Demystifying Yoga- 10 Styles of Yoga Explained


Demystifiying Yoga can be a daunting task.  You might  be interested in Yoga, but you have NO idea where to begin, not to mention, what class would best suit you.  Luckily you’ve come to the right place!!

14 years ago, when I decided to take my first Yoga class, the YMCA where I belonged only had one Yoga class, and it was simply called Yoga…  I had no idea whether it was a Hatha Yoga Class or a Flow Class, a Level 2 Yoga class, or a beginner class.  It was the only Yoga class they offered and it was at a time I could attend…  I didn’t have to make any of the decision new students are forced to confront today.  I'm certain I would have been to overwhelmed with ALL the options and in the end, I wouldn't have taken any class at all.  Now a days, there are more varieties of Yoga than I have time to write about, so I’ve taken some of the most talked about and readily available Yoga types and broken them down for you.

Hatha Yoga-
Hatha Yoga is a wonderful first step for those wanting to start practicing Yoga.  Hatha classes are typically gentle and focus on breathing as well as holding the postures or ‘asanas' and relaxing.  Hatha Yoga tends to be a slower alternative for those just starting out, and is widely available in gyms and Yoga studios all over the US.  This is a great class to take to learn the postures and their names, and is a nice gentle relaxing form of Yoga that can be used as the foundation for a fulfilling practice.

Vinyasa Yoga or Flow Yoga-
The second type of Yoga I’ll be addressing is Vinyasa or ‘Flow’ Yoga.  Vinyasa Yoga is similar to Hatha Yoga in that it utilizes the same asanas or postures, but Vinyasa Yoga classes tend to be faster paced, and instead of holding a posture, the Vinyasa movements are synchronized with the breath, and flow directly from one pose to another, to another and another…  Many consider Vinyasa classes to be a more fitness-oriented type of Yoga, and they may be a bit of a challenge for a true beginner.  Attending a Yoga class that allows you to correctly learn the poses might be a good first step before jumping into a Vinyasa class.

Bikram Yoga-
Up next, Bikram Yoga. Bikram or Hot Yoga was founded by Bikram Choudhury in the late 20th century, and is practiced in a room that is heated to 40 degrees celsius (104 degrees fahrenheit) with a humidity of 40%.  Bikram Yoga is a great total body workout, and utilizes a series of 26 postures which is usually repeated twice during class.  The heated Bikram room will cause you to sweat, A LOT, so be sure to bring a towel and water for before, during and after class.  Bikram is an incredibly popular type of Yoga and is easy to find in most cities around the US.  If you are a true beginner and are interested in Bikram Yoga, be sure to position you mat up front so that you can easily see the instructor and more easily follow the poses.

Ashtanga Yoga-
Ashtanga Yoga became popular in the US in the 1970’s, and is a practice that utilizes established series of poses to propel the practitioner through their Yoga practice.  These asana series are comprised of six established sequences which include a Primary Series, an Intermediate or Secondary Series, and an Advanced Series.  Ashtanga Yoga is about the journey through each asana and flows from one pose to the next, with each movement corresponding to your breath.  All of this may sound confusing, but don’t let it scare you.  Many favor this type of Yoga, because the series builds upon each other, and each posture is a preparation for the next. While this type of Yoga does promote improvement as the practitioner progresses from one series to the next, Ashtanga is demanding, fast paced and can be difficult if it's your very first class.

Iyengar Yoga-
Iyengar Yoga was established by B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1970’s and is a form of Hatha Yoga (see Hatha Yoga above).  Iyengar believed that one should focus upon the proper alignment of the body when in a pose, to gain the maximum benefit both mentally and physically.  Iyengar was a pioneer in using props to help the practitioner properly align themselves and properly execute the asana.  These props include blankets, blocks and straps, which are available to for your use at most gyms and Yoga studio.  Iyengar Yoga tends to be slower, because the poses are held while the student ensures he or she is in the correct position, however you should not mistake slower for easier.  Iyengar Yoga can be physically demanding and is a great total body work out. This is an outstanding choice for yogis of all ages and experience levels.

