YOGA

The breakdown of 8 styles of Yoga 

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga is also called “flow yoga” or “vinyasa flow”. It is an incredibly common style. It was adapted from the more regimented ashtanga practice a couple of decades ago. The word “vinyasa” translates to “place in a special way,” which is often interpreted as linking breath and movement. You’ll often see words like slow, dynamic, or mindful paired with vinyasa or flow to indicate the intensity of a practice.

“Vinyasa flow is a style of yoga where the poses are synchronized with the breath in a continuous rhythmic flow,” says Sherrell Moore-Tucker, RYT 200. “The flow can be meditative in nature, calming the mind and nervous system, even though you’re moving.”

Vinyasa yoga is suitable for those who’ve never tried yoga as well as those who’ve been practicing for years.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who wants more movement and less stillness from their yoga practice.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga derives its name from the Sanskrit words for sun and moon, and it’s designed to balance opposing forces. The balance in hatha yoga might come from strength and flexibility, physical and mental energy, or breath and the body. “Hatha is a blanket term for many different ‘styles’ and schools that use the body as a means for self-inquiry,” says Jennifer Campbell-Overbeeke, E-RYT 500.

It’s often used as a catch-all term for the physical side of yoga, is more traditional in nature, or is billed as yoga for beginners. “Hatha translates to ‘forceful,’ but this relates more to the aspect of concentration and regularity of practice rather than applying unnecessary force to the body,” says Campbell-Overbeeke.

To be considered hatha, classes must include a mix of asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation, so other types of yoga — like Iyengar, ashtanga, or Bikram — are technically considered to be hatha yoga as well.

Who Might Like It: Anyone looking for a balanced practice, or those in search of a gentler type of yoga.

Named for its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, who developed his classical, alignment-based practice in India. This type of yoga became popular in the US in the 1970s. Iyengar yoga is known for the high level of training required of its teachers and for its resourceful use of props. While considered optional in many practices, multiple props are used in Iyengar classes — including chairs, walls, and benches, in addition to more common ones like straps, blocks, and bolsters.

Paul Keoni Chun, an E-RYT 200, likes this more static form of yoga for older adults, since it “emphsizes detailed alignment and longer holds of positions.” Iyengar yoga is usually less intense than other types of yoga, although that can vary based on the instructor or class. But generally, it’s suitable for people of all ages and skill levels.

Who Might Like It: Someone who likes detailed instruction, anyone with physical limitations, or those in search of a more classical form of yoga.

Ivengar Yoga

Kundalini Yoga

Yogi Bhajan, teacher, and spiritual leader, brought this style of yoga to the West in the late 1960s. “Kundalini” in Sanskrit translates to “life force energy” (known as prana or chi in the yoga community), which is thought to be tightly coiled at the base of the spine. These yoga sequences are carefully designed to stimulate or unlock this energy and to reduce stress and negative thinking. “You get to elevate your consciousness and feel great,” says Veronica Parker, an E-RYT 200, and a certified kundalini yoga teacher.

This is accomplished by challenging both mind and body with chanting, singing, meditation, and kriyas (specific series of poses paired with breath work and chanting). You might notice everyone is wearing white, as it’s believed to deflect negativity and increase your aura. Typically, a kundalini class starts with a mantra (a focus for the class), then includes breathing exercises, warmups to get the body moving, increasingly more challenging poses, and a final relaxation and meditation, says Parker.

Who Might Like It: Anyone in search of a physical, yet also spiritual practice, or those who like singing or chanting.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga consists of six series of specific poses taught in order. Each pose and each series is “given” to a student when their teacher decides they have mastered the previous one. This is a very physical, flow-style yoga with spiritual components — you might remember it as the type Madonna did in the late ’90s. Ashtanga teachers give hands-on adjustments, and in Mysore-style studios (named after the city where the practice’s guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, lived and taught), each student has a unique practice.

“The practitioner moves at the pace of her own breath and to her personal edge, or growth point,” says Lara Land, a level two authorized ashtanga teacher. “Each person memorizes the practice and moves at her own pace through the poses.”

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is often taught as “led” classes in the West, where the first or second series is taught from start to finish over the course of 90 minutes to two hours. There is no music played in ashtanga classes.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who likes routine or a more physical yet spiritual practice.

Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is a slower style of yoga in which poses are held for a minute and eventually up to five minutes or more. It is a type of yoga with roots in martial arts as well as yoga, and it’s designed to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility. The practice focuses on the hips, lower back, and thighs and uses props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks to let gravity do the work, helping to relax. While other forms of yoga focus on the major muscle groups, yin yoga targets the body’s connective tissues.

Yin also aids recovery from hard workouts. “Adding a deep stretch and holding class like yin can be extremely beneficial to a strong body,” says Megan Kearney, a Yoga Medicine instructor. Holding poses longer benefits the mind as well as the body, providing a chance to practice being still. “This is a beautiful practice that honors stillness,” says Moore-Tucker. “This style of practice is a great balance for vinyasa flow.”

Who Might Like It: Those who need to stretch out after a tough workout, or anyone interested in a slower-paced practice.

Restorative Yoga

If you walked by a restorative yoga class, you might think everyone was taking a nap on their mats. This form of yoga uses props to support the body. The goal is to completely relax into poses, which are held for at least five minutes but often longer. This means that you might only do a handful of poses in a class, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drift into sleep during them.

Some teachers might even lead you through yoga nidra – a guided meditation that allows you to hover blissfully between sleep and wake. One hour in yoga nidra is said to equal a few hours of shuteye, and while that can be a good self-care tool, it can’t replace a healthy night’s sleep.

Though all different types of yoga can aid stress relief and brain health, restorative yoga places its focus on down-regulating the nervous system. Restorative yoga can benefit those who need to chill out and de-stress, and it can also be used as part of your rest-day self-care. Taking time to relax in a restorative class can have a huge impact on an athlete.

Who Might Like It: Anyone who needs to de-stress, those dealing with pain, and someone who struggles to relax.

Acro Yoga

Acro yoga takes familiar yoga poses — like downward dog or plank — and makes them double the fun (and sometimes double the work) by adding a partner. One partner serves as the “base” on the ground, while the other is the “flyer” who contorts themselves on the soles of the base’s feet. (A spotter should always be involved for safety). “[Acro yoga] allows people to break from the rectangular confines of their yoga mat and find a connection with their fellow practitioners,” says Lyle Mitchell, a YogaSlackers acro yoga teacher in Asheville, NC.

This type of yoga helps you playfully explore your mind-body connection, develops effective communication skills with a partner, and aids in setting appropriate boundaries. “Exploring these skills through acro yoga can translate to strengthening these skills in all our other relationships in life,” he says.

Saunders recommends acro yoga “if you are looking for the physical benefits of yoga in a fun and interactive environment.” If you work as a base, it builds a strong lower body and core. Working as a flyer requires flexibility and strength, not to mention trust.

Who Might Like It: Those who enjoy practicing with a partner, couples looking to build trust and intimacy, or anyone with an adventurous streak who likes to go upside down.

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