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11 Types Of Yoga: A Breakdown Of The Major Styles

Whether you want a physically demanding yoga class, or a relaxing, meditative one, there are plenty of different yoga styles to suit a variety of skill levels and needs.

Each style is a bit different from the others, plus you'll find variations depending on the teacher. That said, giving a few styles and teachers a try before settling on your favorite will enhance your overall yoga experience and challenge you to break out of your comfort zone.

Curious to learn more about each type? This guide will help you understand the basics before diving into a class.

Benefits of yoga

Yoga is an excellent way to get sweaty and centered, whether you're a total newbie or longtime pro. Plus, there are some seriously awesome health benefits of yoga that you can score from a daily practice.

Studies show that yoga can improve physical health by lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease, and aiding digestion. It may also help practitioners sleep better and manage stress1. Not to mention, recent research indicates the mind-body practice supports mental health, specifically; one study found regular yoga may help ease depressive symptoms.

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The most common types of yoga

1.

Vinyasa yoga

Vinyasa means "to place in a special way" and, in this case, yoga postures. Vinyasa yoga is often considered the most athletic yoga style, and was adapted from ashtanga yoga in the 1980s. Many types of yoga can also be considered "vinyasa flows," such as ashtanga, power yoga, and prana.

How to practice:

In vinyasa classes, movements are coordinated with your breath in order to flow from one pose to another. Vinyasa styles can vary depending on the teacher, and there can be many types of poses in different sequences. I personally teach an alignment-based style of vinyasa and choreograph new flows every time, but I also like to hold some of the poses a bit longer after warming up. You can find more information on specific vinyasa poses and benefits here.

2.

Hatha yoga

The Sanskrit term "hatha" is an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. In the West, hatha yoga simply refers to all the other styles of yoga (ashtanga, Iyengar, etc.) that are grounded in a physical practice. However, there are other branches of yoga such as kriya, raja, and karma yoga that are separate from the physical-based yoga practice. The physical-based yoga is the most popular and has numerous styles.

How to practice:

Hatha yoga classes are best for beginners since they are usually paced slower than other yoga styles. Hatha classes today are a classic approach to breathing and exercises. If you are brand-new to yoga, hatha yoga is a great entry point to the practice.

3.

Iyengar yoga

Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar and focuses on alignment as well as detailed and precise movements. In an Iyengar class, students perform a variety of postures while controlling the breath.

How to practice:

Generally, poses are held for a long time while adjusting the minutiae of the pose. Iyengar relies heavily on props to help students perfect their form and go deeper into poses in a safe manner. Although you won't jump around, you will definitely get a workout and feel incredibly open and relaxed after an Iyengar class. This style is really great for people with injuries who need to work slowly and methodically.

4.

Kundalini yoga

Kundalini yoga practice is equal parts spiritual and physical. This style is all about releasing the kundalini energy in your body said to be trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine.

How to practice:

A kundalini class will really work your core and breath with fast-moving, invigorating postures and breath exercises. These classes are pretty intense and can involve chanting, mantra, and meditation. To learn more about this specific practice, check out our kundalini yoga explainer.

5.

Ashtanga yoga

In Sanskrit, ashtanga is translated as "Eight Limb path." In Mysore, India, people gather to practice this form of yoga together at their own pace—if you see Mysore-led ashtanga, it's expected of you to know the series. Vinyasa yoga stems from ashtanga as the flowing style linking breath to movement. To learn more about this specific practice, check out our beginner's guide to ashtanga yoga.

How to practice:

Ashtanga yoga involves a very physically demanding sequence of postures, so this style of yoga is definitely not for the beginner. It takes an experienced yogi to really love it. Ashtanga starts with five sun salutation A's and five sun salutation B's and then moves into a series of standing and floor postures.

6.

Bikram yoga

Bikram yoga is named after Bikram Choudhury and features a sequence of set poses in a sauna-like room—typically set to 105 degrees and 40% humidity. Choudhury faced sexual assault and harassment lawsuits in the U.S. and fled to Mexico in 2017. Many studios that were formerly Bikram now practice hot yoga, in an effort to disassociate with the founder. 

