Photo by Ajja Photography
While my classes are Iyengar based, I do enjoy and practice Ashtanga yoga as well.
There are many different types of yoga being taught and practiced today and it can be tough for beginners to figure out the differences. Although almost all of these styles are based on the same physical postures (called poses), each has a particular emphasis. This quick guide to the most popular types of yoga will help you figure out which class is right for you.
Hatha is a very general term that can encompass many of the physical kinds of yoga. If a class is described as Hatha style, it is probably going to be slow-paced and gentle and provide a good introduction to the basic yoga poses.
Like Hatha, Vinyasa is a general term that is used to describe many different types of classes. Vinyasa, which means breath-synchronized movement, tends to be a more vigorous style based on the performance of a series of poses called Sun Salutations, in which movement is matched to the breath. A Vinyasa class will typically start with a number of Sun Salutations to warm up the body for more intense stretching that’s done at the end of class. Vinyasa is also called Flow, in reference to the continuous movement from one posture the next.
Ashtanga & Power Yoga
Ashtanga, which means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit, is a fast-paced, intense style of yoga. A set series of poses is performed, always in the same order. This practice is very physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next and the emphasis on daily practice. Ashtanga is also the inspiration for what is often called Power Yoga, which is based on the flowing style of Ashtanga with out keeping strictly to the set series.
Based on the teachings of the yogi B.K.S Iyengar, this style of practice is most concerned with bodily alignment. Iyengar practice usually emphasizes holding poses over long periods versus moving quickly from one pose to the next (flow). Also, Iyengar practice encourages the use of props, such as yoga blankets, blocks and straps, in order to bring the body into alignment.
The emphasis in Kundalini is on the breath in conjunction with physical movement, with the purpose of freeing energy in the lower body and allowing it to move upwards. All asana practices make use of controlling the breath, but in Kundalini, the exploration of the effects of the breath (also called prana, meaning energy) on the postures is essential. Kundalini exercises are also called kriyas.
Pioneered by Bikram Choudhury, this style is more generally referred to as Hot Yoga. It is practiced in a 95 to 100 degree room, which allows for a loosening of tight muscles and profuse sweating, which is thought to be cleansing. The Bikram method is a set series of 26 poses, but not all hot classes make use of this series.
Viniyoga is term used by T.K.V. Desikachar to describe the methodology that his father, revered teacher T. Krishnamacharya, developed late in his life. It is based on an individualized approach to each student, creating a practice that suits his or her unique stage of life, health, and needs.
Founded in 1997 by John Friend, Anusara combines a strong emphasis on physical alignment with a positive philosophy expressing the intrinsic goodness of all beings. Classes are usually light-hearted and accessible, often with a focus on heart opening. As of fall, 2012, Friend is no longer teaching Anusara following nearly a year of turmoil within the yoga system he founded over his personal indiscretions. Anusara is now a teacher-led yoga school.
This chain of hot yoga studios was founded in Denver in 2002 and is opening new studios throughout the United States. Expect quality instruction in a gym-like setting. A membership is good at any of their studios nationwide.
This style of yoga emerged from one of New York’s best-known yoga studios. Jivamukti founders David Life and Sharon Gannon were influenced by the rigor of Ashtanga yoga, in combination with chanting, meditation, and spiritual teachings. They have trained many teachers who have brought this style of yoga to studios and gyms, predominantly in the U.S. These classes are physically intense and often include an inspirational theme selected by the teacher.
Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, and gaining popularity around the U.S., Forrest Yoga is the method taught by Ana Forrest. The performance of vigorous asana sequences is intended to strengthen and purify the body and release pent-up emotions and pain to encourage healing of physical and emotional wounds. Expect an intense workout with an emphasis on abdominal strengthening, inversions, and deep breathing.
Kripalu is both a yoga style and a retreat center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Kripalu is a yoga practice with a compassionate approach and emphasis on meditation, physical healing and spiritual transformation that overflows into daily life. It also focuses on looking inward and moving at your own pace, making it a good practice for people with limited mobility due to age, weight, or injury.
Restorative yoga makes use of props to support the body as it relaxes into poses over the course of several minutes. The idea is to stay in each pose long enough to encourage passive stretching. Seated forward bends, gentle supine back-bends, and twists are examples of the type of poses that can be adapted to be restorative with the addition of props like blankets and bolsters.
The first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center was founded in 1959 by Swami Vishnu-devananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda. There are now close to 80 locations worldwide, including several ashrams. Sivananda yoga is based upon five principles, including the practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation.
Yin Yoga is a practice developed by teacher Paul Grilley to find a way to stretch the body’s connective tissue, particularly around the joints. In order to do this, specific poses are help over the course of several minutes. Grilley started this method as a way to find comfort during long seated meditations.
Chair yoga is a way to make yoga more accessible to people who have trouble standing for long periods or sitting on the floor. Many postures can be adapted to incorporate the support of a chair, as you can see in this series of ten chair yoga poses. Chair yoga is particularly popular with senior citizens but is a great resource for anyone with compromised mobility.
AcroYoga is based on the collaboration of Jason Nemer and Jenny Sauer-Klein, who began practicing together in 2003. The basic idea is that one person (called the base) acts at the support for a partner (called the flyer), usually by lying on his or her back and holding the flyer up with his or her legs. The flyer then does a series of poses while balanced atop the base. This practice lends itself to performance and group play.
Aerial yoga makes use of a sling of fabric suspended from the ceiling, which is used to support your body as you hang above the floor. This support allows you to avoid stressing or compressing your joints while you are stretching. It’s also a good way to improve core strength. Some poses are also done while standing on the floor using the sling like a ropes wall.
Stand-Up Paddle Yoga
SUP yoga is done atop a paddleboard while floating on a body of water. Keeping your balance makes for a fun, intense core and leg workout, all while enjoying the surrounding natural world.