Types of yoga exercises
Our complete guide to all the different methods of the modern Yoga world!
When you start checking out the schedules of yoga studios around town, you’ll notice right away that the schedules are filled with classes in a variety of styles. Some of them have exotic names like “Ashtanga” or “Kundalini.” Some of them are a bit more familiar, like “Power,” or “Flow.”
But what does it all mean? Why are they called these things, and what are the differences between them?
It’s even worse when you take a trip around the internet and start running across things like “Bowspring Yoga,” “Anusara Yoga” or the increasingly popular “Beer Yoga,” which, we assure you, is not a traditional style of Yoga and combines two things that are a lot more fun when they are kept separate.
As always, we’re here to help, and so we have created a complete Encyclopedia of Yoga types to help you find a method that works for you. Each of them has it’s pros and cons, and none of them are perfect for every practitioner. We’ll outline their unique benefits as well as their potential drawbacks and contraindications.
Your unique goals, life experience, and physical constitution, will inevitably predispose you to some over others.
Some of the styles we will cover are very traditional, and others are modern brands or proprietary methods created by specific people or organizations that have become popular. Some are appropriate for absolute beginners, and some are a bit more intense. Some are deeply spiritual and include very little of what we’d ordinarily think of as physical exercise and some are essentially aerobics classes with breathing cues.
So What is the Best Yoga Style for You?
Everyone has their opinions about what Yoga is really about and what styles are the most effective.
However, the truth is, the best style of Yoga for you is the one you will actually do.
When picking a style to try, be honest with your self. Think about your temperament, your unique skills, and challenges, your physical and psychological needs. Most importantly, think about what it is you actually want from the practice.
Are you just trying to increase your mobility and maybe lose a few pounds? Are you trying to calm your mind while developing focus and clarity? Are you a serious spiritual seeker looking to attain altered states and deep visionary experiences?
Pick one that excites and intrigues you and just try it out for a while. You can always switch later.
The most important thing is to just practice!
We’ve organized this guide in alphabetical order so as not to prefer one style over any other, and so you can use it as a reference and simply scroll to the entry that interests you. Many of these terms can mean multiples thing. In these cases, we will attempt to explain the most popular use of the term while also mentioning the possible range of meanings.
Yoga Styles from A to Z
A form of Yoga done with a partner that incorporates a variety of acrobatic poses that are borrowed from circus arts and gymnastics. Practitioners meet up in gatherings called “Acro Jams.”
The focus of Acro Yoga is mainly on fun and physical challenge. For this reason, it is often criticized for not being “real” Yoga. It doesn’t concern itself with meditation or breathing techniques, and it’s not grounded in any kind of spiritual philosophy, but it’s great exercise and a great way to build community and relationships.
Beginner Acro Yoga classes are usually approachable to anyone with normal mobility, but it gets hard fast, carries a slightly higher risk of injury than normal yoga, and can be a bit scary for some. If you are a complete beginner to yoga and movement practices, it may be best to start with some Vinyasa or strength-based Hatha classes to build some core strength and balance before attempting Acro.
A style of Yoga that is done with the aid of a hammock or sling that hangs from above and can support and suspend the practitioner while performing a variety of poses. The method combines several supported yoga techniques originally developed by BKS Iyengar (see Iyengar Yoga,) with acrobatic techniques developed in circus arts and gymnastics.
It is closely related to aerial silks acrobatics and uses many of the same ideas.
There are several different branded methods of Aerial Yoga such as Fly High Yoga and Sky Yoga, each of which has different sling designs and different levels of difficulty. Certain styles of Aerial Yoga are gentle, relaxing, and approachable by beginners. Other styles may be quite demanding and require some strength and athleticism. We suggest asking in advance.
Anusara is a style of yoga that combines modern yoga postures with the spiritual and meditative techniques of traditional Hatha Yoga and certain aspects of Hindu spiritual philosophy. It was created by the popular American Yoga teacher John Friend, who later left the organization he founded amid a number of scandals.
The popularity of Anusara has waned since then, and the name is not often used when describing Yoga classes. However, it was enormously influential for a time, and many currently popular teachers in the west were either directly trained in Anusara Yoga or were influenced by it. It is highly influenced by Iyengar Yoga and incorporates detailed alignment cues and special emphasis on “heart-opening” postures.
The Anusara School of Hatha Yoga is still in operation and continues to train and certify teachers without the involvement of John Friend.
