Whilst different styles of yoga are all based on the same poses, there are some major differences between them. The styles vary in their emphasis. For example, the focus could be on postural alignment, or a dynamic sequence, or the coordination of breath and movement, or a restorative holding of postures. Many styles overlap.
No style is better than another; it’s simply a matter of personal preference. The connection you have with the teacher is often more relevant than the style of yoga that you choose. Shop around to find the yoga and teacher that will best suit your body and personality – this can change over time.
One way of looking at different styles of yoga is by their origin. In the 20th century different types of Hatha based yoga schools developed. The founders of the three dominant schools – Ashtanga, Iyengar and Viniyoga – were all students of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), a famous teacher at the Yoga Institute at the Mysore Palace in India and the “father of modern yoga.” Two other styles – Integral and Sivananda – were created by disciples of the famous guru Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963). The following list is not exhaustive but includes the most common styles.
The following yoga styles originated in India. Though now popular worldwide, each of these styles follows a method developed by an Indian guru.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga – dynamic, vigorous flow
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is the traditional method promoted by Guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. It offers a fast-paced series of sequential poses (asanas) in a well heated room, which are linked together by breath and movement (vinyasa). Whilst each movement has a gazing point (drishti) to maintain an internal, meditative aspect, subtle muscles are engaged using energy locks (bandhas). Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga appeals to those who appreciate a regular, independent and physically demanding yoga practice.
Iyengar Yoga – symmetry and alignment
B.K.S. Iyengar developed this yoga style, which stresses an understanding of the body. Students focus on symmetry and alignment, using props — such as straps, blankets, wooden blocks, and chairs — to achieve postures. Each pose is held for a longer amount of time than in most other yoga styles. Teachers of this discipline must go through an intense, long, and rigorous training program.
Viniyoga – gentle flow
This gentle form of flow yoga places great emphasis on the breath and coordinating breath with movement. Viniyoga’s flowing movement (Vinyasa) is similar to Ashtanga’s dynamic series of poses but is performed at a greatly reduced pace and stress level. Poses and flows are chosen in an individual practice to suit the student’s abilities and to teach the student how to apply the tools of yoga — asana, chanting, pranayama (breath), and meditation. Developed by T.K.V. Desikachar, the son of Krishnamacharya, Viniyoga places less stress on joints and knees since postures are done with slightly bent knees. It is considered excellent for beginners and is increasingly being used in therapeutic environments.
Integral Yoga – the healing power of relaxation
This school of yoga is associated with two prominent figures: developer Swami Satchidananda, the man who taught the crowds at Woodstock to chant “OM” for peace, and his student, Dr. Dean Ornish, who uses integral yoga as part of his treatment of heart patients. Integral yoga places almost as much emphasis on pranayama (control of breath) and meditation as it does on postures.
Kundalini Yoga – awakening energy
Once a guarded secret in India, Kundalini yoga arrived in the West in 1969, when Sikh Yogi Bhajan challenged tradition and began to teach publicly. This practice is designed to awaken Kundalini energy, which is stored at the base of the spine and often depicted as a coiled snake. Kundalini mixes chanting, breathing practices, and yoga exercises. The emphasis is not on asana, but rather on chanting and breathing.
Sivananda Yoga – encouraging a healthy life style
Sivananda yoga offers a gentle approach, which takes the student through the twelve sun salutation postures and incorporates chanting, meditation, and deep relaxation in each session. Teachers encourage students to embrace a healthy lifestyle that includes a vegetarian diet and positive thinking with meditation. Founder Swami Vishnu-Devananda, published one of the classics of yogic literature, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga.
This is an incomplete list of yoga styles that originated mostly in the United States based on traditional styles.
Anusara Yoga – heart oriented
Founded by John Friend in 1997, Anusara yoga integrates the celebration of the heart, universal principles of alignment, and balanced energetic action in the performance of asana. Anusara means “following your heart.” In this school of yoga, each student’s abilities and limitations are deeply respected and honoured.
Bikram Yoga – hot yoga
Bikram Choudhury, known as the yoga teacher to the stars, developed this hot yoga practice. Be prepared to sweat in this one. The Bikram class turns up the room temperature to anywhere from 85 degrees to 100 degrees. In this hot and steamy environment, students perform, always in the same order, 26 poses designed to cleanse the body from the inside out. This is a vigorous workout.
Jivamukti Yoga – fast paced & chanting
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 emphasize 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.
Power Yoga – fitness-based Vinyasa flow
Ashtanga is 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.
Restorative Yoga – support using props
In restorative yoga, props (bolsters, blankets, cushions, blocks) are used for support the body so that you can hold poses for longer, allowing you to open your body through passive stretching. Restorative postures are usually adapted from supine or seated yoga poses with the addition of blocks, bolsters, and blankets to eliminate unnecessary straining.
Yin Yoga – holding poses for several minutes
In Yin Yoga, poses are held for several minutes at a time in order to the stretch the connective tissue around the joints. Yin Yoga directly addresses the demands that sitting still in one position for a long time, as in meditation, places on the body by focusing on stretching connective tissue instead of muscle.
Yoga Nidra – relaxation & meditation technique
Yoga Nidra is a relaxation/meditation technique that originated in India but, like most modern yoga, has been modified and westernised to suit the needs of contemporary students. Though yoga Nidra is translated as “yogic sleep,” this method is not really about getting in a good snooze. Guided by a teacher’s voice, you identify sensations throughout your body and focus on your breath, while (ideally) remaining in a state of relaxed awareness so that you may release deeply held tensions, some of which you may not even be aware.
Teen Yoga & Mindfulness
Teen Yoga, as we teach it, is a mindful, secular approach that incorporates a bit of everything: dynamic flowing elements (sequences), postural alignment, partner work, restorative poses, relaxation, breath work and meditation. It unites ancient wisdom and modern knowledge and is designed to help you build strength, increase your range of motion, improve your balance and focus, as well as provide a relaxing space to unwind and recharge.
Read here about Adam Levine’s five favourite Yoga Styles »