Which Type of Yoga is Right for You?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
9/19/2013 6:00 AM   :  37 comments   :  57,235 Views

See More: fitness, yoga,
These days, yoga classes are more popular than ever. The practice is popping up in gyms, schools, and even some stores, not to mention actual yoga studios! With so many varieties offered, how do you know which practice is right for you? Even for a veteran yogini such as myself, it can be difficult to keep them all straight, and my own students and friends often ask me to compare the different styles.
 
There's no time like the present to begin a yoga practice, which I firmly believe can benefit every single person regardless of age, fitness level, or physical ability. That which we know as yoga is but one limb of the practice--asana. The benefits are bountiful and deep and do not require you to be physically fit or flexible.

As part of National Yoga Month, studios across the country are offering a free week of yoga this September, and most allow you to take your first class for free any time of year. You can also find donation-based or community classes at most studios, and if you live near a Lululemon, those stores offer free yoga classes, too. (Coach Nicole and Melinda are regulars at the Cincinnati stores!)
 
In honor of National Yoga Month, I compiled a list of 12 of the most common varieties of yoga. I offer a short description of each branch, along with guidance on who might like such classes--and who might not. If you hate to sweat, for example, Bikram and other hot classes aren't for you. And if you want to move and get strong fast, you might not feel satisfied in a Yin class.

And, since many of the branches overlap, I include a list of other forms of yoga you might like.
 
 

Anusara  

What to expect:
An emphasis on proper alignment and catering the pose to the student. Props are used often, and partner work is common. Students are encouraged to get in touch with their emotions.
Expect plenty of heart-opening poses and more talking than in other classes. Music is common in Anusara classes.            
Good for:
Those looking to use yoga as therapy or who want an emotional yoga experience.
Those who want to focus on alignment.
Those looking for a positive, lighthearted environment.
Avoid if:
You don't want to talk about your feelings.
You don't want to touch your fellow students.
You might also like:
Iyengar for the alignment.
Jivamukti for the spirituality.

Ashtanga

What to expect:
Six series of set postures traditionally taught one pose at a time, in the style of Sri K Pattabhi Jois. In the US, most classes focus on the Primary Series, which is adaptable for beginners but is challenging for those who aren't exercising already. Students often work at their own pace (called Mysore-style) with the teacher assisting and teaching new poses as previous ones are mastered. Focus is on breath, bandhas (energy locks), and drishti (fixed gaze points), and poses are linked--no pausing in between. The series can be customized to suit any body type at any level. Expect led classes to move at a rigorous pace with "vinyasas" (plank-chaturanga-up dog-down dog transitions) between poses and plenty of hands-on attention from the teacher.
No music. Each pose is held for five breaths, and led Primary Series classes last 75-90 minutes, though beginners classes are often shorter. Props are not traditionally used, but many teachers will allow them. (This is the style I practice and the one I recommend for anyone interested in yoga.) "Ashta" means eight in Sanskrit, and "Ashtanga" yoga refers to the eight limbs of yoga.          
Good for:
Anyone interested in yoga.
Anyone who wants to learn a set series they can do at home.
Avoid if:
You want a slow, gentle yoga class.
You have a current injury and are a beginner. (Advanced or intermediate yogis will feel comfortable adjusting as needed.)  
You have a shoulder injury (lots of low pushups).
 
You might also like:
Iyengar yoga for the attention to detail.
Power yoga for the strength building.
Jivamukti yoga for the spiritual practice.

Bikram    

What to expect:
Rigid 90-minute classes consisting of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises each held for a minute and repeated twice. Named after the founder, Bikram Choudhury, the practice is performed in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity. No music. (As a certified yoga teacher, I do not recommend heated classes.)
If you choose to practice hot yoga, please follow these 10 Tips to Stay Safe and Comfortable in Hot Yoga Classes
Good for:
Competitive types (Bikram yoga embraces the "yoga as a sport" movement).       
Avoid if:
You are pregnant, have circulation issues, hate to sweat, like classes with music, or have high blood pressure.  
You might also like:
Hot vinyasa yoga for the heat.
Ashtanga yoga or Iyengar yoga for the consistency.
Moksha yoga for the heat.
 

