practice in kundalini yoga is cat-cow pose which is done for three minutes, where one breathes intensely through the nose while moving the spine between an arch and flex to awaken the kundalini energy. It also builds a strong ability to cope with stress, a fit body, and a creative mind.
If this style of yoga piques your metaphysical interest, read our article, What Kundalini Yoga Can Do For You.
6. Ashtanga Yoga
Established in 1948 by Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga yoga is heavily influenced by Krishnamacharya. It’s a strict set of poses that build on each other in a series of six sets. Only a few people in the world are said to be able to do the most challenging ones. This is a quite advanced style of yoga that beginners may struggle to keep up in.
It starts out fast with Surya namaskars (sun salutations) and is often taught in Sanskrit, making it even more challenging to follow along. Long time practitioners do the same thing each day and memorize the terms, practicing up to three hours each day.
There are a few variations of Ashtanga including Mysore and Led. Mysore is the city in India where Jois established his school. The Mysore style is for people who know the sequence and the teacher walks around helping people as they go through the sequence on their own and giving them more advanced poses when they are ready. The Led style includes a teacher cueing each pose. This type of yoga will get you into shape but requires discipline.
Pushing too hard too fast can lead to injury and burnout. It is something that can help you replace a bad habit because it requires lots of time and focus. Ashtanga yoga can help digestion, energy levels, endurance, strength, and mental faculties. It also gives a boost of endorphins because it is so physically demanding.
7. Hot Yoga
This style of yoga was established by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s and was previously known as Bikram Yoga. This style is taught in a heated room and includes 26 poses that are always taught in the same order. It became a hot trend (pun intended) because people found it as a quick way to detox, lose weight, and lean out.
It’s challenging because you lose a lot of electrolytes and water, so students must replenish both if they want to sustain a healthy balance. One of the typical poses you would do in a class is eagle pose, where you feel like you’re wringing out your internal organs as you twist your arms and legs and pull in your stomach.
This style of yoga is one that can lead to injury because people stretch beyond their limits when their body is hot in the heated room and must be approached with the mindset to not always push beyond your limit but to focus on the mental benefits of breathing and becoming present.
This is often the case with many yoga styles but more apparent in this ‘extreme’ environment. Those who like extreme sports are often drawn to this class to prove to themselves they can do it and it burns a lot of calories in a short period of time so people with a busy schedule tend to like it as well.
More About Hot Yoga
Hot yoga is kind of just how it sounds. It is yoga done in a heated room to help warm up the muscles and aid in stretching. You’ll find a variety of classes with a variety of temperatures. Some will be more like vinyasa flow and others will be more static poses. It helps you detox and sweat while also packing the punch of a powerful workout. You will want to bring water to this class because you will need it!
This popular form of yoga is less traditional in that it doesn’t usually include meditation, mantras, or a discussion of the philosophy of yoga such as the yamas and niyamas as some classes will. It appeals to those who like to work out but who also want to find their center and relieve stress.
If you are someone who is known to indulge a bit too much on the weekends, doing some hot yoga during the week might help you. It helps boost the immune system and all the breathing can help purify your bloodstream as well. Some people really find the heat makes them slow down and breathe, which is beneficial for the mind-body connection.
8. Jivamukti Yoga
This style of yoga was created in 1984 by Sharon Gannon and David Life. It is based on five tenets that focus on spiritual, physical, and ethical growth and living. It is another rigorous style that is similar to a vinyasa flow, Jivamukti’s benefits are that it is going to build strength, flexibility, and greater overall health.
This is a kind that is good for those looking for more than a workout who also wants to explore a philosophical approach to life that is based on compassion. Styles of yoga like this shows us that by taking care of the body, one becomes inspired to take care of others, as the body becomes more of a sacred storage space for the mind and spirit.
A typical pose you will see in this class is bow pose where you lie on your stomach and hold your ankles, stretching the spine and releasing energy pockets stored there. This is another yoga style that can help you transform your mind, body, and spirit.
9. Restorative Yoga
Restorative Yoga is a variation of Yin yoga (that sometimes gets grouped under the Yin yoga name) but there is a specific teacher training you can do to learn how to help people restore their mind, body, and spirit through gentle poses with props. This style was popularized by Judith Lasater in 1995 when she wrote the book Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times. This style of yoga does as much as possible to cultivate a relaxing environment for students with dim lighting, calm music, and a soothing tone for teaching.
A typical pose for this class is the supported child’s pose. By propping up your chest with pillows or a bolster, you will be able to let gravity help open the joints without having to lift a finger - so to speak. There is no straining or pushing in this but a much slower approach that allows you to fill with oxygen and consciously shift your intention to release tension.
This is great for those who are suffering from burnout, need stress management, or are trying to rebuild their emotions after a traumatic experience. It’s also good for those who for physical reasons, are not able to do much and still want to work on their health. This is different from Yin and therapeutic yoga, although not all yoga studios differentiate between these names.
