Your Ultimate Guide to Different Yoga Types
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 yoga practice, 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 are many 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.
The Benefits of Practicing Yoga
People fall in love with the good vibes that yoga induces. 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.
There are many mental and physical health benefits that come from practicing yoga, including:
- Making you strong yet more flexible
- Giving you more energy
- Bringing a healthy appearance
- Enhancing Intuition
- Help to manage stress
- Reducing and preventing sickness and pain
- Becoming more positive, spiritually connected purposeful people in the modern world
- Improving your balance
So whether you want to learn to stand on your head or need help managing workplace or personal stress, the goals of your practice and its benefits are far-reaching.
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How Many Different Types of Yoga Are There?
Yoga has been around so long, and in so many places, 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.
There are now 22 main variations of yoga in the West. You might take one type of class and find it very different from another.
Certain instructors focus on yoga poses. Others may focus on types of yoga breathing or 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. 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 the different types of yoga 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
Yin is a relatively new style of yoga created in the 1970s by Taoist martial arts and yoga instructor Pauli Zink and 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 muscle 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 might do in this style of yoga is the legs-up-the-wall pose. Many Yin props such as blankets, bolsters, straps, blocks, pillows, and eye covers are often used in this cozy yoga style, sometimes referred to as therapeutic yoga, restorative yoga, or gentle yoga.
2. Vinyasa Yoga
Popularized by Pattabhi Jois in the 20th century, Vinyasa yoga, also called power yoga or flow yoga, has much older roots.
The practice of flowing breath to movement is the most quintessential marker of Vinyasa yoga.
A beginner’s Vinyasa class will usually include the basic poses in a simple sequence. Classes start out slow to warm up the body and usually work towards a peak pose that the body has been prepped for. A more advanced Vinyasa class may include handstands and binds that require greater dexterity. The end of class will slow down for a relaxation session at the tail, ending with savasana.
A key part of any Vinyasa class is the sun salutation. They have many varieties but include the chaturanga or yogi pushup, which helps you build strength.
Overall, the sequences of poses vary, allowing a teacher to create a more difficult class or focus 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.
The benefits of Vinyasa yoga include:
- Building muscle
- Improving flexibility
- Relieving stress
It also helps one become more present 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.
Looking to try Vinyasa yoga? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Vinyasa Yoga
3. Hatha Yoga
The traditional practice of Hatha 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 align the spine, build internal muscles to stabilize the joints, and increase 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. Each slow and controlled movement brings a sense of grounding and calm.
It is often practiced in a quiet room without music to experience the simplicity of tuning into the body and breath.
The benefits of Hatha yoga include:
- Improving the ability to focus and still the mind
- Creating excellent posture, allowing the ability to work in a seated position with less pain
- Stretching the large joints in the body, especially those that become stiff due to lack of use or lack of proper stretching
- Teaching about the physical body
- Becoming more present
A typical pose from this style of class is the warrior II pose that is broken down in detail so that all the small muscles in their body engaged from flexed feet to the rotation of the 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.
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.
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. An extensive collection of poses with instructions as well as the physical and emotional benefits of each pose can be found in his book, “Light on Yoga.”
This style of yoga is known as alignment-based yoga because it is so focused on anatomy.
In a class like this, participants may find themselves hanging from a wall with ropes or using a folding metal chair with stacked folded blankets. Focusing on just a few poses in each class helps develop an intimate knowledge of the body. 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 the feet together and the looped rope around the hips. While this use of gravity may seem intimidating, it is usually explained so thoroughly that getting into and out of a pose is a breeze.
Iyengar classes are a very unique style that people either love or hate. It can be very challenging and builds endurance.
5. Kundalini Yoga
The ancient style of Kundalini yoga 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 regimens 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.
This style of yoga includes breathing, mantra, meditation, and movements that target the nervous system, the glandular system and work on building the energy field.
It is the most esoteric and spiritual of the more popular styles of yoga. 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 of Kundalini yoga include:
- Feeling more positive, intuitive, and confident
- Increasing energy levels
- Transforming an egoistic lifestyle to one of service and meaning
- Aligning the body with the soul
A common practice in Kundalini yoga is the cat-cow pose, which is 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, you might like 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.
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.
Practice 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.
This is a quite advanced style of yoga that beginners may struggle to keep up with, and only a few people in the world are said to be able to do the most challenging poses.
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 and requires discipline.