Hatha       

What to expect:
Hatha yoga refers to any form of yoga that's gentle and slow-paced, usually well-suited for beginners.    
Good for: Anyone with mobility issues.
Beginners.
Seniors
Pregnant women (with modifications)           
Avoid if: Anyone looking for a rigorous practice.     
You might also like:
Classes called Kripalu, slow flow, restorative, gentle, or beginners yoga.

Iyengar    

What to expect:
Both Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, and B.K.S. Iyengar were trained by Krishnamacharya, known as the father of modern yoga. Iyengar yoga focuses on alignment, and poses are taught with an attention to detail. Props such as chairs, blocks, straps, and blankets are used for almost all poses, regardless of a student's level. Poses are often held longer than in other classes, and you might do the same pose various ways in the same class. Classes move at a slow progression. Iyengar classes can feel quite serious, but you will learn a great deal.
Good for:
Anyone interested in learning more about yoga, especially anatomy and alignment.
Great for beginners, those recovering from injuries, and anyone with mobility issues. Appropriate for the young and old.     
Avoid if:
You prefer a fast-paced class or one with music.
You prefer your classes to be less serious.
You prefer a more meditative environment. 
You might also like:
Anusara for the alignment.
Viniyoga for the attention to your body.
Ashtanga yoga for the consistency.
 

Jivamukti            

What to expect:
Jivamukti yoga was founded by Sharon Gannon and David Life, two former Ashtanga teachers. The jivamukti practice retains the same intensity that Ashtanga does, with an emphasis on veganism and kindness toward all beings. Jivamukti means liberation while living, and the practice is spiritual and diverse. Expect to hear chants, music, and sometimes references to animal rights.  
Good for:
Vegans and vegetarians.
Those looking for a spiritual connection to their practice.
Those looking for a rigorous practice.           
Avoid if:
Meat eaters might not feel comfortable with this branch of yoga. All jivamukti teachers are vegan, and they are very vocal about their beliefs.        
You want a slow-paced practice.
You might also like:
Ashtanga, which is the branch that the Jivamukti founders first studied.
Power yoga, which has the same physical demands without the spiritual aspect.
 

Kripalu   

What to expect:
A gentle style that emphasizes moving at a pace that suits you, Kripalu is form of hatha yoga. The practice focuses on physical healing, meditation, and spiritual transformation both on the mat and off.        
Good for:
Anyone with mobility issues
Great for beginners
Suitable for those looking for an individualized practice.      
Avoid if:
Those looking for a more rigorous practice.
You might also like:
Viniyoga for a practice catered to your body.
Any type of hatha yoga.

Kundalini        

What to expect:
Kundalini yoga focuses on linking breath and movement, with the intent of releasing energy from the lower body and sending it upward. The focus is on awareness and an increased consciousness to bring you closer to enlightenment. In yoga, "kundalini" refers to a coil of dormant energy that rests at the base of the spine. The aim of kundalini yoga is to awaken, harness and release this energy. This branch of yoga is very meditative and spiritual, and they move much more slowly than other classes with a focus on meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises).
Good for:
Anyone looking for a "deeper" spiritual connection to their yoga practice.
Avoid if:
Anyone who feels that this practice would conflict with their spiritual beliefs.
Anyone looking for a purely physical experience.    
You might also like:
Jivamukti for a more physical yet spiritual practice.
Hatha or Kripalu yoga for a slower-paced practice with less focus on energy.
 
 

Power      

What to expect:
This form of yoga is very active and athletic, and it was originally a westernized form of Ashtanga. It has since evolved to include different poses, though many of the Ashtanga poses remain. Power yoga includes additional strength moves and core work.
Expect lots of "vinyasas" between poses, with plenty of handstands and other strength-building poses.    
Good for:
Those who want a rigorous practice.
Those looking for a challenge.
Avoid if:
Those who prefer a gentle yoga practice.
Beginners.
Those with limited mobility.    
You have a shoulder injury (lots of low pushups).
You might also like:
Ashtanga, which is the traditional practice that inspired Power yoga.
Rocket, an offshoot of Ashtanga that adds hard poses early on.
Vinyasa classes that flow at a steady pace.

