Find Your Flow: 10 Popular Types of Yoga Explained
With over 5,000 years of history, yoga is a versatile discipline. There are multiple types of yoga, and as it keeps evolving, so is the physical practice. Every teacher adds their own twist to it, and studios may brand their own variety.
Basically, saying, “I practice yoga,” is like saying, “I eat food.” Oh yeah? Well, what kind? How prepared? With what spices? And by whom? There are lots to choose from, and you don’t necessarily have to stick to just one.
There are slow types of yoga that focus on gentle practice, and there are also active ones. These will get your blood pumping and have you break some sweat.
Let’s look at the 10 popular types of yoga (organized in alphabetic rather than preferential order).
10 Popular Types of Yoga
1. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga is a rather rigorous and dynamic practice that consists of six set sequences of postures.
What to expect: Classes are fast-paced, as Ashtanga aims to synchronize movement with breath. You perform a pose on both sides and move on to another. You also do a vinyasa each time you switch sides or poses; so, prepare for many Chaturangas (triceps push-ups) and lots of sweating.
In a yoga studio, you can practice Ashtanga in a teacher-led or Mysore-style class (called after the place in India where Ashtanga originated).
In a Mysore class, students practice on their own and at their own pace. Their teacher only provides help or adjustments. In a teacher-led class, be ready for plenty of Sanskrit.
Some teachers or studios may teach Ashtanga Flow, which is usually shorter than a traditional Ashtanga class; postures will be connected in a flow with fewer vinyasas between them.
Traditional Ashtanga classes do not have any music. It’s believed to draw the attention outward rather than inward and prevent you from being able to practice pratyahara or sense withdrawal.
Benefits: Ashtanga improves flexibility and develops endurance and core strength.
Who is it for: It’s suitable for people who have previously done yoga or other physical activities. It’s also a good fit for those who like structure, routine, and accuracy since you do exactly the same sequence every single time.
Ashtanga is great if you are willing to eventually establish an autonomous practice. That’s because once you commit the order of postures to memory (you can use a cheat sheet until you do) you can practice wherever and whenever you wish.
What to wear: Fitting and stretchy clothing from breathable material that allows you to move, step and jump through, as well as perform balancing postures without constricting movement. Avoid clothes that you can get caught in, such as baggy harem pants or loose tops, both to prevent injuries and distractions.
2. Bikram Yoga
Named after its creator, Bikram Yoga is a 90-minute class that includes a fixed set of 26 postures and two pranayama techniques (breathing exercises) practiced in front of a mirror in a hot and humid room (about 40-40.6°C or 104-105°F).
What to expect: Obviously – heat. Hydrate yourself throughout the day and stay away from food for a couple of hours before class. You’ll be doing yoga in a sauna-like room for the next hour and a half, dehydration and discomfort isn’t something that you want.
Because of the temperature, you’ll notice a boost in flexibility. However, be careful not to push your limits too far to prevent injury.
Don’t look forward to demonstrations. Bikram-certified instructors are trained to talk students through the postures (using a standardized script) in order to encourage movement meditation.
Benefits: Heat increases flexibility and isometric strength. Bikram Yoga is believed to contribute to weight loss (though studies are rather inconsistent) and help with a number of health conditions.
I’d strongly advise consulting your doctor before joining a Bikram class if you experience cardiovascular problems or have had recent injuries.
Who is it for: People who like physically demanding activities, are OK with heat and sweating, and don’t mind other people’s BO.
What to wear: Pack some light, breathable clothing such as shorts and sports bras. Also, bring a yoga towel to spread on your mat. You shouldn’t wipe off the sweat, but just let it flow and drip as it helps to regulate body temperature.
3. Hatha Yoga
Hatha is one of the slow types of yoga. It usually involves lots of gentle stretching and breathing exercises.
What to expect: Classes aren’t usually physically very demanding, and poses are held for a few breaths only. You normally will start with breathing exercises in a seated position followed by a series of seated poses and/or twists. You may do a few Sun Salutations, standing, and core strengthening postures, but you likely won’t break much sweat.
Benefits: Hatha practice relaxes the mind, works wonders on stress levels, and relieves tension in the body. It also increases flexibility, and tones the spine and other body parts.
