The Different Types of Yoga
There are many different styles of yoga being taught and practiced today. Although all of the styles are based on the same physical postures (called Asana’s), each has a particular emphasis or path. Here is a quick guide to the most popular types of yoga that can help you decide which style is right for you.
However, I am strongly advising that you try as many different styles, classes and teachers as possible. It is crucial for your development, that you have a rich and varied experience of Yoga.
Hatha is a very general term that can encompass many of the physical types 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 postures. Highly recommended as a standard experience in the basics of yoga. This is a good place to learn basic poses, relaxation techniques, and become comfortable with yoga.
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 postures 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.
Ashtanga or Power Yoga
Ashtanga, which means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit, is a fast-paced, intense style of yoga. A set series of postures are performed, always in the same order. Ashtanga Yoga is very physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next. In yoga terminology, this movement is called flow. Ashtanga is also the inspiration for what is often called Power Yoga. If a class is described as Power Yoga, it will be based on the flowing style of Ashtanga, but not necessarily keep strictly to the set Ashtanga series of poses.
Based on the teachings of the yogi B.K.S Iyengar, this style of practice is most concerned with bodily alignment. In yoga, the word alignment is used to describe the precise way in which your body should be positioned in each pose in order to obtain the maximum benefits and avoid injury. Iyengar Yoga usually emphasises 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 the most perfect alignment.
Yogi Bhajan brought Kundalini Yoga to the US in 1969. Now the practice is world wide and growing. The emphasis in Kundalini Yoga is on the breath, internal concentration, mantra (words or sounds) in conjunction with physical movement, with the purpose of freeing energy within the 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 life force energy) on the postures is essential. Kundalini uses rapid, repetitive movements rather than poses held for a long time.
Bikram or Hot Yoga
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.
Founded in 1997 by John Friend, Anusara combines a strong emphasis on physical alignment with a positive philosophy derived from Tantra. The philosophy’s premise is belief in the intrinsic goodness of all beings. Anusara classes are usually light-hearted and accessible to students of differing abilities. Poses are taught in a way that opens the heart, both physically and mentally, and props are often used.
This style of yoga emerged from one of New York’s best-known yoga studios. Jivamukti founders David Life and Sharon Gannon take inspiration from Ashtanga yoga and emphasise 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 some chanting.
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 so that healing can begin. Expect an intense workout with an emphasis on abdominal strengthening and deep breathing.
The name Kripalu is associated both with a style of hatha yoga and a yoga and wellness centre in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Both were founded by yoga guru Amrit Desai, who came to the United States from India in 1960. Kripalu is a yoga practice with a compassionate approach and emphasis on meditation, physical healing and spiritual transformation that overflows into daily life. Kripalu also focuses on looking inward and moving at your own pace.
Integral yoga follows the teachings of Sri Swami Sachidananda, who came to the U.S. in the 1960s and eventually founded many Integral Yoga Institutes and the famed Yogaville Ashram in Virginia. Integral is a gentle hatha practice, and classes often also include breathing exercises, chanting, kriyas, and meditation.
Swami Vishnu-devananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda, founded the first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in 1957. There are now close to 80 locations worldwide, including several ashram retreats. Sivananda yoga is based upon five principles:
1. Proper exercise (Asana, focusing on 12 poses in particular)
2. Proper breathing (Pranayama)
3. Proper relaxation (Savasana)
4. Proper diet (Vegetarian)
5. Positive thinking and meditation (Dhyana)