Viniyoga  

What to expect:
Founded by Krishnamacharya's son, T.K.V. Desikachar, viniyoga is highly individualized with an emphasis on adapting every pose and every practice to suit a person's needs and abilities. The practice is often taught one on one and is sometimes referred to as "yoga therapy." It can be difficult to find viniyoga teachers, but I highly recommend checking out American Viniyoga teacher Gary Kraftsow's videos. My mother has degenerative disc disease and loves his DVDs, which I bought her after taking a workshop with him at the Yoga Journal Conference in NYC.  
Good for:
Anyone with back pain.
Those with mobility issues.
Those recovering from an injury.                  
Avoid if:
You are looking for a group setting.
You want a traditional class.
You want to move quickly and sweat.
You might also like:
Iyengar yoga for the attention to alignment.
Kripalu for the emphasis on individual practice.
Ashtanga yoga for the attention to detail.

Vinyasa   

What to expect:
Vinyasa yoga is the general term used for faster-paced "flow" classes. These classes can cross various schools of yoga, and they will move faster than a hatha class.
Good for:
Anyone looking for a faster-paced class.
Anyone who gets bored easily with their fitness routine, as classes are rarely the same.   
Avoid if:
Those extremely new to exercise should not take vinyasa classes (or be prepared to modify to suit your needs).
Those with mobility issues.    
You have a shoulder injury (lots of low pushups).
You want a slow, gentle workout.
You might also like:
Ashtanga for the flowing pace with no music and a preset series of poses.
Power for the flowing pace and variety.
Jivamukti for the flowing pace and spiritual aspect.

Yin  

What to expect:
Also called Taoist yoga, yin yoga integrates principles of hatha yoga and qi gong, along with other aspects of Taoism. Yin yoga focuses on connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) rather than muscles. It does not focus on warming the muscles or moving quickly; rather it encourages long-held poses that foster relaxation. Yin poses are very passive and often done with props. Expect very long holds--five minutes or more.    
Good for:
Those with mobility issues.
Anyone recovering from an injury.
Those looking for a restorative practice.
Great for athletes looking for a way to repair overuse and gain flexibility.
Good for beginners.
If you meditate, this is a good practice for you.        
Avoid if:
Anyone who wants a fast-paced class or who doesn't want to sit still.         
You might also like:
Hatha (gentle or restorative) classes for the slower pace.
Kripalu for the attention to the individual's practice.
Viniyoga for the attention to the individual.
 
More useful yoga resources:

What Really Matters in Your Yoga Practice

What's the Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?

8 Beginner Yoga Poses

10 Yoga Poses to Strengthen and Stretch

 
Which type of yoga do you/would you like to practice?


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Comments

  • NGSMART1
    37
    I am not a spiritual person and I like a physical challenge. Before my first yoga experience, I didn't think yoga would be for me. But then I tried Ashtanga and was surprised to find it was a good physical workout, great for strength, flexibility and with mental benefits. Since then, I tend to stick to any kind of faster paced yoga. Power and vinyasa both work for me. I haven't tried bikram yet, mainly because I do most of my exercising at home. - 7/21/2014   2:28:02 PM
  • 36
    I am still confused !! what is a middle workout with yoga - something , just below Power Yoga , but a little more advanced, than standing still ..

    let me know !
    merci - 7/18/2014   5:59:15 PM
  • CHADRICKWEST
    35
    My style of yoga is Kundalini, and I chose it because Kundalini Yoga beginners donít need to worry about being really flexible. I needed relief from back pain, and I couldnít tolerate intense stretching. The breathwork that is coupled with the slow movements made my back feel much better, and I didnít need to be a yoga athlete to get started. yogatech.com - 4/30/2014   6:40:33 PM
  • CLASSYOGA1
    34
    It is very easy. There are only two types of Yoga: real and phony. Real Yoga is Hinduism and phony yoga is not. - 3/19/2014   9:28:50 AM
  • 33
    Great article! I am currently doing hot yoga but wanted to know more about the other classes offered. Thank you! - 12/1/2013   8:36:34 AM
  • 32
    I did Yin yoga once. The poses were held too long for me. I got impatient, giggly, and bored. LOL - 10/31/2013   9:13:33 AM
  • 31
    Wow! I never knew there was so many different kinds Thanks for the info. - 9/29/2013   8:01:04 PM
  • 30
    Very informative. Thanks. - 9/29/2013   5:52:26 AM
  • 29
    Thank you for sharing this !
    - 9/20/2013   11:06:21 AM
  • DELLMEL
    28
    Thanks. I still have to get into this. - 9/19/2013   6:42:28 PM
  • 27
    Wow, I haven't heard the name of so many of these! I will check them out on youtube and try. Many thanks! - 9/19/2013   4:34:06 PM
  • AMAYABLUE
    26
    Thank you for explaining them! I've always enjoyed Hatha, but might give the others a try now. - 9/19/2013   3:01:05 PM
  • 25
    Thank you for explaining the different yoga types.
    As this is my favorite form of excersise I like to learn how to broaden my
    yoga practice.
    Thanks again,
    Abbie - 9/19/2013   2:34:34 PM
  • 24
    I took a yoga class a decade ago. It aggravated every old injury I had.I loved the instructor, but I ended up hating yoga.