Specifically with this type of yoga, pushing too hard too fast can lead to injury and burnout, but committing to the Ashtanga practice can help replace a bad habit because it requires lots of time and focus.
7. Hot Yoga
This style of yoga (previously known as Bikram Yoga) was established by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s. 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).
It’s challenging because a lot of electrolytes and water are lost over the course of the class, so students must replenish both if they want to sustain a healthy balance.
This yoga style can lead to injury because people stretch beyond their limits when their body is hot in the heated room. It is important not to push beyond someone’s 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.
This popular form of yoga is less traditional. 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
Sharon Gannon and David Life created Jivamukti yoga in 1984. It is based on five tenets that focus on spiritual, physical, and ethical growth and living. Similar to Vinyasa’s rigorous nature, Jivamukti builds strength, flexibility, and greater overall health.
It is best suited to those looking for more than a workout yet also wanting to explore a philosophical approach to life based on compassion.
Styles of yoga like this show 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 the bow pose, where participants lie on the stomach and hold the ankles, stretching the spine and releasing energy pockets stored there. This is another yoga style that can help transform the mind, body, and spirit.
9. Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga is a variation of Yin yoga (that sometimes gets grouped under the Yin yoga name). Still, you can do a specific teacher training 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.
Restorative yoga is great for anyone experiencing:
- High levels of stress
- Suffering from unregulated emotions after a traumatic experience
- Reduced physical movement
A typical pose for this class is the supported child’s pose. By propping up the chest with pillows or a bolster, gravity helps open the joints. There is no straining or pushing to open them, but instead, the slower approach allows the body to fill with oxygen and consciously shift intention to release tension.
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10. Prenatal Yoga
The Prenatal yoga style is for women in their second trimester of pregnancy (from 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 done in this class is a modified standing forward fold where the legs are widened to make room for the belly.
11. Anusara Yoga
Anusara yoga was inspired by Hatha yoga and created by John Friend in 1997. Friend focused this style of yoga on going with the flow, referring to it as the “yoga of the heart.” It is similar to Iyengar yoga because Friend and Iyengar were good friends, and both are steeped in Hatha yoga. Each class will be a little different but utilizes the Vinyasa flow style with Hatha poses.
During practice, poses that stretch the long lines of the body are often utilized because they help open the heart.
Extended side angle is a variation of the warrior II pose, which lengthens the side body and helps stretch the muscles around the heart. It is a great system to pick up and work with for those with a lot of heart healing to do.
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. 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.
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.
Using visualization, breathing, and a state of relaxation, this type of yoga helps one work on a subconscious level to clarify their goals.
During a session, participants lay in savasana but remain alert as they go through the visualization and mantras.
The Most Popular Types of Yoga
The most popular types of yoga in the West seem to be:
- Hot yoga
Yet trends show that Kundalini and Restorative are quickly catching speed. The most popular styles are constantly changing and will probably be different in a year from now when trends are different!
If you haven’t noticed, there’s a ton of variety within the yoga community. Facial Yoga is now trending as an alternative to Botox and promoted for its anti-aging benefits.
There are also more creative versions of yoga classes popping up, such as:
- Classes combining movement and animal therapy like goat yoga or cat yoga
- Naked yoga
- Hybrid styles like yogalates (a combination of yoga and pilates)
- Controversial offshoots like stoned yoga
- Eye yoga to help reduce eye strain
- Laughter yoga to lighten up
- Chair yoga for those unable to do much standing or with poor balance
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 some of these may be getting away from the traditional goals of yoga, they may be the perfect beginning motivator to begin your 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 that helps them find the vitality to develop a healthier lifestyle. Whether you need to calm down or speed up, there’s a yoga variation for that.
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.
Improve Your Body, Improve Your Mind
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 that participants should try to do some yoga every day, even if it’s just ten minutes, instead of binging on a three-hour session, leaving them feeling too sore to practice for a week or more.
Some people feel intimidated getting started because they see people doing advanced moves or wearing little to no clothing, exposing fit bodies. Try not to focus on comparison and instead focus on finding peace of mind and an inner sense of happiness.
Yoga allows you to shift the mind’s focus internally, creating thoughts that are happy and getting in tune with positive energy to improve mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Developing a connection to the breath empowers the practitioner to be in the driver’s seat of their emotions throughout the entire day. It can help one to navigate life intuitively and even help prevent sickness.
So get ready and start flowing. There are so many benefits prompting you to begin your yoga journey today.
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