For someone starting out on yoga, deciding on which style of yoga to pick can be quite daunting. If you think that you can just walk into a bookstore and pick a book off a shelf and start, you may be in for a big surprise. The vast choices of yoga that are out there will leave you stumped. However, if you’re already aware of the different styles of yoga and have decided on one, then it should be easy. All you’ll need to do is to decide on the right class and choose a yoga mat and you’re good to go.
While traditional yoga focuses on the inner energy flow and self-discovery, some modern forms are more vigorous. However, all forms of modern yoga have evolved from four main types – Karma, Bhakti, Jnana and Raja.
So how many types of yoga are there?
1. Karma Yoga
Karma yoga places great importance on dedication to work. It reiterates the importance of carrying out one’s duty with responsibility and care. What sets this style of yoga apart from the rest is that its movement is concentrated on the outside world, rather than just the yoga mat. By serving your fellow beings without expecting any returns you’ll be doing yourself the greatest service.
Karma yoga guides you towards a more positive way of living. Many yoga teacher training programs require students to take part in unconditional service. They practice Karma Yoga by providing various voluntary services such as cooking or cleaning. A person with no expectations learns to feel more content. This in turn reduces stress, anxiety and fear.
2. Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti is a Sanskrit word that originates from the root bhaj which means to ‘to adore or worship God.’ A yogi of this style has a more personal relationship with God and experiences love in its purest form. Similar to other types of yoga, individuals are set on a path of self-discovery which in turn leads to the Divine. Unlike other types of yoga however, this style is not so much about the physical but the spiritual. It is believed to be the means and the end. At a lower level one is able cultivate and deepen devotion leading up to the ultimate goal – union with the Divine. When a person chooses this form of yoga, negative emotions are replaced by more positive ones. Devotional singing, prayers, dancing and chanting are all part of Bhakti Yoga.
3. Jnana Yoga
In Sanskrit, Jnana is knowledge or wisdom. Jnana yoga is therefore the path of attaining knowledge in its true sense. Through meditation, self-enquiry and contemplation, an individual reaches a higher level of understanding. The main goal of Jnana yoga is to free the mind from self-limiting thoughts and perceptions. In this process an individual can achieve the union of the inner self with the oneness of life. This type of yoga is done at a more advanced level when a yogi is able to grasp its true meaning. It utilizes a one-pointed meditation with its focus on a single question of self-affirmation.
Raja Yoga is commonly referred to as the ‘royal path.’ It balances the three types of yoga mentioned above on an individual’s path towards personal enlightenment. On this path it not only balances these three types of yoga but also integrates the eight limbs (stages) of yoga. The eight steps include :
- Yama – Self Control
- Niyama – Discipline
- Asana – Physical Exercise
- Pranayama – Breathing exercises
- Pratayahara – Withdrawal of the senses from external objects
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation
- Samadhi – Complete Realization
Each of these stages consists of various principles. If one follows these eight stages consistently, an individual will attain inner peace, self-control and clarity.
5. Hatha Yoga
The most popular type of yoga in the West is Hatha Yoga. The reason for its soaring popularity is that it can be performed by all levels of learners. Incorporating poses and breathing exercises, Hatha is a gentler, more traditional form of yoga. In fact, it is the umbrella under which all the other hatha styles such as Iyengar and Ashtanga fall. Poses that yogis perform are focused more on the spine such as the Tree Pose and Mountain Pose.
Hatha loosely translates as the energy from the sun and moon. This type of yoga aims to balance the more active energy ‘ha’ (su) with the more calming force ‘tha’ (moon). Hatha Yoga relieves stress and develops inner strength. Ligaments and tendons of your feet also become stronger because of the stretches.
6. Iyengar Yoga
Named after renowned yogi B.K.S Iyengar, this form specializes on postural alignment, proper technique and precision. It has its roots in the Hatha style and is quite easy for beginners. Poses are generally held for specific periods and practiced in a specific order. Iyengar Yoga is one of the more disciplined forms of yoga. It prohibits music and partner work as these are perceived as distractions. Surya Namaskaras and pranayamas are generally introduced only after students become proficient in their postural alignment.
Iyengar himself overcame various physical ailments when he started practicing yoga. While this form of yoga improves concentration and focus, it also cures various mental ailments. Apart from these benefits, Iyengar Yoga also removes toxins from the body resulting in a healthier body.
7. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga, literally means ‘eight-limbed yoga.’ Designed by K. Pattabhi Jois, this dynamic form of hatha yoga takes you through various sequential stages. Ashtanga involves six series but only two of these series are taught in class settings. The remaining four series which are said to be quite physically demanding are only practiced by expert level learners. Although movements are slow, each change of pose happens rapidly and occurs through a breathing rhythm.
