Yoga is one of the most sought-after activities in the wellness world, but knowing which style to choose can be a challenge. To help you navigate your options, here are descriptions of 12 popular yoga styles practiced today.
The term “hatha yoga” is used to describe all physical yoga practices, so technically, any yoga class involving movement is teaching a form of hatha yoga. When it comes to yoga studios, however, hatha has generally been redefined to indicate a more slow-paced class which focuses on alignment and breathing.
These classes are ideal for every level of yogi, especially beginners and those with physical limitations.
One of the most physically demanding yoga styles, ashtanga consists of a primary series of poses, an intermediate series, and four advanced series. When you practice ashtanga you practice the same sequence of poses every time, adding or subtracting some poses depending on circumstances of the day, but always going in the same sequential order.
Led ashtanga classes, with the teacher up front in a more conventionally modern class-structure, tend to focus on the primary series. Mysore, on the other hand, is a self-led practice and can include practitioners of varying levels.
When you start practicing Mysore, the teacher will personally guide you through the first parts of the primary series, helping you learn the sequence at your own pace. As you advance, you will be taught additional poses, adding on new parts of the sequence over time. Although they are always there to help you out, once you learn the sequence the teacher will only come to you as support.
This style of yoga is especially good for people who are athletic, highly motivated, benefit from structure, and prefer a quiet environment with little interruption.
This has become the golden-standard as far as yoga classes go in the Western world. Vinyasa classes incorporate the poses from ashtanga and add some more, but instead of doing the same sequence every time, each vinyasa sequence is unique.
Many teachers provide a few morsels of wisdom at the beginning of class and then guide you to focus on your breath and settle into the present moment. They may also lead you through some chanting, breath exercises, or meditation. Other teachers will skip the intro and dive right into the flow.
The class will be led through a series of postures and continuous movement (“vinyasa”), often accompanied by music.
Depending on level, these classes can vary in intensity, but most will raise your heart rate and build up a sweat.
Many studios offer a beginner series for those new to vinyasa. These are highly recommended, so you can become familiar with the postures and learn safety precautions before attending a more fast-paced class.
Once you have the basics down, it is also recommended that you try out numerous different teachers, as each will have a style unique to their personality and experience.
Bikram yoga is similar to ashtanga in that it is based an a fixed sequence.
Speaking rapidly, Bikram yoga teachers lead students through the same 26 poses and 2 breath exercises in each 90 minute session.
Bikram is practiced in a room heated to 105°F with 40% humidity. It is a rigorous practice and will always induce heavy sweating.
Another distinguishing characteristic of Bikram yoga is that some practitioners engage in competitions, while other forms of yoga discourage comparisons.
This practice is best for people who like to push their limits, but should be considered with caution. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, heavy sweating on a regular basis depletes the Heart and can lead to numerous imbalances.
It should also be avoided by people with heart conditions, blood pressure issues, pregnant women, people taking certain medications, and other health issues. It is best to consult your healthcare provider before attempting this style of yoga.
Power yoga classes involve a rigorous vinyasa practice, which may or may not take place in a heated room (the studio will indicate on the schedule if it is heated. Heat can vary from 90-105°F depending on studio).
These classes are generally intended for intermediate and advanced yoga practitioners, and are often taught with a heavier emphasis on the physical practice. Expect more strength training and less philosophy and internal focus.
On the other end of the spectrum, kundalini’s emphasis is entirely on the internal process of yoga. Though it can be physically challenging, the intention of a kundalini practice is to awaken specific energies within the body in order to build sensory awareness, enhance consciousness, and develop spiritual strength.
Kundalini is great for those wishing to delve into the more deeply into spiritual side of yoga and don’t care as much about the physical practices.
Anusara is another form of hatha yoga, based on the intention to help students feel uplifted and guide their practice from the heart. Anusara teachers also heavily focus on alignment, and tend to be very hands-on in their teaching.
This is a great practice for both beginners and advanced students alike.
If you’re looking for relaxation, yin and restorative classes are the way to go.
Yin yoga sessions focus on lengthening connective tissue, especially in the hips, pelvis, and lower spine. Poses are sustained for longer periods of time, encouraging relaxation, patience, and release.
Restorative yoga is a similar gentle and therapeutic practice. With the help of props, poses are supported so you can deepen into them more comfortably and let go of tension more easily.
These classes are good for everyone, especially people who practice rigorous forms of yoga and exercise more often.
Specifically designed for pregnancy, prenatal yoga can benefit women through all stages of their child-bearing year. Some studios also offer post-natal, or mama and baby yoga classes.
Iyengar yoga can have varying physical demands, but will always make heavy use of props to guide the body into precise physical alignment. Teachers will guide students to sustain poses for longer periods of time in order to focus on the subtleties within each pose.
With a similar structure to an average vinyasa class, Forrest yoga is based on the intention to learn, grow, and overcome obstacles both on and off the mat. Classes will challenge mental and physical strength and flexibility. Sequences are often structured to introduce numerous poses that build up to a more advanced pose at the end.
While Forrest yoga is open to all levels, students should be prepared for a rigorous practice.
One of the most intense practices, jivamukti can be seen as a combination between power vinyasa and kundalini yoga practices.
Based on the tenants of scripture, devotion, kindness, music, and meditation, jivamukti classes will incorporate chanting and philosophy more than your average vinyasa class, while still requiring a great deal of physical exertion.
You will also experience more hands-on adjustments by teachers than you might in other settings.
Jivamukti can be practiced by experienced beginners and advanced yogis alike, as numerous pose variations are always offered to suite individual needs. If you go to one of these classes, expect a good deal of spirituality thrown in with a sweat-inducing practice.
So what kind of yoga should you try? As many as you can!
You won’t know what makes you feel good until you walk out of a class.
Stay curious, stay open, and experiment with different styles, studios, and teachers.