    I laugh when, after hearing this, people tell me, "you should try (fill in the blank) yoga." Hecks no. Never going back. I'm happy for those of you that have found a discipline you love, but I'm quite content staying in the "I will never do yoga" camp.

    :) - 9/19/2013   11:17:18 AM
  • 23
    As a certified Bikram Yoga teacher, I can recommend Bikram Yoga 100%. It is actually a very gentle yoga practice and is a moving meditation. I'm sorry that those who are not familiar with the careful heating and humidifying of the Bikram studio do not understand the many health benefits achieved by practicing in just the right temperature. Bikram yoga changes lives every day. It is incredibly healing, empowering and as Bikram says, you are "never too old, too sick, too tired, too injured" to benefit from the practice. I love Bikram yoga. - 9/19/2013   8:02:38 AM
  • 22
    I love Bikram yoga!

    It changed my life. My body was stronger, my mind felt brighter and I gained a lot of confidence in myself as my ability grew. The heat was rarely too intense and if you get too hot just step out for a few minutes or call it a day, you might be fighting something.

    Always bring at least 24oz. of water and a beach towel to put over your mat. My studio played music, thank goodness. One day the heat was unbearable and I couldn't understand it and I was so fatigued...turns out I was pregnant with my 3rd son! I definitely don't recommend bikram when your pregnant. My body told me that one. I'm really looking forward to going back to my old studio as soon as my youngest is a little older. - 1/31/2013   11:18:35 PM
  • 21
    Great article. I have always avoided Yoga for the same reasons you have heard others say. I will try to give it another chance. I think Hatha or Yin classes would be more my speed and ability. I have seen Hatha Yoga classes in my area but I don't remember seeing Yin. I will have to so some searching in my area to find the right place for me. Thanks! - 1/26/2013   12:35:47 PM
  • 20
    I did a Kundalina yoga vhs that alternated between periods of relaxation and breathing with periods of rapid, intense movement that were too fast for beginners. There was much use of the breath of fire throughout, including while holding the wheel pose, and a good meditation period toward the end. - 11/25/2012   11:21:51 AM
  • LIZZIE-BELLE1
    19
    Thanks for the information, now I need to find a yoga studio - 11/4/2012   8:41:19 PM
  • K_RENEE
    18
    Great article. I had no idea there were that many different types of yoga. - 10/30/2012   8:32:50 AM
  • JRMYSGRL
    17
    I think a re-evaluation of Bikram yoga would be in order. In fact, I challenge ANYONE to do atleast 10 classes in 30 days & then tell me the same thing u stated in ur article. What've u got to lose but a "new mind, new body & a new life" ! Namaste - 9/29/2012   1:54:14 AM
  • JRMYSGRL
    16
    Good descriptions of all these yogas EXCEPT for 1. How can a yoga teacher be so blatantly biased AGAINST another form of yoga? Bikram yoga has literally changed my life. I think either 1 you haven't taken more than 1 or 2 classes (if at all) or 2 you haven't done your research! Bikram is the ONLY yoga that upon leaving class you feel better than when you went in. Thats bc the heat does 3 things. It warms your muscles, joint & ligaments so that injury is minimized more than any other type of yoga. In addition the heat allows your body to move more fully into asanas, poses, & more fluidly & with more confidence knowing u really have to not be paying attention in order to injure yourself. It forces you to focus on your own body (I've never heard the sport aspect before). In fact, part of the official dialogue even says, repeatedly, "focus on your own 2 eyes in the mirror. Do not lose your focus. Don't even blink your eyes." If you aren't focused you will fall out of your poses. Its not a competition. Its a "90 minute, eye to eye, moving meditation" . - 9/29/2012   1:50:55 AM
  • 15
    I have recently started a power yoga practice at my local core power. I should go again today. It has been over a week since I've practiced. Thanks for the reminder, in the form of a yoga article. - 9/28/2012   1:54:32 PM
  • CHRISTINASP
    14
    Thank you, a very useful list! I understand that all yoga types are a form of hatha yoga, though. They all came from the same root, hatha yoga.
    - 9/20/2012   10:39:57 AM
  • 13
    You have my preferred style - Hatha - in this list!