Ashtanga detoxifies the body and helps with weight loss. It also increases blood flow, provides relaxation and tones the lower abdominal muscles. Apart from the physical benefits it also puts you in touch with your feelings and emotions.
8. Power Yoga
For those wondering does yoga help you lose weight, Power Yoga is your answer. This style of yoga is popular with people who want a more rigorous form of yoga. It combines the athletic Ashtanga style with some cardiovascular exercise, giving you an aerobic workout. Unlike Ashtanga, however, it does not follow a standard sequence of poses. The style varies from one teacher to the next. Conceived by Bryan Kest and Beryl Bender Birch, Power Yoga grew in popularity in the United States in the 1990s.
Since this style has a big focus on cardio exercises, it burns a considerable amount of calories. Besides helping you burn calories it also helps cure chronic ailments like arthritis and diabetes. It also increases stamina and tones your muscles.
9. Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa literally translates as ‘arranging something specially.’ In this style of yoga your body goes through various arrangements depending on the pose. Switching from one pose to another is slow and deliberate. Vinyasa brings you into a greater state of consciousness as you gently flow from one pose to the next. Sometimes it can be a bit challenging to switch between poses.
Some instructors also add meditation to the sequence to help you connect to your inner self. This helps you to stay in the now, keeping random thoughts far away. Predictably, Vinyasa helps reduce stress, improves sleep and treats addictions. The physical benefits of this form are also immense as it improves the core strength of your body.
Developed by the great yogi Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, Viniyoga is an adaptive form of hatha yoga. Vini literally translates as adapting or differentiation. Students learn to adapt traditional yoga practices for their own individual needs. Although Viniyoga is also performed in groups, the sessions are tailored towards an individual’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. It is one of the ideal yoga practices for private lessons and is considered a more therapeutic form of yoga.
Viniyoga uses the PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) principle. Instead of focusing on stretches like most yoga styles, PNF focuses on warming up and contracting muscles before stretches. This helps to alleviate any injury. Students suffering from physical ailments such as pain or injury recover more quickly.
11. Bikram Yoga
Conceptualized by Yogi Bikram Choudhury in the late nineties, Bikram Yoga is one of the most popular types of yoga in the West. This form of yoga was the pioneer of ‘hot yoga.’ It’s not the style quotient that’s hot but the venue. Practice happens in a sauna like environment where the temperature of the room is set between 42 degrees to 45 degrees Celsius. The humidity levels are also at 40%.
If it’s true Bikram Yoga, you’ll go through a sequence of 26 postures that are held for 10 to 60 seconds. These poses happen twice in a class session which lasts for about 90 minutes. While the poses themselves will give you a good workout, the magic is with the temperature. Muscles expand and contract more than normal with the raised temperatures. This has many benefits such as muscle strengthening and toning, enhanced concentration and weight loss.
12. Hot Yoga
Hot Yoga and Bikram Yoga may appear to be synonymous but they are not the same thing. The only similarity is that both are practiced in a heated room. During a session of Hot Yoga the heat in the room is cranked up to above the normal room temperature. How hot generally depends on the yoga instructor but it’s usually between 27 degrees to 38 degrees C. Another big mark of difference is that Hot Yoga often includes music and a variety of poses. Bikram Yoga, however, has a fixed sequence of 26 poses and is much quieter.
Working out in a heated environment may be a bit challenging but it has its benefits. For one, the rigorous exercises and sweating will definitely help in burning calories. It improves flexibility, reduces stress and provides a cardiovascular boost. Hot Yoga, however, is not for everyone so before you decide to try this style out, it’s best to seek expert advice.
13. Prenatal Yoga
As the name suggests this style of yoga is for pregnant women. This style is slow and gentle and can be performed by expectant mothers at any stage of their pregnancy. It focuses on breathing, and helps eliminate stress. The simple poses help in keeping the muscles strong so that labor becomes easier. Prenatal Yoga also improves sleep patterns and eases backaches, headaches and nausea. Blood circulation becomes better and the muscles around the uterus and ovaries feel more relaxed.
14. Anusara Yoga
This modern take on Hatha yoga focuses on aligning the heart, body and mind in the right direction. It highlights the spiritual elements of yoga to combine meditation with grace and breath control. Whilst there are over 260 poses associated with Anusara Yoga, most studios only take you through the most important ones.
The benefits of Anusara are many, beginning with your energy. It helps in attracting positive energy making you feel calmer and more connected to your spiritual side. The body feels more flexible and the mind also feels stronger.
15. Jivamukti Yoga
Jivamukti Yoga is for those people who love to workout with music. It combines various poses with pleasant music. This type of yoga has two main parts :
‘Sthira’ which means consistency, steadiness, stability and reliability
‘Sukham’ meaning happiness.
