What’s the difference between styles of yoga? How can you figure out which style of yoga is right for you? Use our guide to find the right yoga for you.
As yoga’s popularity swells, so does the number of styles of yoga. The range of styles can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a new student. And even students that have been rolling out their mats since the 1970s can use some guidance when they want to check out an alternative approach to practice. With so many choices, how do you know which yoga style is right for you?
If you don’t have the time – or patience – to try a series of new styles until you find your dream class, the descriptions below can help point you in the right direction. The following summaries will give even the most confused yoga neophyte some insight into the style that best suits his or her personality and interests.
ALIGNMENT-BASED YOGA: Noted for precise alignment in the poses, as well as safety, alignment based classes ensure you learn how to practice the poses correctly, become aware of misalignments, improve your posture and concentration while encouraging being in the present moment. Props such as blocks, straps, and bolsters are used to obtain the maximum benefit of the poses and avoid injury. This style is great for beginners and can challenge seasoned practitioners. Every practitioner of yoga can benefit from this style.
ANANDA: A form of gentle yoga with an emphasis on meditation, Ananda combines classic yoga postures with breathing and silent affirmations. As an inner-directed practice, it has less appeal to those desiring a more athletic or aerobic experience.
ASHTANGA: A physically demanding style that is light on meditation, Ashtanga yoga employs a fast-paced series of flowing poses to build strength, flexibility and stamina. Developed by Indian yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga’s progressively difficult postures are synchronized with a loud breath (called Ujyaii breath in Sanskrit) and are designed to produce intense internal heat and purifying sweat in order to detoxify muscles and organs. The room is usually heated to warm muscles and increase flexibility. This style is too intense and demanding for most beginners.
BIKRAM: A strenuous style taught in rooms heated to a minimum of 105º Fahrenheit. The superheated rooms facilitate stretching and allow the body to release toxins through perspiration. Former national India yoga champion, Bikram Choudhury, developed the style, whose 26 demanding poses are performed in a specific order, to promote optimal health and proper function of every bodily system.
HATHA: Hatha yoga is the foundational discipline on which nearly all other styles are based. In Sanskrit, ha represents the sun and tha, the moon –hence, the practice is designed to bring the yin and yang, light and dark, masculine and feminine aspects and polarities into balance. A class described as hatha will likely include slow-paced stretching, asanas, or postures, simple breathing exercises and perhaps, seated meditation. Hatha yoga classes provide a good starting point for beginners, who can learn basic poses and relaxation techniques.
INTEGRAL: A gentle style of yoga brought to this country in 1966 by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Classes are structured to balance physical effort with relaxation and include breathing practices, chanting and both guided and silent meditation. Integral yoga is suitable for beginners and helpful for more advanced students who wish to deepen their physical and spiritual awareness.
INTEGRATIVE YOGA THERAPY: Joseph LePage began this therapy in the early 1990s to help promote healing and well-being for individuals facing heart disease, cancer, and AIDS. Gentle postures, guided imagery, assisted stretching and breathwork help to make this style a useful one for rehab centers and hospitals.
ISHTA: An acronym for the Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda, is the yoga brainchild of South African native Alan Finger. Finger blends his eclectic studies under Sivananda and the tantric hermit Barati into classes that help students integrate their individual sensations with a life energy force that is beyond sensing and perceiving.
IYENGAR: This style was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar who was instrumental in bringing yoga to the West. Detail, precision and alignment is the hallmark of this method which teaches conscious presence in the poses. One of Iyengar’s major innovations is in the use of props to enable students to perform yoga poses safely and correctly, minimizing the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old.
JIVAMUKTI: Its popularity lies in the teaching approach of co-founders David Life and Sharon Gannon, who opened their first studio in 1986, combining an Ashtanga background with a variety of ancient and modern spiritual teachings. In addition to Vinyasa-style poses, classes include chanting, meditation, readings, music and affirmations.
KRIPALU: Kripalu was developed by Amrit Desai, a long time student of Kundalini yoga master Swami Kripaluvananda. This style incorporates three stages of development, beginning with postural alignment and progressing to meditation, with longer posture holding, finally creating a meditation in motion, where the movement from one posture to another happens unconsciously and spontaneously. Kripalu is suitable for everyone, from beginners to advanced students.
KUNDALINI: This style incorporates mantras (chanting), meditation, visualization, breathing and guided relaxation with precise postures. According to Hindu philosophy, kundalini is a concentrated form of prana, or life force, represented by a coiled, sleeping serpent said to reside at the base of the spine. When breath and movement awaken the serpent (energy), it moves up the spine through each of the seven chakras (energy centers) of the body, bringing energy and bliss. Once a closely guarded secret in India, Kundalini yoga was first brought to the West in 1969. Kundalini will not appeal to everyone.
PHOENIX RISING YOGA THERAPY: This style helps release physical and emotional tension through assisted postures, breathing techniques and ongoing student/teacher dialogue. A deeper connection to the self is encouraged by incorporating traditional yoga techniques with contemporary psychology to promote the healing of mind, body and spirit. POWER: An intense style that creates heat and energy. Power yoga evolved from Ashtanga yoga and was developed by American Beryl Bender Birch in the early 1990s. Its flowing style requires the strength and stamina of Ashtanga, but doesn’t always follow the same sequence of postures, making it similar to Vinyasa style. Power yoga is usually performed in a heated room. Although Baron Baptiste is a name often associated with power yoga, he has developed his own method, called Baptiste Power Vinyasa yoga, which is taught only by teachers he certifies. Students that enjoy aerobics will probably favor power yoga.
POWER: An intense style that creates heat and energy. Power yoga evolved from Ashtanga yoga and was developed by American Beryl Bender Birch in the early 1990s. Its flowing style requires the strength and stamina of Ashtanga, but doesn’t always follow the same sequence of postures, making it similar to Vinyasa style. Power yoga is usually performed in a heated room. Although Baron Baptiste is a name often associated with power yoga, he has developed his own method, called Baptiste Power Vinyasa yoga, which is taught only by teachers he certifies. Students that enjoy aerobics will probably favor power yoga.
SIVANANDA: Based on the philosophy of Swami Sivananda, of India, the practice uses chanting, breathing techniques and meditation to help release stress. This style cultivates awareness of mind and body by incorporating five main principles of proper exercise, breathing, relaxation and diet, as well as positive thinking and meditation. Sivananda yoga focuses on 12 basic yoga postures to increase strength and spinal flexibility. It is an excellent practice for beginners or anyone interested in spiritual aspects of yoga.
SVAROOPA: A style that helps each student discover their bliss. The Sanskrit word svaroopa means “the true nature of being.” Attention to alignment in specifically chosen poses helps to soften the body’s connective tissues and ease spinal tension. Blocks and bolsters may be used to allow for deeper muscle release. The style is suitable for beginners and useful for those recovering from injury.
VINYASA: A challenging style that matches breath to movement. Translated from Sanskrit, vinyasa means “without obstacle.” Vinyasa yoga weaves poses together in a flowing practice that is both intense and dance-like. The style is best suited to energetic, physically fit students with a fundamental understanding of yoga basics.
VINIYOGA: A more individualized form of yoga that emphasizes gentle flow and coordinated breath with movement. Viniyoga teaches the student how to apply poses, chanting, breathing and meditation. Function is stressed over form in this style. Viniyoga is recommended for beginners and seniors, as well as those who are in chronic pain or healing from injury or disease.