Your Guide to the Different Types of YogaAug 13, 2019
Yoga has come a long way in the past few years. Take a look at any studio’s schedule and you’ll see so many different types of yoga, from ashtanga yoga and kundalini yoga to aerial yoga and acro yoga. You might have even heard about — or tried — some of the more modern and unusual iterations of the ancient practice: hip-hop yoga, HIIT yoga, and naked yoga… just to name a few.
Though the practice is thousands of years old, it only arrived in the US in the late 1800s and didn’t firmly take root until the last few decades. Since then, yoga has gone from a practice associated with hippies to one that’s practiced by nearly 37 million people.
And not all of these millions of people go to a yoga studio to do their downward dogs. If you like to unroll your mat at home, you’re not alone: That’s the number one place people practice.
What Is Yoga?
“Plain and simple, yoga is the union between the body, mind, and spirit — that’s the origins of yoga and that’s how it is practiced in the East,” says Miriam Amselem, yoga instructor of nearly 30 years. “It 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.”
However, you’ll find that every type of yoga has a slightly different definition or interpretation. That is why we see things like goat yoga (aka doing yoga with goats running and jumping around) popping up alongside traditional forms like Iyengar and ashtanga.
But above all, yoga ignores the “no pain, no gain” philosophy that’s often touted in fitness communities — yoga is not a place to push through, go beyond your edge, or ignore your body. The primary tenet is ahimsa, or non-harming, and that starts with choosing the right type of yoga for you.
13 Types of Yoga: How to Choose the Right Kind for You
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.
“Like any form of exercise, choose something you want to do,” says Stephanie Saunders, executive director of fitness at Openfit and a certified yoga instructor. “If you are a very detailed person, Bikram or Iyengar might appeal to you. If you are more of a free spirit, vinyasa or aerial yoga might be fun. Find a class that makes you excited to go.”
So which one will get you excited? Our guide to the common types of yoga can help you decide whether you’re in more of a restorative yoga or a power yoga kind of mood, or anything in between.
Kundalini yoga was brought to the West by teacher and spiritual leader Yogi Bhajan in the late 1960s. “Kundalini” in Sanskrit translates to “life force energy” (known as prana or chi in the yoga community), which is thought to be tightly coiled at the base of the spine. Kundalini yoga sequences are carefully designed to stimulate or unlock this energy and to reduce stress and negative thinking. “You get to elevate your consciousness and feel great,” says Veronica Parker, an E-RYT (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher) 200 and a certified kundalini yoga teacher.
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). You might notice everyone is wearing white, as it’s believed to deflect negativity and increase your aura. 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 It: Anyone in search of a physical, yet also spiritual practice, or those who like singing or chanting.
Vinyasa yoga is also called “flow yoga” or “vinyasa flow,” and it’s one you’ll commonly encounter . It was adapted from the more regimented ashtanga practice a couple of decades ago. 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 flow is a style of yoga where the poses are synchronized with the breath in a continuous rhythmic flow,” says Sherrell Moore-Tucker, RYT 200. “The flow can be meditative in nature, calming the mind and nervous system, even though you’re moving.”
Vinyasa yoga is suitable for those who’ve never tried yoga as well as those who’ve been practicing for years.
Who Might Like It: Anyone who wants more movement and less stillness from their yoga practice.
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 ‘styles’ and schools that use the body as a means for self-inquiry,” says Jennifer Campbell-Overbeeke, E-RYT 500.
It’s often used as a catchall term for the physical side of yoga, it’s more traditional in nature, or it’s billed as yoga for beginners. “Hatha translates to ‘forceful,’ but this relates more to the aspect of concentration and regularity of practice rather than applying unnecessary force to the body,” says Campbell-Overbeeke.
To be considered hatha, classes must include a mix of asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation, so other types of yoga — like Iyengar, ashtanga, or Bikram — are technically considered to be hatha yoga as well.
Who Might Like It: Anyone looking for a balanced practice or those in search of a gentler type of yoga.
Ashtanga yoga consists of six series of specific poses taught in order. Each pose and each series is “given” to a student when their teacher decides they have mastered the previous one. This is a very physical, flow-style yoga with spiritual components — you might remember it as the type Madonna did in the late ’90s. Ashtanga teachers give hands-on adjustments, and in Mysore-style studios (named after the city where the practice’s guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, lived and taught), each student has a unique practice.
“The practitioner moves at the pace of her own breath and to her personal edge, or growth point,” says Lara Land, a level two authorized ashtanga teacher. “Each person memorizes the practice and moves at her own pace through the poses.”
Meaning eight-limbed path, ashtanga vinyasa yoga is often taught as “led” classes in the West, where the first or second series is taught from start to finish over the course of 90 minutes to 2 hours. There is no music played in ashtanga classes.
Who Might Like It: Anyone who likes routine or a more physical yet spiritual practice.
Yin yoga is a slower style of yoga in which poses are held for a minute and eventually up to 5 minutes or more. Yin is a type of yoga with roots in martial arts as well as yoga, and it’s designed to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility. The practice focuses on the hips, lower back, and thighs and uses props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks to let gravity do the work, helping the practitioner relax. While other forms of yoga focus on the major muscle groups, yin yoga targets the body’s connective tissues.
Yin also aids recovery from hard workouts. “Adding a deep stretch and holding class like yin can be extremely beneficial to a strong body,” says Megan Kearney, a Yoga Medicine instructor. Holding poses longer benefits the mind as well as the body, providing a chance to practice being still. “This is a beautiful practice that honors stillness,” says Moore-Tucker. “This style of practice is a great balance for vinyasa flow.”
Who Might Like It: Those who need to stretch out after a tough workout or anyone interested in a slower-paced practice.