Besides these two main principles, four other elements are included in this form. Meditation, chanting, pranayama, music, asana and philosophy make up the six main elements of this style of yoga. Jivamukti is not just about the poses on the mat but focuses on an overall lifestyle development. It helps you sort through your personal emotions to care for yourself better. When you’re emotionally strong, it also helps you see things in a different light.
16. Sivananda Yoga
Another form of hatha yoga, Sivananda Yoga was designed in the 1960s by Swami Sivananda. Like hatha yoga, Sivananda also finds a balance between meditation and asanas. It follows six fundamental principles. Exercise (asanas), breathing (pranayama), relaxation, vegetarianism, positive thinking and meditation. A Sivananda session typically takes about 90 minutes.
The benefits of this type of yoga are similar to the Iyengar style. It relieves stress, strengthens the abdominal muscles, makes the spine more flexible and improves sleep.
17. Yin Yoga
Working in tandem with the other physical forms of yoga, Yin yoga is a quiet, meditative practice. Since Yin is a more meditative type of yoga, it requires time and patience. Its focus is on lengthening connective tissues as you relax your muscles. Most of the poses require you to sit or lie down. Each pose takes about five minutes. It’s a good way to begin a meditation regime.
Although you may feel that this style has no physical benefits, it increases circulation in the joints of the body. By releasing fascia, joint mobility improves. When you hold a pose for a longer period of time there is more pressure on the connective tissues. It makes the mind calmer and thus helps in dealing with negative emotions.
18. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini Yoga is sometimes described as the most ‘potent’ type of yoga. Not because it does not have numerous benefits but if not taught properly can cause more harm than good. Kundalini literally means ‘coiled snake,’ the internal energy that remains nascent until it is tapped. This form of yoga is said to awaken you to the power of this internal energy. Like most forms of yoga, Kundalini is not just about the physical poses and breathing but has a deeper level. Kundalini is used as a means to achieve a life that is full of joy and love. As you become more aware of the geometry of your body, you will also be more in tune with the energy within.
19. Integral Yoga
Integral Yoga is a combination of six classical yoga methods which also includes the hatha style. Conceived by Sri Swami Stchidananda in the 1960s, this style of yoga aims to integrate the body, mind and spirit. It is considered to be one of the most holistic types of yoga. Chanting, meditation, breathing and mantras are all part of this relaxed style. Poses flow from the dynamic to something gentler. Predictably, the benefits of this style go much deeper than the physical effects. It helps people find inner joy and peace.
20. Kripalu Yoga
Kripalu yoga is another type of yoga that leans towards spirituality with the combination of asanas and breathing exercises. In-depth meditation is one of the key components of this style. It emphasizes that yoga is a way of life. Kripalu is also a gentle style of yoga that is suitable for all levels of learners. Popularized by Amrit Desai in the 1960s, it has a highly adaptable and individualized approach. When compared to other styles of yoga, Kripalu generally requires practitioners to hold poses for a much longer duration.
Kripalu teaches you to accept yourself as you are. In doing this, it helps you connect with your emotions which in turn helps you to deal with stress better. Besides your mental wellbeing, Kripalu also strengthens you physically.
21. Restorative Yoga
The name itself tells you what this yoga is like. Based on the Iyengar style, Restorative Yoga is one of the most relaxed forms of yoga. A maximum of six different poses are used during the session. Yogis can use a variety of props such as pillow and blocks to help with these poses. The poses are gentle and easy to do. That’s one of the reasons why it’s recommended for beginners and those with ailments.
Breathing exercises and meditation are also a part of this style. The benefits of this style of yoga are immense. It not only helps build a stronger mind but will also improve flexibility and muscle tone. Despite this style of yoga being so relaxing, it also helps in weight loss.
22. Ananda Yoga
Ananda means divine joy and the goal of this form of yoga is just that. Based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, poses are designed to promote and harmonize the flow of energy in the body. This style is also more relaxed and acts from a center of poise and calmness. Each asana that you go through is also backed up by a silent affirmation. Ananda Yoga is not so much about the physical alignment of the body but has more to do with alignment of energy. Ananda Yoga improves mood, reduces anxiety and depression and gives you a more positive outlook towards life.
23. ISHTA Yoga
Loosely translated, ISHTA is an acronym for Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda. However, ISHTA has a twofold definition. In Sanskrit it means ‘that which resonates with the individual spirit.’ This style blends the ancient and contemporary teachings to meet individual needs. The yogi goes through his own personal journey as he follows his/her own path. Developed in South Africa by a father-son duo, this adaptable form can be gentle or intense according to the individual. Meditation, mantras and breathing exercises are combined with physical poses.