Who is it for: Hatha is an ideal and low-impact introduction to yoga for absolute beginners. It is also suitable for those who are willing to gently wind down and relax.
What to wear: Loose or form-fitting clothing, whatever you feel comfortable in. In the colder months, it is a good idea to bring a sweater or sweatshirt to stay warm.
4. Hot Yoga
Bikram and Hot Yoga are same, same, but different (if you’ve ever been to Thailand, you’ll get it :)).
Since Mr. Bikram doesn’t seem to be much on board with the yoga-is-for-everyone thing (he’s known to have sued studios and been condescending to westerners), hot yoga can be virtually any class that doesn’t follow Bikram’s sequence and is practiced in a heated and humid room.
What to expect: A vinyasa-style class (number 9 below) in Bikram temperatures. Be ready to sweat. A lot.
Benefits: Hot yoga improves circulation and is good for building strength and flexibility, as well as developing some lean muscle tone.
Who is it for: If you like the Bikram heat, but don’t want to do the same sequence over and over again, or you can’t choose between Bikram and Vinyasa, hot yoga may be your thing.
What to wear: Comfortable, breathable, and light clothing, preferably shorts and a sports bra. Grab a towel as well to place on your mat in order to prevent slipping.
5. Iyengar Yoga
Sometimes called “furniture yoga,” Iyengar is a therapeutic type of yoga. It incorporates lots of props – blocks, belts, bolsters, straps attached to the wall, chairs, harnesses, and more. Its main focus is on anatomic detail, alignment, and precision.
What to expect: You are likely to do plenty of standing and balancing postures, as well as seated and reclined postures that are perfected by the use of props.
Poses are held for over 5 minutes (or even up to 20 minutes or longer), so that you can meditate and connect with your breath and body while perfecting alignment, deepening stretches, or balancing in a posture.
Benefits: Iyengar Yoga increases flexibility and endurance. It also improves posture, helps to relieve back and shoulder pain, and alleviates stress and anxiety.
Who is it for: Though Iyengar is suitable for anyone regardless of their age, gender, or fitness level. It’s perfect for beginners, people who haven’t been exercising for a while, detail and precision-oriented folks, or someone with back or joint issues.
What to wear: Preferably loose clothing, but pretty much anything that you feel comfortable in will do.
6. Kundalini Yoga
Out of all the types of yoga, Kundalini probably has the most emphasis on spirituality.
Kundalini is the primal energy that is sleeping at the back of the spine. The goal of Kundalini practice is to awaken this energy and send it up via the seven chakras.
What to expect: Asana practice along with mantra chanting, breathing, meditation, and energetic core movements.
Benefits: Though Kundalini practice develops flexibility and core strength, its main purpose is the inner emotional experience. It encourages self-discovery, aims to attain mind-body connection, awareness, and healing, and relieves stress and depression.
Who is it for: Go for this type of yoga if you’re looking for something more out there and on the spiritual side. And if the idea of chakras, mantras, chanting, awakening dormant serpent energy power, and turban-wearing teachers doesn’t leave you all weirded out. However, it may not be a good idea to jump straight into Kundalini if you are new to yoga.
What to wear: Anything that you find comfortable, though it’s best to wear loose, white clothing (to cherish the light and the divine). Also, wear some sort of headgear, such as a turban. It helps keep the awoken energy inside the body rather than escape through the crown chakra at the top of your head.
7. Power Yoga
Power yoga is a challenging practice that has its roots in Ashtanga, though it is flexible and creative in terms of sequencing.
What to expect: Classes are physically challenging and fast-paced. You quickly move through poses and will likely also do plenty of core work, arm balances, or similar heart-pumping asanas.
Classes will likely have music.
Benefits: It increases circulation and develops cardiovascular stamina. Since Power Yoga resembles a cardio workout, it is beneficial for weight loss and developing lean muscle.
Who is it for: If you like the idea of Ashtanga, but the idea of sticking to the same sequence bores you, you can try Power Yoga. It also suits people who enjoy intense physical exercise or intend to slim down.
What to wear: Go for fitting, light, comfortable, and breathable clothing that doesn’t restrict movement.