These days, Ashtanga Yoga generally refers to a vigorous form of Asana practice that was originally taught by the revolutionary yoga teacher Krishnamacharya while he was teaching in the royal palace of Mysore, India. The system was further developed by one of his students, K. Pattabhi Jois and gradually took the form that it has today, which is technically known as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Ashtanga Vinyasa teaches a number of fixed sequences of postures of gradually increasing difficulty and intensity. Students are meant to learn them one at a time under the guidance of a teacher and only move on to the next pose when the teacher agrees that it’s appropriate. Every movement of the sequence is connected to the breath, and this is what is known as a Vinyasa.
Traditionally, Ashtanga Vinyasa classes are rarely taught in the led format that so many are used to today. Since the sequence remains the same day to day, students practice together but at their own pace and to the specific sequence that they have been given.
Ashtanga Vinyasa can be taught to absolute beginners, but it is not recommended for people with mobility issues or other therapeutic needs. It can be incredibly physically transformative but also requires an enormous amount of dedication and discipline to progress beyond the basics. It carries a higher risk of injury than most other forms of Yoga, and so it is recommended that practitioners only learn it with experienced teachers that have their own dedicated Ashtanga Vinyasa practice.
The word “Ashtanga” refers to the eight limbs of Yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. So the word Ashtanga Yoga could also be used simply to describe any tradition that takes the Yoga Sutras as their source text. The term is rarely used this way in the west, however, in India, this meaning is still common.
Baptiste Yoga is a form of vigorous Vinyasa–based Asana practice, where yoga postures are connected to each other in movements that are synced to the breath. The practice is done in a heated room.
This was one of the earliest forms of “Power Yoga,” and remains both popular and influential. Like most forms of Power Yoga, the practice is influenced by Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga but has been adjusted to allow for more flexibility, more approach-ability, and less potential for injury. The breath counts are shorter, and movement is a bit more emphasized.
Baptiste Yoga can be practiced by beginners, though it is quite vigorous, so it’s not appropriate for people with health or mobility issues. The biggest barrier to entry for some will be the heat of the room, which some people will love right away, and some people will need to adjust to.
Baptiste classes also incorporate periods of meditation and are grounded in yogic self-inquiry.
Bhakti Yoga is one of the few forms of Yoga on this list that has nothing to do with postures. Originally, Yoga simply referred to any method meant to achieve union with the divine, and in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the classic scriptures of the Hindu tradition, there are outlined three types of Yoga.
Bhakti is one of them, and it refers to the yoga of devotion to God. Bhakti Yogi practices devotion through different forms of prayer, mantra, or song. The Hare Krishna movement is an example of Bhakti Yoga in a traditional context.
In the west, the modern Bhakti scene generally revolves around the performance of kirtan, songs where the names and attributes of God are recited repetitively to elicit a state of deep, meditative trance.
This style was the first to popularize so-called “Hot Yoga,” where postures are practiced in a room heated to up to 40 degrees celsius. It teaches a series of 26 postures and 2 Pranayamas, or breath control techniques that were systematized by popular teacher Bikram Choudury in the ’70s and based on the techniques of the Bengali yoga lineage of Bishnu Charan Ghosh.
Bikram Choudhury left America in the wake of a number of scandals and ever since then the popularity of the Bikram name has subsided. However, many still teach a version of the original method that is often called, simply, Hot 26 or Hot 26 + 2. Some of the former exponents of Bikram Yoga have turned their attention to exploring the less rigid system originally expounded by Bishnu Charan Ghosh.
These classes are generally not recommended for those with mobility issues or chronic health conditions. The rooms are generally kept very hot and should be avoided by anyone with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions of any kind, or anyone prone to faintness or overheating.
CorePower Yoga is the largest privately held chain of yoga studios in the United States. They teach their system of yoga postures that incorporates aspects of Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga and Bikram Yoga. They offer classes in both heated and non-heated environments.
The word “flow,” when applied to Yoga, is essentially a translation of the word Vinyasa. It refers to any yoga style where postures are sequenced together through movements. For more information, see the section on Vinyasa Yoga.
Forrest Yoga was initially developed by and named after the popular Yoga teacher Ana Forrest, who founded the style in the early ’80s. It is known for being a physically intense style of Yoga that uses both long holds of postures and more vigorous movement-based practices.
It is influenced in many ways by Sivananda Yoga, with the detailed alignment of Iyengar Yoga and some of the athletic sequences of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. The philosophy of Forrest Yoga incorporates aspects of Native American spirituality with the usual Indian scriptural sources.
A beginner can learn this style of Yoga though it is not recommended for beginners with mobility issues or chronic health conditions.
Technically, any style of Yoga that uses physical postures as a method of exercise and meditation is a form of Hatha Yoga. This would include all but a few of the entries on this list.
