As yoga has become popularized world-over in the last century, the practice has branched in many directions and today we are lucky to have so many different types of yoga to experience and enjoy. There is a style for your every mood, your every need, from energetic & muscle strengthening to relaxing & rejuvenating. The benefits of yoga are endless, making yoga a wonderfully supportive practice for every day of your life, as well as every decade. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular types of yoga.
Hatha is an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. Any type of yoga that teaches physical postures technically falls under the style Hatha. This Sanscrit word’s literal translation is “force” alluding to the physical techniques used within this tradition. Hatha yoga is the mother of all yoga practices and all other physical practices of yoga such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, etc. have stemmed from the Hatha yoga tradition. When you see a class noted as Hatha’ it will be a gentle, slower-paced style using yoga poses for beginners and does not follow a flow. If you are new to the practice, this is a great place to start. A beginners Hatha yoga program will lay the foundation for a safe practice.
Ashtanga Yoga was created by T. Krishnamacharya as a customized practice for his student, K. Pattabhi Jois in the early 20th century. Ashtanga is a dynamic form of Hatha yoga, made up of six series or levels, with a fixed order of poses. The student must master each series before the instructor will advance the student to the next one. The word Ashtanga is comprised of two Sanskrit words. “Ashta” refers to the number eight, while “Anga” means limb or body part. Therefore, Ashtanga is the union of the eight limbs of yoga, into one complete, holistic system. These eight limbs represent the various branches of the philosophy of the Yoga Sutras that form the foundation in the Ashtanga Yoga School.
- Yama – Moral codes
- Niyama – Self-discipline
- Asana – Posture
- Pranayama – Breath control
- Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation
- Samadhi – Oneness with Self
What is Vinyasa yoga? This style links movement (asana) and breath (Ujjayi pranayama) to attain balance in the mind and body. In the West Vinyasa is one of the most popular types of yoga. The translation of this Sanskrit word is “to place in a special way.” In Vinyasa yoga sequences of poses are linked to the breath to achieve a continuous flow. Usually, a Vinyasa class will begin with Sun Salutation A. Typically in there will be a few different pose sequences, each performed first on one side of the body, then on the other. Inhalation is paired with upward, open poses as the expansion of the chest is natural for these types of movements. Exhalation is paired with downward movements and twists. Often times Sun Salutation A will be repeated between sequences. An instructor queuing “Go through your vinyasa” or “Take a vinyasa” is leading the students to go through Sun Salutation A. Vinyasa yoga is often referred to as a moving meditation, because of the focus and importance of the continual, intentional, and rhythmic cadence of the breath.
Power yoga is rooted in Vinyasa yoga but with an athletic vibe. Created by Byran Kest, an American instructor, Power yoga is one of the most popular types of yoga. He trained with David Williams in Hawaii and K. Pattabhi Jois in India in the 1980s. Inspired by donation-based Vipassana meditation centers, Kest went on to open the first donation-based yoga studio, Santa Monica Power Yoga in Santa Monica, CA in 1995. Kest can be included in the handful of teachers who were at the inception of the explosion of yoga in California during this time. Power yoga classes move rhythmically through the poses and each pose is typically held for three to five breaths. A key element of this style is the focus on Ujjayi breath, which remains at an even cadence throughout the entire class, even in between the poses. Another is maintaining Dristi, which in short, means to hold a gentle gaze at a fixed focal point in front of you.
American yoga instructor, Larry Schultz, studied Ashtanga Yoga under the expert K. Pattabhi Jois in India during the 1980s. He then modified the practice, creating Rocket Yoga as a way to make Ashtanga more accessible to those in the West. His studio, It’s Yoga opened in 1991 in San Francisco, CA. Rocket yoga takes poses from the first, second and third series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and resequences them around the joints of the body. Compared to Ashtanga it is a less rigid, more freeing approach to yoga. Rocket is a fairly fast-paced and energetic style.
AcroYoga is a movement practice that combines the balance & connection of yoga, the fitness & energy of acrobatics, and the holistic healing power of therapeutics. It is performed with at least two people working together, with one person as the Base and the other as the Flyer. Sometimes a third person will act as the Spotter. The Base is usually lying on the ground with their back in contact with the floor. This enables the Base to use their appendages to support the Flyer. The Flyer is elevated off the ground by the Base and moves into a series of dynamic positions. The Spotter is there to support the Flyer and be sure they land safely. AcroYoga Montreal was founded by Eugene Poku and Jessie Goldberg in 2003 and was one of the first AcroYoga schools. The other is AcroYoga International, which was founded by Jason Nemer and Jenny Sauer-Klei in California.
Kundalini Yoga, one the most popular types of yoga was introduced to the West in the late 1970s by Yogi Bhajan. Kundalini derives from the Sanskrit word kundal, which means “coiled energy.” The idea is that we all have energy gathered at the base of our spine, conceptualized as a coiled-up serpent. Through the practice of Kundalini, we awaken that energy and bring it up our spine through the seven chakras, and out the crown of our head. Kundalini Yoga is a combination of challenging breath exercises, movement, and meditation. A typical Kundalini yoga class begins with an opening chant, followed by a spinal warm-up. The main body of the class is a sequence of postures and pranayama and usually closes with a song or a meditation.
Yin Yoga targets the connective tissues, fascia, bones, and joints of the body which are normally not exercised much in the more active types of yoga. It is a slow-paced practice and each pose is held for a long time, generally five minutes or more. Founded in the late 1970s by Taoist yoga teacher, Paulie Zink and popularized by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. This practice is based on ancient Chinese philosophies and Taoist principles. By stretching and deepening into yin poses, we open up energy pathways releasing any blockages and allowing energy to flow freely. Yin Yoga Yin Yoga is a great supplement to the more energetic (yang) styles of yoga. Yin Yoga generally is generally performed sitting and lying on the floor and targets the connective tissues of the hips, pelvis, and lower spine. Yin increases flexibility and circulation.
Restorative yoga is a relaxing, restful practice that holds poses for a long duration and uses yoga props like blankets, bolsters, and yoga blocks. It is a practice of deep relaxation that emphasizes the meditative aspect of yoga – the union of mind and body. This style of yoga restores the body to its parasympathetic nervous system function, and helps the body rest, heal, and restore balance. Props are used for support and give the feeling that the poses are held almost effortlessly. Stress is released in this low-energy practice through stillness.
In the early 1980s, Sharon and David Gannon founded this style and popularized it through their studio, Jivamukti Yoga Society in New York’s East Village. The name Jivamukti is an adaptation of the Sanskrit word jivanmuktih. Jiva means the individual living soul, and mukti is liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. Thus the Jivamukti method is “liberation while living”. Jivamukti is a vigorous yoga practice, and its benefits include an increase in strength, balance, and flexibility, better circulation, and a decrease in stress. There are five main tenets of the Jivamukti method.
- Shastra – Scripture
- Bhakti – Devotion to God
- Ahimsa – Non-violence
- Nāda – Chanting
- Dhyana – Meditation
Experiment with all, discover what you like, leave the rest behind.