Depending on the exercises and style you choose, ISHTA can help in weight loss, flexibility, stamina and toned muscles. It also lifts the spirits and guides yogis towards a more peaceful feeling.
24. Strala Yoga
Unlike most styles of yoga, Strala does not use any Sanskrit names for poses. Instead, it combines the movement and wisdom of tai chi with the forms of yoga. It is designed to activate the body’s Relaxation Response (RR). RR is a chemical burst that controls the health and well-being of an individual. Common types of yoga on the other hand, stimulates cortisol production. Movement begins with the breath. As you inhale spaces are created while exhalation helps you relax.
Strala was created by Tara Stiles and her husband Michael Taylor. Strala is Swedish for ‘radiating light.’ It aims to reduce overall stress and promotes wellbeing.
25. Svaroopa Yoga
Svaroopa in Sanskrit means your own ‘inherent divinity.’ Through various physical poses it aims to give you a deeper experience of who you are. This style of yoga based on ‘core release’ of the spine, suits all levels of learners. Its main focus is on releasing the muscle tensions around the spine. Like Restorative Yoga, Svaroopa also uses props like blankets, pillows and blocks to help your body reach its maximum potential. There are over 100 poses that are gentle and relaxing. These may include lunges and spinal twists. Poses are customized to suit an individual’s needs. This type of yoga provides instant relief from aches and pains. It also helps in making you emotionally strong.
26. White Lotus Yoga
The White Lotus Foundation has the distinction of being one of the first yoga teaching centers in the United States. This style has its roots in Ashtanga Yoga. After his stint at the Sivananda Ashram in India, the style was developed by Ganga White. The style is based on a classical form of yoga from the Sivananda Tradition. It combines physical poses with various breathing techniques and relaxation. The structure is easy to follow and enables students to continue their practice independently at home. Classes usually begin with meditation. It aims to bring about a closer mind-body connection.
Combining acrobatics and yoga, Acroyoga is a more vigorous and advanced form of yoga. The style is not suited to everyone as one has to be a little more agile for this kind of yoga. It is usually done in a group or with two partners as each one has a role. One person known as the ‘Flyer’ is usually lifted in the air. The Flyer goes through a series of dynamic positions in this elevated position, helped by the Base. The individual on the ground is the Base who provides support. The last part of this combination is the Spotter, who has an objective view of the Base and the Flyer. This individual’s main focus is on making sure that the Flyer lands safely.
The style includes static poses and acrobatic flying along with massage elements. One has to be present in the moment so that partners are in tune with one each other. It provides a full body workout and improves stamina, muscle strength and overall fitness.
28. Kriya Yoga
Also known as the ‘yoga of action,’ Kriya Yoga is another ancient type of yoga revived by Mahavatar Babaji in 1861. This style of yoga consists of various levels of breathing, chanting and poses. These techniques are said to connect the self to the divine and enhance spiritual development. Kriya Yoga is said to help in the purification of the blood. This frees up the life force to withdraw into the spine. The yogis of the past discovered that allowing this force to continuously move up and down the spine can accelerate spiritual evolution and awareness. Kriya Yoga slows down the functions of the body to bring about an inner stillness of body and mind.
29. Tri Yoga
Deriving its style from the name, Triyoga targets three specific components, asana, pranayama and mudra. This traditional and ancient form of yoga fuses Karma, Bhakti and Jnana yoga. There are seven levels in Tri Yoga, beginning with the basics. These basics focus on learning 108 postures in a flowing sequence. Students can choose to move to the next level or continue what they’re doing. . Yogis go through a unique sequence of asanas and breathing.
Benefits of Tri Yoga include mental clarity, increased strength and flexibility. It also has a therapeutic effect on the nervous system.
30. Tantra Yoga
Contrary to popular belief, Tantra Yoga is not just about sex. While Tantra Yoga may have a positive impact on your sex life, its main focus is on the subtle energies within the body. It provides a bridge between your body and the divinity. Tantra weaves together various yoga practices and spiritual styles and teachings. It requires the individual to harness and embody the five forces of the female deity, Shakti. What sets this style apart from the other styles of yoga is that its focus is on reprogramming the subconscious patterns and conditioning of our belief systems. This can be achieved through intense self-realization and meditational practice. Tantra weaves the dynamics of other practices such as gemology, Ayurveda and astrology into the framework.
All poses are practiced with a partner. By working with your partner through this yoga, you achieve a deeper connection. Besides the spiritual bond that it creates with your partner, it also helps with physical ailments such as multiple sclerosis and other problems.
Now that you’re aware of the different styles of yoga that exist, you’re probably a little more confused. With so many styles out there, which one should you choose, and should you stick to one style of yoga? A beginner would benefit from choosing a more relaxed style until you reach a level of comfort. Once you understand yoga better, you’ll definitely know which style would suit your needs.