The Different Types of Yoga, Explained
What Is Yoga?
Although most of us think of Yoga as a system of exercises, it's also a Sanskrit word that means "union" and is used to describe a wide variety of Indian spiritual practices. There are many very different types of yoga, for example there is Bhakti Yoga, which refers to a type of worship. Almost all modern yoga classes are variations on Hatha Yoga, which means yoga exercises for the body. For the purposes of this article, we are only talking about different styles of Hatha Yoga.
Ashtanga is a very vigorous and athletic style of yoga. Ashtanga classes are usually a long sequence of poses linked together by jumps and other active moves. Ashtanga yoga is a great combination of resistance training and aerobic exercise, but it's not for the faint of heart. If you're new to yoga, I would suggest getting some experience with other styles before trying Ashtanga.
Vinyasa Yoga is based on flowing sequences of poses. The exact poses vary a lot between classes, but they are always arranged in combinations. Practitioners move gracefully from one pose to another, sometimes repeating the same sequence several times. Sequences may include movements between standing and sitting, for example, but often poses are split up into different sequences of similar poses. For example, a series of kneeling poses might be followed by a series of standing poses. Vinyasa teachers often choose certain areas or techniques to focus on in each class. Classes are usually moderate in intensity, and suitable for most students.
Yin yoga is a very gentle style that focuses more on flexibility and relaxation than on strength. Poses are often held for several minutes at a time. Most are sitting or reclining poses, which are sometimes supported by props like bricks and straps to allow practitioners to hold therapeutic positions for as long as possible while concentrating on relaxing deeply.
Iyengar is a very detailed and complex system of yoga. Teachers are required to train for many years, and advanced teachers all travel to India to study with the creator of the system in person. Iyengar is great for advanced yoga practitioners who want a challenge, but it's also very good for beginners and especially anyone with special physical needs, because teachers are so highly trained in anatomy and therapeutic applications. Beginning Iyengar classes start with extremely basic poses and focus intensely on correct form and other details.
Hot Yoga is any yoga practiced in a heated room. Heat helps increase flexibility, raise metabolism and increase detoxification effects through sweating. Hot yoga was popularized by the Bikram style, which is a brand name referring to a particular teacher who has tried to patent his take on yoga teachings. Most of the same benefits apply to all types of Hot Yoga.
This is actually my personal favorite. I like it because it's a simple system that adjusts to many levels and styles of practice. I like it so much that I wrote a whole article about what makes Sivananda Yoga unique.