If you’re anything like me, you had no idea what yoga really was when you went to your first class. If you’re even more like me, you had no idea that there were so many different types of yoga for quite some time.
I started my yoga journey with vinyasa style yoga but had no idea what it was called at the time. To me, it was just yoga, and it was what I knew yoga to be. In grad school, I started doing hot yoga. I was talking to a classmate and learned that she, too, did hot yoga, but the studio she went to was called Bikram Yoga. It wasn’t until we started to talk more about our yoga experiences that I learned that Bikram wasn’t just the name of her studio, but it was an entirely different style of yoga than I was used to. The concept of doing the exact same poses in each class was so foreign to me. I had so many questions: Doesn’t that get boring? Is it even challenging? Before all of the Bikram lovers out there come hunt me down, my questions and opinions of this style of yoga have dramatically changed since that day.
A few years have passed since then and I’ve been fortunate enough to learn about and be exposed to many different types of yoga. I haven’t tried them all, but I look forward to checking them out in the near future.
Here is a little breakdown of the styles of yoga that I most commonly see and hear people talking about. There are countless styles out there that are just as amazing and special as the ones on this list. Give them a try and let me know your favorite!
Popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga is a dynamic practice meant to sync breath and movement to produce a clarifying heat within the body (you are going to SWEAT!). In an ashtanga class, the order in which the poses are done is the same each time, adding on when you have mastered the previous pose.
A style of yoga that was developed by Bikram Choudhury and can only be taught by Bikram-certified teachers. It’s a hot yoga style in which the same 26 postures are completed each time. The idea behind it is to move oxygen-filled blood to all parts of the body. Keep in mind, the room is HOT - 95-105 degrees - so drink plenty of water before class and bring water and pack a towel to practice on: you will sweat profusely!
The term hatha essentially refers to practicing asanas, so any style of yoga that involves physical postures is considered Hatha Yoga. Hatha yoga incorporates many types of yoga because the focus is on the individual poses and their proper alignment, and the classes can range anywhere from gentle pace to more vigorous. The reason we practice asana is to help us clear our minds, focus on our breathing, and meditate.
Any type of yoga that’s practiced in a heated room is considered hot yoga. There are many styles of yoga that fall into the hot yoga umbrella, such as the Bikram style that we talked about earlier. Many find it easier to stretch and lengthen in the heated room, but some worry that the heat can lead to over stretching and injury.
The story of Kundalini Yoga starts with a serpent power, often called Kundalini, that is coiled at the base of the spine. The goal is to unleash this serpent and send it to each of the seven chakras (energy centers) in the body. This form of yoga not only focuses on breath and postures, but mantras, chanting, and meditation as well.
This prop-heavy form of yoga is used to take it down a notch (or 12) and relax deeply, encouraging mindfulness and body awareness. A few simple postures are held for several minutes at a time, and bolsters, blocks, and blankets are used to help you fully release into relaxation.
This style of yoga was inspired by Ashtanga yoga principles and movements, but the asanas practiced are always different. This is one of the most popular forms of yoga in the USA, and you will probably never go to two vinyasa classes that are exactly the same. A dynamic sequence of postures is strung together fluidly, where your breath guides you from pose to pose.
Yin Yoga, like Restorative, involves holding a few poses for several minutes at a time, but the purpose of Yin Yoga is to stretch connective tissue in the joints and fascia. This style of yoga gets its name from Chinese philosophy, where forces that are thought to be opposites are actually complementary to one another. Yin Yoga is the complement to other styles of yoga or exercise, which are considered to be ‘yang’ practices.
Guest Writer, Tara Randolph @tarajrandolph