10. Prenatal Yoga
This style of yoga is for women in their second trimester of pregnancy which is 14 to 28 weeks along. This style of yoga is very specific for helping women strengthen their pelvic muscles and work out safely while protecting their growing child. Many regular yoga poses are modified or avoided entirely. It also helps women condition their breathing skills so that they will be well equipped to use their breath in labor.
This style of yoga should be taken from someone who is certified to teach this style of yoga and not someone inexperienced, because it is a specific training and only a qualified teacher is recommended. A typical pose you will do in this class is a modified standing forward fold where your legs are wider to make room for your belly. These classes are not as common and harder to find but are often taught at holistic birthing centers.
11. Anusara Yoga
Anusara yoga is inspired by Hatha yoga and was created by John Friend in 1997. Friend focused this style of yoga on going with the flow and it is called the ‘yoga of the heart.’ Each class will be a little different, but has the flow style of a vinyasa class with the poses of a Hatha class.
You would expect poses that stretch the long lines of the body in a class like this because it helps open the heart. Extended side angle is a variation of warrior 2 which lengthens the side body and helps stretch the muscles around the heart. If you feel you have a lot of heart healing to do, this could be a great system to pick up and work with. It is similar to Iyengar because Friend and Iyengar were good friends and both are steeped in Hatha yoga.
12. Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra was founded by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in the early 60s and is done lying down in a waking-dreaming state. Using visualization, breathing, and a state of relaxation, this type of yoga helps one work on a subconscious level to clarify their goals. This unique form of yoga is one that helps work on the mind level and allows one to get more in tune with the relationship between the mind and energy. During a session, you will be laying down in savasana but still alert as you go through the visualization and mantras.
The word ‘nidra’ has been used in yoga for a long time but it is not clear if the technique goes back as far. The word itself means sleep and helps one access a brainwave state that is very similar to sleep or the state someone is in during hypnosis. Yoga Nidra is used to help with breath awareness, creative visualization, and even helps people rehabilitate from pain.
Most popular types of yoga
The most popular types of yoga in the West seem to be…
- Hatha, and
- Hot yoga
... with kundalini and restorative quickly catching speed. The most popular styles are constantly changing and will probably be different in a year from now when trends are different!
Up Next: New Types of Yoga
Facial Yoga is now trending as an alternative to Botox and promoted for its anti-aging benefits. There are more artistic versions popping up such as goat yoga, cat yoga, naked yoga, hybrid styles like yogalates, and more controversial offshoots such as stoned yoga. There is even eye yoga that helps reduce eye strain.
If you haven’t noticed, there’s a ton of variety within the yoga community and we could spend days talking about the differences between Forest yoga and Power yoga but maybe it’s better to actually try some of these styles we’ve referenced and just get started in your yoga practice!
While these may be getting away from the traditional goals of yoga, they may be the perfect beginning motivator to begin our own practice, which is something that isn’t always easy to do at first. Our racing minds do not change overnight and finding the stillness in meditation happens in stages.
For some, they may need some extra distraction to start out and for others with a more calm mind, they may find a more active class helps them find the vitality to develop a healthier lifestyle. Whether you need to calm down or speed up, there’s a yoga for that. Laughter yoga is great for lightening up and chair yoga is great for those unable to do much standing or with poor balance.
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Is Yoga Similar to Meditation?
Meditation is actually a part of yoga, traditionally. As we have seen by looking at the many styles of yoga in the world today, the original poses were only a part of yoga and meant to strengthen the body to be able to meditate. Most long term practitioners, or ‘yogis,’ will admit that it really starts to get good when you incorporate meditation and find the ability to direct the mind. The mind is, after all, a good follower but not a good leader.
Meditation can help us access the higher states of consciousness where we can perceive beyond fear. This state is what all of the yoga helps us work towards. It helps us see the inter-connectedness of all of life and how our energy is a part of that web.
Sitting and meditating at home may feel difficult, but doing it as a group actually helps you go deeper into meditation and the group energy supports those who are new. Many yoga studios offer meditation classes which may not be as common only because it seems our society is just picking up on the value of slowing down and allowing the body’s innate wisdom to be revealed.
A saying in the yoga community is, ‘it’s better to do a little bit a lot, than a lot a little bit.’ This means try to do some every day even if it’s just ten minutes instead of binging on a three-hour session when it will make you too sore to practice for a week. Some people feel intimidated getting started in yoga because they see people doing advanced moves or wearing little to no clothing exposing fit bodies.
We encourage you not to focus on this or let this hinder you from getting the real benefits of yoga which are peace of mind and inner sense of happiness. Yoga helps you go within and notice the mind so that you can create thoughts that are happy. By developing a connection to your breath, it empowers you to be in the driver’s seat of your emotions throughout the entire day. It will help you navigate life intuitively and help prevent sickness.
Yoga doesn’t require you to subscribe to any religion or to unsubscribe from any religion. It simply allows you to get in tune with your energy and improve on all levels. So get ready and start flowing, begin your yoga journey today.
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