Kundalini Yoga-
Kundalini Yoga was first brought to the US in the late 1960’s by Yogi Bhajan, and is an intensely spiritual form of Yoga.  Kundalini Yoga focuses upon sequences of asana’s called Kriya, to awaken a persons ‘coiled’ energy to draw it upwards through the body, towards the crown or the 7th Chakra. This Yoga type also utilizes chanting, signing, meditation and breathing exercises in order to achieve total body awareness.  Kundalini is excellent for practitioners who are looking for a path to self awareness and self actualization.  I have not tried Kundalini Yoga myself, but it does have some big name devotees, which include Demi Moore, Miranda Kerr and Reese Witherspoon. (Check out the full article here)  Kundalini is not for everyone, so check out the studio you intend to visit, to see if this type of Yoga is right for you.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions!  Any Yoga instructor worth their salt, should be happy to speak with you to ensure you have the best Yoga experience possible.  If they won’t answer your questions or can’t, you might want to consider a different venue.

I’ll be honest, I don't know much about Jivamukti Yoga, which, in and of itself, means very little.  However, I’ve been hearing about it quite a bit recently, so after some research here’s my two cents.  Jivamukti Yoga was created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in the 1980’s, as a form of Yoga that is grounded in it’s connection to the earth, and it’s desire to remain true to Yoga’s traditional spiritual elements.  Jinamukti Yoga is based upon five tenets which include Ahimsa- Kindness, Bhakti- Devotion, Dhyana- Meditation, Nada- Music, and Shastra- scripture. (For more information on these tenets click here)  Along with a vinyasa style practice, Jivamukti Yoga offers Meditation and Relaxation exercises in a highly organized class environment. If you are new to Yoga, the Jivamukti Yoga site suggests that you familiarize yourself with basic Yoga asanas via a beginning Vinyasa class, before stepping into their Open Class or Basic Class. For more information on this type of Yoga, please click here.

Prenatal Yoga-
The name says it all! Prenatal Yoga is a wonderful form of exercise both before and after having a baby.  Traditional Yoga poses are adapted to the mothers changing body and to ensure the health and wellbeing of the baby. If you are expecting, or have recently delivered your bundle of joy, contact your local Yoga studio or gym to see if they offer a Prenatal Yoga class. You need not have any prior Yoga experience to fully benefit and enjoy a Prenatal Yoga class.  It goes without saying, that if you do choose to pursue Prenatal Yoga, be sure to speak with your doctor prior to attending a class.

Restorative Yoga-
Restorative Yoga is a personal favorite of mine, and is a wonderful way to relax, and recharge.  Restorative Yoga is completely different from other types of Yoga in that you do fewer poses, but hold each pose for much longer… Now, don’t envision yourself in downward dog for hours, imagine the lights low, the studio comfortably warm and your mind and body relaxing in a series of slow and easy poses designed to sooth the soul and rejuvenate the body.  You will be comfortably surrounded with bolsters, pillows and blankets to assist with a passive stretch which you hold for minutes while you relax and recharge.  So, if you are a beginning, or an accomplished Yogi, Restorative is an excellent choice to wind down and spend time focusing on you.

Power Yoga-
Power Yoga is a general term used to describe a very fast paced and fitness based Yoga form.  Power Yoga like the Vinyasa style of Yoga, flows from one pose to another in quick succession; but is also based off the Ashtanga style of Yoga.  What sets Power Yoga apart from Astanga, is that there are no set series of poses during each class.  Power Yoga adds moves you would expect in other aerobic workouts, to burn calories, lose weight and build muscle. Power Yoga is a total body workout and generally appeals to those individuals who are already physically fit and enjoy exercising.  This is not what I would consider a beginner class, and I would suggest that if this type of Yoga interests you, that you take a beginner Vinyasa class to get some of the asanas under your belt.

So, there's my list.  I hope this helps clarify Yoga a bit for you.  If you have specific questions, hop online and see what you can find.  I utilized Wikipedia for the modality specifics that weren't readily knocking around my brain.   Or, better yet, stop by a gym or Yoga Studio and ask your questions in person.  Never attend a class if you aren't comfortable with the venue or the instructor and always ask questions!  Somewhere the perfect Yoga class is awaiting you, I hope you find it!!

Disclaimer- If you have any health concerns or restrictions be sure to consult your physician prior to beginning Yoga.  If you are healthy enough for Yoga, he or she might have suggestions that would steer you in the direction of a class that is right for you!!  Enjoy!

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