    Of course, I found this out by process of elimination.
    However, there is another one I like--OM Yoga. The original studio had to close, unfortunately. I had the privilege of taking classes and workshop there a few times, since I live in the same metropolitan area. Look for a resurgence in this style as teachers get trained. - 9/19/2012   10:38:37 AM
  • JPEARL127
    12
    This is a great resource for understanding what is to be gained from each type of yoga so that I can get into the type of class I need. Now to find the right place to join a group. - 9/19/2012   9:31:51 AM
  • JMB369
    11
    What a great summary of the different types of yoga. this article is a keeper for sure. I have studied yoga for over 15 years. My first teachers were out of the viniyoga tradition, and it is still the basis of my personal practice. My teachers over the years have all been serious about going beyond the physical asanas, and most of them have studied and incorporate a variety of styles into their classes. Some teach a more hatha class to beginners and a more flowing class for intermediate and advanced classes. I believe that everyone, regardless of age and physical condition, can benefit from doing yoga. BTW, I am nearly 72 and started yoga at age 56. - 9/18/2012   7:11:19 AM
  • 10
    Very informative blog. I do yoga dvds occasionally at home just for something different. I enjoyed reading about all the different kinds of yoga, some I had heard of and some I had not. - 9/16/2012   4:20:27 PM
  • 9
    I never knew there were so many kinds! No wonder I love some dvds more than others--they are different forms of yoga and some work better for me than others. I practice Hatha. Very informative article! I will copy it off and take it with me the next time I am looking for a new dvd so I buy the right kind for me. :-) - 9/15/2012   4:07:58 PM
  • 8
    Nice article!! Thanks for all the helpful information!! I never knew! : ) Anusara sounds like I could put it to good use.
    Thanks again and have a great week-end!! G - 9/15/2012   2:16:12 PM
  • 7
    Kripalu was my kind of YOGA classes and I still use many poses for health issues LOVE IT Pat ion Maine. - 9/15/2012   2:01:58 PM
  • 6
    Thank you for a wonderful summary of yoga styles! I've been wondering about the different forms for a while and this is a great summary. I've tried several times in my life to do a yoga class, but my lack of flexibility always made them impossible for me. During a recent course of physical therapy for a bad hip/back problem, my massage therapist (also a great yoga teacher) suggested I try yin yoga. Woohoo! I finally found "my" yoga! It has not only helped with the back pain, I am actually able to stretch and bend in ways I never could before (like being able to sit at a 90 degree angle)! I'm hanging on to your list and will be looking for some other forms of yoga I may be able to explore now. - 9/15/2012   7:46:21 AM
  • 5
    Thanks so much for this description of the different schools. Very informative. I'm in a hybrid style of yoga somewhere between power and vinyasa, but it was lovely hearing about the other styles. - 9/14/2012   11:35:08 PM
  • 4
    Thank you for the informative blog!! - 9/14/2012   12:15:52 PM
  • ANCA_D
    3
    I love Yin yoga. It helps me relax and gain flexibility at the same time. - 9/14/2012   12:10:42 PM
  • 2
    Thank you for shedding light on all the different types of yoga!! Very informative..I have been doing Yoga for many years and have tried most types.. my favorite is Kripalu but recently have liked some power yoga videos I do at home.

    I also tried Bikram Yoga for a brief while ,I liked it and choose not to continue because the studio was a little far from home that I wished o travel..I found the certified Bikram instructor I had was great about reminding beginners to adapt the poses and modify the class as needed for their level of ability/comfort... I experienced a little nausea in the first class but was ok at subsequent classes as I learned to keep my body hydrated for the intense heat during the class.

    After reading your description , I want to look into Yin yoga.. I am developing areas that could benefit from from "increased stretching" and release of tendons. - 9/14/2012   11:19:58 AM
  • 1
    Thank u - very informative & I enjoyed learning about the different types of yoga & what to expect! - 9/14/2012   10:29:41 AM

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