types & styles of yoga explained
There’s a whole world of different types of yoga out there, and it can be confusing to know where to start. What are the differences between the types? Which class should you choose? How do you know that type of yoga is right for you? Here’s our introductory guide to some of the major types of yoga, what to expect from their classes and who they might be good for.
Styles of yoga coverered:
Hatha, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Iyengar, Hot, Anasura, Sivananda, Jivamukti, Kundalini, Yin
Traditionally the name Hatha Yoga referred to all the types of yoga which are physical. That is, the yoga where you perform postures or asanas with your body, as opposed to practising meditation or chanting mantras for example. Nowadays though, Hatha Yoga is often used to refer to a gentler, and sometimes slower style of yoga. You will usually have more time in each posture to feel the alignment and strengthen and stretch the muscles, rather than flowing dynamically between different postures. This is ideal for beginners, or those who prefer to have time to really experience the effect of each posture on the body.
This is a dynamic and flowing form of yoga which was created by Pattabhi Jois. It is often referred to simply as “Ashtanga”. In Ashtanga Yoga, there are six series of asanas. Every student begins by learning and practising the Primary Series. Each class follows the same set sequence, sometimes in what is called “Mysore style”, where students independently work through the postures at their own pace. The teacher comes around to give adjustments and assists, rather than overtly leading the class. Ashtanga is great for people which want a vigorous workout from their yoga, and who enjoy the discipline of practising the same series of postures consistently.
Iyengar yoga was created by B.K.S Iyengar, a highly influential yoga teacher who believed in the power of yoga to heal the body and mind. Iyengar yoga classes are extremely precise and focused on alignment. Generally each class will consist of a relatively small number of postures, and each posture will be taught thoroughly and carefully. Iyengar classes tend to encourage the use of props such as yoga blocks, belts and straps to help you to find the correct alignment. If you are looking for a style of yoga which is mindful, precise and teaches you in detail how to practise postures safely, Iyengar yoga may well be the class for you.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hot Yoga is yoga which is practised in a heated room. It includes well known styles such as Bikram Yoga. The theory is that doing yoga in a hot room allows the muscles of the body to relax and release, so that you can move more deeply into stretches. The heat also elevates the heart rate, boosting the circulation and intensifying your cardiovascular workout. Some say the heat of Hot Yoga classes helps the body to detoxify. Hot Yoga classes are often dynamic and vigorous. Give them a try if you like your yoga intense and sweaty!
Anasura Yoga is a type of Hatha Yoga which was created by an American yoga teacher, John Friend in 1997. The word “Anasura” means “flowing with grace” and Anasura Yoga classes have been described as a celebration of the Divine in every being. They will usually include some vinyasa-style sequences, where each pose is connected to the next by flowing movements with the breath. There may also be some longer holds of key postures. The teacher will guide you to move through postures expressively, finding healthy alignment. Classes will often have a spiritually motivated intention or theme. Anasura classes may be good for you if you want to explore yoga on the physical, mental and spiritual levels.
Sivananda Yoga is based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda, a Hindu spiritual teacher. It is a type of Hatha Yoga which prioritises the physical health and wellbeing of the student. Classes will generally include sun salutations and a set of 12 key postures, practised with full yogic breathing. They are also likely to integrate plenty of relaxation time. Sivananda Yoga teaching emphasises the importance of exercise, proper breathing, relaxation, a healthy diet and meditation for optimum health.
Jivamukti is a style of yoga which was created in the 1980s in New York by yoga teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life, both of whom trained in Sivananda Yoga. Jivamukti Yoga is a type of Hatha Yoga which incorporates strong spiritual and devotional qualities. Most classes will include the five tenets of Jivamukti yoga, which are:
- Scripture - spiritual teaching or study
- Devotion - humility and honour of a higher being
- Kindness - non-violence towards the self and all beings
- Music - an eclectic soundtrack, chanting, or inner listening
- Meditation - stillness to witness your mind and thoughts
Classes are usually physically vigorous and thorough, while integrating all the elements above.
A blend of physical and spiritual practices, Kundalini Yoga classes are usually energising and uplifting. They work on the principle that to increase vitality and consciousness, you need to awaken the kundalini energy that lies dormant at the base of your spine and draw it up through the body. Classes are likely to include meditation, pranayama or breathing practice, physical asanas and chanting. Many students report that Kundalini Yoga is a transformative practice for their mind, awareness and physical health.
Yin Yoga is based on the Chinese philosophy that everything in the universe contains a balance of complementary and opposite forces of yin and yang. Most forms of Hatha Yoga are yang in nature, meaning they are energetic, dynamic and muscular. Yin Yoga however is much slower, deeper and more passive. In Yin Yoga postures are held for longer periods of time, with little or no muscular effort. In this way Yin Yoga stimulates the connective tissue and fascia, working deeply into the pelvis, hips and lower body. It is a very meditative and mindful practice, which can provide the ideal balance for a hectic or “yang” lifestyle.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. In reality there are as many different styles of yoga as there are yoga teachers. Take your time finding something that works for you, and enjoy exploring all the wonderful yoga experiences that are on offer.
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