a guide to the different styles of yoga
According to a national survey conducted in 2012, the number of American adults practicing yoga has doubled over the last decade to 21 million. Over the same period of time, the number of studios opening and classes available has also increased markedly. While it is great Americans have more access to yoga, the overwhelming variety of classes offered can make choosing the right class for the aspiring yogi daunting. This is a guide to help you start to navigate which style of yoga may be right for you.
HATHA: (slow & gentle) The physical practice of yoga. HATHA is just 1 of 8 branches of yoga. HATHA yoga is the ancestor of all postural yoga from medieval India. In Western culture, yoga has become the generic term for the physical practice. Any yoga class involving movement is technically teaching a form of HATHA. In modern day yoga studios, Hatha yoga generally indicates a slow-paced class focused on connecting to the breath while the body explores various poses. All levels of yogis including beginners & those with physical limitations.
ASHTANGA: (traditional & physical) Synchronizes breath & movement designed to build strength, tone & purify the body. The Primary Series is a set sequence of yoga poses (+ or – depending on the day). As the practitioner advances, additional poses from the intermediate series & advanced series are added to the sequence over time. Founder: K.Pattabhi Jois
BIKRAM YOGA: (hot & sweaty) A scripted set sequence of 26 poses & 2 breathing exercises. Challenging. Practiced in a hot room (95°-105°F) for 90 minutes. Promotes flexibility with focus on alignment.Founder: Bikram Choudry
FLOW/VINYASA: (graceful & fluid) Ashtanga with variation often set to music. A fluid series of postures linked breath to movement designed to increase heart rate & build internal heat. Classes may include yoga philosophy, guided meditation or chanting in Sanskrit. Given the swift-moving pace of the practice, it is best for beginners to familiarize themselves with the postures prior to popping into a class to practice safely & avoid possible injury.
IYENGAR: (precise) Focuses on anatomical details & alignment using various yoga props to modify body positioning & reduce chance of injury. Postures are hold for longer periods of time to allow the practitioner to fully explore the subtleties of each pose. Designed to cultivate strength, flexibility, stability & body awareness. Can be therapeutic for several conditions. Founder: BKS Iyengar
KRIPALU: (introspective & compassionate) Stresses awareness throughout the yoga practice: physical postures, breathing techniques, deep relaxation & meditation. Allows practitioners to modify & discover what works best for them. Challenging poses are introduced slowly & held for longer periods of time. Promotes deeper levels of self awareness, physical & mental health. Founder. Gurudev Amrit Desai.
KUNDALINI: (spiritual) Emphasizes the internal process of yoga more than the physical postures. Practice incorporates the sound, rhythmic movements, cleansing breathing exercises & short periods of relaxation. Designed to stimulate & awaken specific energies within the body to build sensory awareness, enhance consciousness & develop spiritual strength. Intensity refers to the possible release of stored emotions.
LAUGHTER YOGA: (playful) Combines deep breathing & laughter. Exercises use eye contact & childlike playfulness to initiate laughter designed to release endorphins. Laughter is good for physical, mental & emotional health and has been shown to reduce stress, enhance the immune system, manage pain & relieve symptoms of depression.
LIFEFORCE YOGA: (therapeutic) Evidence-based practice involving yoga poses, breathing exercises, guided meditation/relaxation, the use of sound, affirmation & visualization designed to manage depression; & balance the emotional, mental & physical body to a state of place of calm, equilibrium & self-awareness. Classes move slowly pausing frequently to feel the effects of the practice. Has been adapted for use in the clinical setting. Founder: Amy Weintraub Website: www.yogafordepression.com
POWER YOGA: (fitness-based & dynamic) Ashtanga on steroids. Emphasizes strength training rather than philosophy or internal focus. Most common in gyms & health clubs. Yoga poses are mixed with other exercises like sit-ups & push-ups designed for exercise to increase stamina, strength & flexibility.
RESTORATIVE: (relaxed & supportive) Utilizes various yoga props to support practitioner in prolonged yoga postures designed to release tension, restore health, strength & feeling of wellness.
SIVANANDA: (traditional & philosophical) Standardized program of 2 breathing exercises, 12 yoga postures with structured relaxation at the beginning, end & throughout a 90-120 minute practice. Encourages a lifestyle of proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, positive thinking & meditation. Founders: S. Vishnu-Devananda & S. Sivananda. Website: www.sivananda.org
VINIYOGA: (transformative & therapeutic) Adaptive practice of yoga poses, breathing exercises, chanting, meditation & philosophy applied to the unique needs of each individual to create space for self-discovery & personal transformation. Founder: Gary Kraftsow.
YOGA NIDRA: (restorative & meditative) Literally means yogic sleep. Practitioners are guided into a deep state of relaxation while maintaining full consciousness as they are led systematically to bring awareness to each part of their body. Studies have shown this practice helps to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety & PTSD. learn more
This is not an all inclusive list. Like ChillAsana Yoga, there are other yoga schools that combine several yoga traditions. We encourage you to explore the different styles of yoga to find one or more that suit you the best.