8. Restorative Yoga
Developed by a physical therapist, Restorative Yoga offers a slow and regenerating practice that involves more movement than Yin Yoga (number 10 below).
What to expect: As its name implies, this type of yoga aims to restore health and balance, through slow and gentle practice. Props such as bolsters, blankets, and similar can be used to eliminate any strain.
Poses are held for rather long periods of time.
Benefits: Restorative Yoga increases flexibility, relaxes the body and mind, and helps regain emotional balance and physical health.
Who is it for: Check out Restorative Yoga if you are suffering from illnesses or injuries, have recently had surgery, or are trying to de-stress and slow down.
What to wear: Any comfortable clothing will do. Grab a sweater, as you may feel chilly while you hold the poses.
9. Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa means “flow”. Therefore, Vinyasa classes are fast, and movement follows the breath.
What to expect: You’ll move through poses rather quickly: a movement on the inhale and a movement on the exhale. Though it depends on the teacher, usually several poses link together in a dance-like flow.
Benefits: Along with an increase in flexibility, endurance, and strength, Vinyasa Yoga also relaxes the body and mind. It also helps to slim down and build muscle tone.
Who is it for: Try Vinyasa if you have difficulty sitting still. It’s also more suitable for weathered yogis or beginners who take part in other physical activities.
What to wear: Stretchy, light, and form-fitting clothing made from breathable fabric works best.
10. Yin Yoga
Yin offers a very slow and meditative practice that focuses on lengthening the connective tissues.
What to expect: You’ll primarily be doing seated and reclined poses. This means plenty of work on the hips and the spine. You’ll hold for about 2-5 minutes or even longer (it may be harder on your patience than your body). You may use props such as bolsters, blocks, and blankets that will allow you to relax the muscles, and let gravity work its magic.
Benefits: Yin Yoga offers deep meditative and introspective practice and is beneficial for those dealing with stress, anxiety, trauma, and similar issues.
It also develops the flexibility of the connective tissues as well as joint mobility. It can be very useful with age as we develop slower and less active lifestyles which make our joints stiffer and less mobile.
Who is it for: Yin suits a yogi of pretty much any level, from a complete beginner to an advanced gymnast. As yin supplements yang, Yin Yoga is a wonderful way to balance your yang practice and lifestyle. If you usually opt for faster-paced yoga or other dynamic activities such as running, cycling, or high-impact team sport, give Yin a try.
What to wear: Though any comfortable clothing works just fine, loose and stretchy items are the best.
Other Types of Yoga
The list does not end here, and there are many more types of yoga out there to choose from. They range from Acro Yoga, an acrobatic practice that’s performed with a partner, or Aerial Yoga, which is done with silks or a trapeze attached to the ceiling or hung from a tree to SUP Yoga, where you practice on a paddleboard on a lake or other calm water body, or Jivamukti Yoga, which has a strong emphasis on vegetarianism or veganism.
Just say what you are looking for, and there will likely be a yoga type to suit your preferences.
Yoga for Moms
Let’s not forget about yoga for moms, because there are plenty of options here, too. Prenatal yoga is quite popular as it offers a gentle and relaxing way of staying in shape during pregnancy, tones muscles, and develops balance (because it can be tricky) with a low impact on the joints.
You have a little bub and can’t go to class? There is a solution for that, too. Postnatal yoga and yoga with babies. Put your baby on the mat or in a sling (depending on the teacher and class), and voila! Some fitness time for mama and bonding time for mama and baby.
How to Find the Right Type of Yoga for You
Since yoga is such a versatile discipline, it’s best to try out different types of yoga. Once you’ve settled on one, try different teachers. Each instructor’s individual teaching style can make a huge difference.
And when you have found your type, be open to new things. Even if you love Italian food, you can grow tired of pizzas and gelatos if you have them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, every day, and may want to spice up your diet with some, say, Mexican food instead.
It works the same way with yoga. You may be a hardcore Power Yogi, but there will be days when you’ll absolutely benefit from a Restorative or Yin Yoga class.
Remember – balance and union!
What types of yoga do you practice? What do you like about them? Which ones would you like to try and why?