In modern Yoga studios, the word “Hatha” is often used to distinguish classes from “Vinyasa” classes. In this case, a Hatha class will generally be a bit more gentle and will incorporate longer holds of poses and more floor-based stretching, though an advanced Hatha class can be very intense in its own right. These classes are often based on Iyengar or Sivananda Yoga.
Hatha classes will often reference the classic Indian scripture the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as their source text. Classes with this focus may refer to themselves as “Classical Hatha Yoga” and will usually incorporate several of the traditional breath control techniques known as “Pranayama.”
These classes are usually appropriate for absolute beginners.
Integral Yoga can be used to refer to the yoga systems of at least three different Indian gurus: Swami Satchidananda, Sri Aurobindo, and Swami Satyananda.
Swami Satchidananda was one of the original gurus to popularize yoga in the west during the cultural revolution of the 1960s. He promoted a style of yoga that emphasized spiritual liberation by integrating many different branches of Yoga. This included the practices of Hatha Yoga as well as devotional practices and codes of conduct. He called it Integral Yoga.
Sri Aurobindo was a prominent guru around the time of Indian Independence who was originally a freedom fighter and political radical who would have a transformational spiritual experience while in prison that saw him leave politics to pursue the spiritual practice. He expounded an incredibly dense and detailed philosophy of spiritual liberation that he called Integral Yoga.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati was a disciple of Sivananda who would go on to found the Bihar School Of Yoga, a large ashram devoted to yogic practice as well as a publishing house which produces copies of ancient yogic texts and commentaries that can be found all over the world. The style of yoga promoted by Satyananda focuses on developing the “whole person,” and incorporates spiritual, psychological, and physical disciplines along with traditional Indian philosophy. This is also often referred to as Integral Yoga.
None of these three forms of Yoga are particularly strenuous and are all approachable by absolute beginners. They are each deeply spiritual and will not be of much interest to those concerned mainly with the physical aspects of yoga practice.
Iyengar Yoga is a system of yoga practice developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, a prominent student of the great Krishnamacharya who goes on to be among the first to popularize the practice of Asana, or yogic postures, in the West.
His system emphasizes the rigorously detailed alignment of postures that are usually held for long periods and often performed in different ways. Iyengar developed an entire system for using various props, such as blocks, blankets, bolsters, chairs, ropes, and walls to support poses, make them more challenging or emphasize specific actions within the pose.
Iyengar teachers are very highly trained in the use of the method in treating various health and mobility issues, so it is perfect for those that have physical conditions that render other types of exercise inappropriate. It is also great for beginners.
Iyengar Yoga can also be a very advanced yoga practice, though practitioners would need to attend advanced classes for this.
Jivamukti is a style of Yoga and a brand of yoga studio created by David Life and Sharon Gannon, American students of Ashtanga Vinyasa and Sivananda Yoga. Their system emphasizes a posture-based Hatha Yoga practice that incorporates spiritual teachings that centre around five tenets: study, devotion, non-violence, deep listening, and meditation.
Jnana Yoga, like Bhakti Yoga, is one of the three forms of yoga outlined in the Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita, each of which is said to lead to spiritual liberation and awakening. Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge or insight.
It emphasizes detailed self-inquiry through meditation and philosophical speculation. It concerns itself directly with questions like “Who am I?” “What am I?” or “What is the nature of the self?”
Prominent exponents of Jnana Yoga include the modern disciples of Indian spiritual teacher Ramana Maharshi, the various schools of Advaita Vedanta, and the modern proponents of Kashmir Shaivism, all of which promote forms of non-dual spiritual philosophy.
It is interesting to note that the Japanese word “Zen,” which refers to a form of Buddhism, is etymologically related to the Sanskrit word Jnana.
Karma Yoga is one of the three forms of Yoga outlined in the classic Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita. The other two being Bhakti and Jnana Yoga.
Karma Yoga is the Yoga of work or selfless service. It emphasizes the performance of action without attachment to the fruits of those actions. In this way, the Karma Yogi learns to practice his spirituality while being directly engaged in the actions of daily life, rather than requiring an isolated monastic environment or a rigorous code of self-discipline.
In this way, it is thought to be the most accessible form of Yoga, though it is also seen as being among the most difficult to master. The popular American spiritual teacher Ram Dass, is thought of as a practitioner of Karma Yoga and spoke extensively on the topic.
Kripalu Yoga was a style of yoga developed by yoga teacher Amrit Desai at the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Though Kripalu Yoga doesn’t really exist as a stand-alone yoga style any longer, the Kripalu Center has emerged as one of the foremost institutions for yoga education in North America and remains enormously influential. Some of the most famous yoga teachers in the world are Kripalu-trained.
