Starting something new can be intimidating, but even more so if you are unsure about what it is exactly that you’re starting. For those interested in yoga, it can be overwhelming — with over 21 million adults in the United States practicing yoga, more and more types of yoga are being created to cater to different philosophies.
The seven types of yoga described below are the foundation for most of what’s available these days, and their descriptions will give you the basic knowledge you need to help when picking classes.
One thing to also keep in mind is that yoga actually describes an eight-limbed path to enlightenment that was defined by Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutra.” Asanas, or poses, are the physical practice that we call yoga and are only one limb of that path. This is why pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, and other philosophy are often included in yoga classes. They help to introduce the practitioner to more than one limb of yoga. Some of these are mentioned in the descriptions below.
Hatha yoga is the foundation for all yoga styles and refers to any practice that combines asana, pranayama, and meditation.
Typically, these classes have a slightly slower pace, but you can always ask the instructor how vigorous the flow is before jumping in. Since this type of yoga is the foundation for all yoga and tends to be a relaxing flow, hatha can be great for beginners or those wanting a more meditative or even restorative practice.
“Vinyasa” has become shorthand for a number of things. Some teachers use it to refer to the sequence of poses:
- Plank Pose
- Chaturanga Dandasana
- Upward-Facing Dog
- Downward-Facing Dog
Teachers may even say, “take a vinyasa” to refer to it. Vinyasa is from the Sanskrit nyasa, meaning “to place,” and vi, meaning “in a special way.” What “to place in a special way” refers to is how we get from one pose to the next and the breathing that goes with our movements.
For most classes with the word “vinyasa,” you can bet on a pretty active class with a fast and continuous flow from one pose to the next, including a lot of sun salutations. These classes will also ask you to focus on breathwork and cultivating awareness when linking one movement to the next. These classes are good for those who want a workout but also want to explore some of the more traditional aspects of yoga, like pranayama and being present.
Power yoga — a unique vinyasa practice that doesn’t focus on breathwork and meditation — is a vigorous, vinyasa-based flow taught in many gyms.
B. K. S. Iyengar developed this meticulous type of yoga. This practice is all about balancing flexibility and strength through proper body alignment. Studios where it’s taught typically have a lot of props — blankets, blocks, straps, etc. — to help people of all ages, flexibilities, and abilities find alignment that is perfect for their bodies.
The poses are generally held longer, but the support of props and attention to alignment make this a great practice for those overcoming injury.
Bikram yoga was created by Bikram Choudhury. It’s a specific and unchanging sequence of 26 poses that are done in a room heated to 105 degrees.
In your first few Bikram classes, no matter how fit you are, you’ll probably have to take a break. The heat is thought to help practitioners sweat out toxins in their bodies, and it will absolutely make you sweat. A lot. It may also potentially making you lightheaded your first few times. Expect to wear little clothing, drink a lot of water, and have some patience for yourself when you have to rest.
Bikram yoga has recently lost some followers due to sexual assault allegations against Bikram Choudhury. Due to that fact, some studio owners have distanced themselves from using the term “Bikram.” If any of the classes you are considering are described as “hot yoga” (see below for more), then you may want to read up on more details about the class to confirm if it’s Bikram or not.
As touched on above, not all hot yoga is Bikram yoga. Hot yoga can essentially be any type of yoga done in a heated room, typically between 95 and 100 degrees. In general, hot yoga classes are vinyasa classes held in heated rooms. These classes will, of course, cause practitioners to sweat a lot and can require breaks the first few classes, just like Bikram.
Your muscles are very warm in these classes, so they can be great for improving flexibility. However, you also want to be careful, as it can be easier to pull a muscle when your muscles are so much warmer than usual.
Ashtanga yoga was introduced to the world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. There are three different “series” taught in Ashtanga. These are the primary series, intermediate series, and advanced series, though the advanced series is sometimes broken down even further in current practice.
Each series performs poses in unvarying sequence until you and your instructor feel as though you are ready to move on to the next series. It can be great for the more seasoned practitioner, as it requires strength, endurance, and a commitment to practicing a few times a week.
Kundalini is all about awakening your kundalini energy, or shakti, which is the primal energy thought to sit at the base of the spine.
This is a more spiritual practice, and there will be more chanting, meditation, and breathing in this class than in others. This can be a little out there for the practitioner who doesn’t fully embrace the philosophy of shakti and all that comes with it. However, it can be fun for the person who wants to chant, learn mantras, and find out more about lesser known hatha practices, like mula bandha (“root lock”).