Iyengar yoga is named for its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, who developed his classical, alignment-based practice in India. This type of yoga became popular in the US in the 1970s. Iyengar yoga is known for the high level of training required of its teachers and for its resourceful use of props. 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.
Paul Keoni Chun, an E-RYT 200, likes this more static form of yoga for older adults, since it “emphasizes detailed alignment and longer holds of positions.” Iyengar yoga is usually less intense than other types of yoga, although that can vary based on the instructor or class. But generally, it’s suitable for people of all ages and skill levels.
Who Might Like It: Someone who likes detailed instruction, anyone with physical limitations, or those in search of a more classical form of yoga.
Bikram yoga is a form of hot yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury. Bikram classes, like ashtanga classes, consist of a set series of poses performed in the same order, and the practice has strict rules. Each class is 90 minutes, with 26 postures and two breathing exercises, and the room must be 105° F with 40 percent humidity. Additionally, instructors do not adjust students.
Since Bikram yoga has so many rules, many studios simply call their classes “hot yoga” so they can customize their offerings. Devotees of hot yoga tout the massive amount of sweat and the added flexibility the practice gives them.
“Practicing yoga in a heated environment allows students to get deeper into postures, improves circulation, and aids in detoxifying the body,” says Natalie Sleik, RYT 200, who teaches hot power yoga.
Who Might Like It: Anyone who likes to sweat, someone who wants a more physical practice, or those who like routine.
Like vinyasa yoga, power yoga traces its roots to ashtanga but is less regimented and 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,” says Chun.
Sleik adds that “power yoga strengthens the muscles while also increasing flexibility. The variation of sequences keeps the brain engaged while you work all muscle groups in the body.”
Power yoga can be hot yoga or not, and some studios offer a mix of power and slow flow yoga to ease students into this intense practice. Fans of power yoga may also like buti yoga, which is just as physical but also includes tribal dance, primal movements, and plenty of core work.
Who Might Like It: Those who like ashtanga but want less rigidity, anyone who wants a good workout, and anyone who wants a less spiritual yoga practice.
Sivananda yoga is a form of hatha yoga based on the teachings of Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Sivananda. Classes are generally relaxing: While most yoga classes end with savasana (a final relaxation/corpse pose), Sivananda starts with this pose, then moves into breathing exercises, sun salutations, and then 12 basic asanas.
Kearney likes this practice for “someone looking for more spiritual or energetic work,” while Saunders says such Sivananda yoga can help you push yourself to the next level if you’re a beginner. Designed to support overall health and wellness, Sivananda yoga is appropriate for all levels and ages.
Who Might Like It: Those looking for a gentler form of yoga or anyone who wants a more spiritual practice.
If you walked by a restorative yoga class, you might think everyone was taking a nap on their mats. This form of yoga uses props to support the body so it can completely relax into poses, which are held for at least 5 minutes but often longer. This means that you might only do a handful of poses in a class, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drift into sleep during them.
Some teachers might even lead you through yoga nidra — a guided meditation that allows you to hover blissfully between sleep and wake. One hour in yoga nidra is said to equal a few hours of shuteye, and while that can be a good self-care tool, it can’t replace a healthy night’s sleep.
Though all different types of yoga can aid stress relief and brain health, restorative yoga places its focus on down-regulating the nervous system. Restorative yoga can benefit those who need to chill out and de-stress, and it can also be used as part of your rest-day self-care. “Taking time to relax in a restorative class can have a huge impact on an athlete,” says Kearney.
Who Might Like It: Anyone who needs to de-stress, those dealing with pain, and someone who struggles to relax.
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.
Since this is a practice designed specifically for moms-to-be, it excludes poses that might be too taxing or unsafe for the changing body. (But make sure you check in with your doctor before beginning a yoga practice, if you are pregnant.) Yoga for pregnancy also often includes plenty of exercises to prepare your body for delivery, like squats and pelvic floor work.
Who Might Like It: Moms-to-be and new moms who are easing back into exercise.
Aerial yoga — sometimes called antigravity yoga — is relatively new, but quickly catching on. It 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 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). Classes can be either physically challenging or relaxing.
“Teaching aerial yoga has been so rewarding for me because I get to witness beginners gain body awareness and overcome fear of being inverted,” says Melissa Vance, RYT 200, an aerial yoga teacher based outside of Atlanta. “Hanging upside down reverses the blood flow in the body and decompresses the spine, providing much relief and a euphoric feeling.”
Who might like it: Those who want a nontraditional yoga experience or anyone who wants the benefits of inversions but might fear going upside down on their own.
Acro yoga takes familiar yoga poses — like downward dog or plank — and makes them double the fun (and sometimes double the work) by adding a partner. One partner serves as the “base” on the ground, while the other is the “flyer” who contorts themselves on the soles of the base’s feet. (There should always be a spotter involved for safety, too). “[Acro yoga] allows people to break from the rectangular confines of their yoga mat and find a connection with their fellow practitioners,” says Lyle Mitchell, a YogaSlackers acro yoga teacher in Asheville, North Carolina.
This type of yoga helps you playfully explore your mind-body connection, develops effective communication skills with a partner, and aids in setting appropriate boundaries. “Exploring these skills through acro yoga can translate to strengthening these skills in all our other relationships in life,” he says.
Saunders recommends acro yoga “if you are looking for the physical benefits of yoga in a fun and interactive environment.” If you work as a base, it builds a strong lower body and core. Working as a flyer requires flexibility and strength, not to mention trust.
Who Might Like It: Those who enjoy practicing with a partner, couples looking to build trust and intimacy, or anyone with an adventurous streak who likes to go upside down.
Every style of yoga has its unique benefits, and you might encounter a mix of many types of yoga in the same class. “I teach a mix of hatha, kundalini, yin, and restorative in my sessions — this keeps my students guessing and challenged,” says Amselem.