Kriya Yoga generally refers to the system of meditation taught by Swami Yogananda, who was one of the first Indian mystics to popularize Indian philosophy and spirituality in the west.
In 1920, Yogananda founded the Self-Realization Fellowship, an organization devoted to spreading and promoting his teachings, including Kriya Yoga. The organization is still in existence almost 100 years later and remains popular among those who conceive of Yoga as a spiritual path.
Kriya Yoga is a form of meditation and does not involve any postures, though Yogananda did also promote physical fitness as an important aspect of the spiritual life.
These days, when you hear about Kundalini Yoga in the west, it is almost always referring to a style of Yoga that was promoted by an Indian Yoga teacher called Yogi Bhajan. Yogi Bhajan came to North America in 1968 and taught a style of yogic practice heavily influenced by Hindu Shaktism and Tantric practices combined with mantras and prayers from his own Sikh heritage.
Kundalini Yoga teaches a series of exercises that are intended to gain awareness and control of the subtle energy, or prana, of the body. It is thought that a type of prana, called kundalini, gathers in an energy centre near the base of the spine, and if the practitioner is able to draw this kundalini up through each of the subtle energy centres, known as chakras, the practitioner will be able to gain awareness of the prana outside of the physical body and achieve a mystical experience known as kundalini awakening.
Kundalini Yoga involves physical exercises, breath practices, meditative practices, mantras, and music. It is accessible to beginners though can occasionally be quite vigorous and intense. It is appropriate for anyone who has a fascination with the mystical experience, altered states of consciousness and esoteric systems of knowledge.
Modo Yoga is an international chain of Hot Yoga studios, formerly known as Moksha. They teach a variety of yoga styles including Flow, Hatha, Yin, and their own Modo sequence, which is partially based on Bikram Yoga.
Partner Yoga simply refers to any Yoga exercises that are performed with a partner.
Partner Yoga classes can borrow from any of the physical styles of Yoga. However they use a partner to provide support, traction or gentle pressure to allow people to gain a different experience of the various poses. The focus of Partner Yoga is usually on fun and personal connection, and not so much on meditative or spiritual experience.
It is appropriate for practitioners of all skill levels through communication is key if you have mobility issues or injuries of any kind.
Yoga can be enormously beneficial for pregnant women, or women who have just given birth to a child. However, teaching Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga requires specialized training and understanding to maintain a safe and nurturing environment.
Prenatal Yoga can reduce stress, improve sleep, help with lower back pain, build strength and endurance in the muscles required for childbirth, and improve the health and postnatal outcomes of both mother and baby.
Power Yoga refers to a style of yoga class that emphasizes vigorous movement and strong, physically demanding yoga postures. Power Yoga classes are almost always heavily influenced by Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga, with a particular emphasis on athleticism, dynamic movement, and strength.
Because poses tend not to be held for very long, poses with a high-risk of injury are usually not taught, and so most classes are appropriate for physically fit beginners. Some poses require a high degree of strength, though most can be modified or simply skipped.
Baptiste Yoga and Rocket Yoga are both styles of Power Yoga.
Raja Yoga is a term that is generally used to refer to seated meditation-based yoga practices. Swami Vivekananda, one of the popularizers of yoga in the west, used the term to refer to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the key texts of the Yoga philosophy.
Nowadays, Raja Yoga usually refers to a style of yoga that emphasizes seated meditation practices, and may also be used to refer to any school that hews tightly to the concepts outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Yoga Sutras, though they are often referenced in modern exercise-based Yoga teacher training, contain only a brief reference to the concept of posture and no exposition whatsoever of actual postural practice, so Raja Yoga will generally place little emphasis on it.
Restorative Yoga is a style of Yoga that uses a variety of props to support the practitioner so that they can release completely into poses that are held for long periods of time.
Restorative Yoga is meant to elicit states of deep relaxation and allow the body to open slowly and gently, helping to release patterns of tension in the body that can lead to larger forms of bodily dysfunction.
The practice was originally developed as a part of the Iyengar Yoga system, however, in most Yoga studios it is now usually taught as a standalone class.
It is appropriate for all experience levels and can be very therapeutic for people with both physical and mental health issues, though it is advised to seek a highly experienced teacher if you have such issues. It is also the perfect supplement for a more vigorous, strength-based yoga practice.
Sivananda Yoga is a style of yoga that was developed by Swami Vishnudevananda, who was sent to the west in 1959 to spread the teachings of his guru Swami Sivananda, a highly influential Indian spiritual teacher based in the holy city of Rishikesh.