How to practice:

The sequence never changes and includes a series of 26 basic postures, with each one performed twice. Many of these poses are focused on proper alignment. If you're interested in yoga with the heat turned up, look for studios that offer hot yoga classes. 

7.

Yin yoga

Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with seated postures that are held for longer periods of time. Yin can also be a meditative yoga practice that helps you find inner peace.

How to practice:

Yin is a great class for beginners, as postures can be held anywhere from 45 seconds to 2 minutes. The classes are relaxed, as you're supposed to let gravity do most of the work. Check out our crash course on everything you need to know about yin yoga, found here.

8.

Restorative yoga

Restorative yoga focuses on winding down after a long day and relaxing your mind. At its core, this style focuses on body relaxation. Restorative yoga also helps to cleanse and free your mind.

How to practice:

You'll spend more time in fewer postures throughout a restorative yoga class. Many of the poses are modified to be easier and more relaxing. Like Iyengar, many props are used and placed just right, such as blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows. All of the props are there to help you sink deeper into relaxation.

9.

Prenatal yoga

Prenatal yoga is carefully adapted for moms-to-be, and is tailored to women in all trimesters. Many have said that prenatal is one of the best types of exercise for expectant moms because of the pelvic floor work, focus on breathing, and bonding with the growing baby. Prenatal yoga also helps mothers prepare for labor and delivery.

How to practice:

During this practice, you'll use props in order to modify your poses and ensure stability—in this class, it's way more about stability than flexibility.

10.

Anusara yoga

Anusara is a modern-day version of hatha yoga, most similar to vinyasa in that it focuses on alignment, but with more emphasis on the mind-body-heart connection. It was founded by John Friend who created a unique system called the Universal Principals of Alignment. He resigned in 2012 after accusations of sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement. Friend has since partnered with Desi and Micah Springer to teach the Bowspring method.

How to practice:

Anusara focuses on spirals and how each body part should be moving, and it's also known for its emphasis on heart opening. Expect to stop in class and gather around a student as the instructor breaks down a pose.

11.

Jivamukti yoga

Jivamukti was founded in 1984 by Sharon Ganon and David Life. Jivamukti is mainly vinyasa-flow-style classes infused with Hindu spiritual teachings. At its core, this style emphasizes connection to Earth as a living being, so most Jivamukti devotees follow a vegetarian philosophy.

How to practice:

A series of chants usually open the beginning of class, followed up by a series of poses that align with the five tenets of Jivamukti yoga and philosophy.

FAQs:

What are the benefits of yoga?

There are so many benefits to yoga, with some nuance depending on the style. Generally speaking, though, yoga encourages strength, mobility, flexibility, balance, focus and concentration, and overall wellbeing. Research shows the benefits of yoga range from mental to physical, with regular practitioners experiencing everything from reduced stress levels to lower blood pressure.

Naturally, the more vigorous the class, the more physical gains you'll see. But even the more relaxing, restorative classes will leave you feeling calm, loose, and refreshed.

Which style of yoga is the hardest?

Each style of yoga will have aspects that some students find challenging, while others may not. A yin class, for example, may be less physically demanding, but does require you to be still and quiet for an extended period of time, which can be a challenge in itself. Additionally, you determine how hard you push yourself in a class, so even a more physically demanding class can be "easier," if you're taking it easier.

How is yoga different from meditation?

Yoga "asanas" (AKA poses) and meditation are both parts of the larger umbrella of the yogic lifestyle, which goes far beyond solely a physical practice. In fact, asanas were designed to encourage meditation, by promoting flexibility to sit for long periods of time and the mental fortitude to handle that.

Yoga itself is also quite meditative, and can be thought of as a moving or embodied meditation. Some yoga classes will also include a meditation at the beginning or end.

Are there any risks to yoga?

Any form of physical exercise comes with risk, particularly if you're injured or recovering from an injury. Nevertheless, yoga is much easier on the body than high impact exercises, and poses can be modified to suit different skill levels. When in doubt, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns, and always let your yoga teacher know if you're dealing with any injuries.

The takeaway

Yoga comes with a host of benefits, regardless of which style you try. And with such a rich variety of options, there truly is a yoga class out there for everyone. From yin when you need to decompress, to vinyasa when you want a good workout, each style has its benefits, which is why this longstanding tradition is still around today.