A Sivananda Yoga class always teaches a fixed sequence of 12 basic postures. Over time variations are gradually introduced for more advanced practitioners. The postures are generally held for a long period of time and incorporate long resting periods as well as the practice of Pranayama, or breathing practices.
Sivananda Yoga is appropriate for beginners though some of the basic poses may need to be modified for people with mobility issues or injuries. The practice is slow-moving and highly meditative, so it may not be appropriate for those looking for more athletic practice.
Sivananda Yoga emphasizes Yoga as a complete spiritual lifestyle that includes proper diet, ethical conduct, and devotional practices. Sivananda Yoga centres usually also hold meditation classes and weekly satsangs, or spiritual gatherings that feature mantra, devotional song, and teachings from the traditional scriptures.
Sridaiva is a style of Yoga based on the “Bowspring” method, a system of functional movement that emphasizes the natural curves of the spine and is intended to create a sense of ease and a lack of tension in the body.
Sridaiva was developed in 2013 by yoga teachers Desi Springer and John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga after Friend left the Anusara organization in 2012. It bears some of the hallmarks of the Anusara method, including an emphasis on “heart-opening” postures.
Viniyoga is a style that was developed by the revolutionary yoga teacher Krishnamacharya and taught by his son T.K.V. Desikachar. It emphasizes a highly individualized yoga practice that includes physical postures, as well as breathing exercises, relaxation, meditation, and lifestyle choices.
Because the whole point of Viniyoga is to develop a personalized practice for each person, it does not lend itself to studio-based classes and is mainly used in one-on-one sessions with a teacher, or therapeutic applications.
The term Viniyoga is not used very often anymore, though many of its principles have found their way into the Yoga Therapy profession, and the teachings of Desikachar remain enormously influential.
Vinyasa has easily become the most common form of yoga taught in modern yoga studios today. It is based on principles developed by the great yoga pioneer Krishnamacharya and involves linking traditional Hatha Yoga postures together with a series of movements that are connected to the breath, with certain types of movements done on the inhale and other types on the exhale.
Most Vinyasa Yoga is based on the various styles of yoga that branched off from what Krishnamacharya taught, particularly Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
The traditional Sun Salutation exercise is the foundation of most forms of Vinyasa Yoga and is the main way that postures are linked together. However, there has been a lot of emphasis in the last decade on creative sequencing, where postures are linked together in different and unique ways that emphasize different movement patterns in the body.
Vinyasa has a pretty broad definition when used in modern yoga studios and is used to describe any kind of yoga class with postures to linked to the breath. The word “flow” is a common translation for the word Vinyasa. Some teachers will emphasize the energetic and meditative aspects of the practice, and some will treat it more as a fitness-oriented workout.
The skill level required for a Vinyasa class will depend on the teacher. Anyone with normal mobility should be able to attend a beginner Vinyasa class, though it will require a bit of physical fitness to progress into higher levels. Many of the entries on this list would qualify as Vinyasa styles, including Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga, Baptiste Yoga, Forrest Yoga, CorePower Yoga, Anusara Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga, and Viniyoga
Yin Yoga is a style that has become exceptionally popular in recent years. In Yin Yoga, poses are held completely passively, with as little muscular engagement as possible. Poses are held for very long periods of time, usually at least 5 minutes per posture.
The idea is to allow the muscles to release into their natural mobility, while slowly breaking down the myofascial that encases the muscles and can restrict their range of motion, it also places gentle stress on tendons and ligaments and can help to strengthen them when done gently, without pushing or pulling into the poses.
Yin Yoga has numerous physical benefits, though it can also be a profound relaxation practice. It trains the body to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous even when under states of minor stress. This can lead to states of meditation in advanced practitioners.
Yin Yoga is appropriate for beginners, although people with joint problems may find it places a bit more strain on the joints than a gentle Hatha-style class. Yin Yoga is a perfect supplement to more active yoga practice and was never really meant to be a standalone practice of its own. For this reason, you often see studios holding “Yin Yang” classes, which combine Yin Yoga with a Vinyasa based practice.
With so many styles to choose from, it can be tough to know what’s best for you.
That’s why we offer Multi-Style Yoga Retreats and Teacher Trainings that are appropriate for all levels of experience.
Our Multi-Style trainings offer a balanced overview of all the currently popular styles of Yoga and relate them all back to their spiritual and philosophical roots. We believe that each style has its own unique benefits to offer a sincere practitioner and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
All of our dedicated teachers are lifetime yoga practitioners with a wide range of knowledge and experience in all aspects of Yoga.
So find a Yoga practice that fits your personal needs and goals and register for training today!
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