Wait, There’s More Than One Type of Yoga?

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Have you ever thought that the word ‘yoga’ means only one type? The kind that flexible women do?

When looking at a yoga class schedule, are you confused by some of the terms and styles?

Do you wonder which class you should take?

Are there different kinds or styles of yoga? What other options are out there?

We all want to get what we’re looking for out of yoga. Whether that’s a physical benefit, mental clarity, peace, joy, or to nourish ourselves spiritually. Below, we’ll explore some of the different styles and help give you a clearer understanding of what you’re signing yourself up for as well as what’s out there for you.

First, What’s a Vinyasa?

The most common question I receive from students new to yoga asking about class schedules is, “what’s a vinyasa?” Quite simply, a vinyasa means linking your breath with your movement.

With your arms at your sides, inhale and sweep your arms up overhead, exhale, bring them back down to your sides. That’s a vinyasa. One breath, to one movement.

It could be very gentle, like the first example. Or, as one can imagine, the intensity can increase, like in a Power Vinyasa class. An example is our Sun Salutation A, also called Surya Namaskara A. In standing, inhale, sweep your arms up, exhale, fold forward, inhale half lift, exhale, step back to plank, and lower through chaturanga (a yogic pushup), inhale to up dog. Exhale down dog, inhale as your step or hop towards the top of your mat to a half lift, exhale fold, inhale, sweep your arms up overhead to stand, and exhale arms back down to your side. Generally, there will be vinyasas in any style of yoga you do, which can also be called a flow-based class. If a class is named with the word vinyasa in it, the general rule of thumb is to expect it to be more fast-paced.

Sun Salutation A

What I Wish I Knew Before I Went to My First Class

Before we get into the most common styles of yoga, I want you to understand that a part of finding the right yoga class is about the style, yes, but it’s also about finding the right teacher. One teacher may resonate with you, while another might not. One teacher’s idea of a gentle class may be completely different from another’s way of teaching. If you try a yoga class (or any other class for that matter) and you’re iffy about it or unsure. I highly encourage you to try a different teacher and/or style. Most studios: yoga, gym, dance, etc., have a new student promotion price that’s a great way to try out different classes.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are so many different types of yoga I cannot go into all of them. And there are more and more branches to the yoga tree forming all the time. 

Hot Vinyasa

Hot yoga typically is heated to 85°F-105°F depending on the style and studio. It’s a flow-based (vinyasa) class. The flow itself usually changes, unlike other specific types of hot yoga. Hot power yoga is popular, but there are also slower hot classes.

A great example of a power class. Plus, his voice reminds me of Matthew McConaughey 😉

Baptiste Yoga

Power yoga where the room is heated to 85°F 

Iyengar Yoga

Focuses on structural alignment and precision of poses. Teachers of this style have a standardized system of instruction. 

Ashtanga Yoga

Is a 90 minute series of poses that never change. They have six series. A primary series, an intermediate series, and four advanced series. The flow doesn’t change.

This is a great example of an Ashtanga class. But it’s important to keep in mind his students are very advanced and familiar with the sequence.

Bikram Yoga

Another style of hot yoga. Heated to 105°F and is always the same series of 26 poses. 

Hatha Yoga

Combines solar and lunar energies, yin and yang qualities. Almost all yoga can fall under this category except for yin and restorative. Usually, less of a flow than a vinyasa class because poses are held for a bit longer. 

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga typically uses lots of props to support relaxation. Bolsters, blankets, blocks, straps, eye pillows, and sandbags or hand weights can all potentially be used in a restorative class. It helps to reset your nervous system and rejuvenate you. Usually, you will stay in a pose for 2-10 minutes, fully supported, so there’s no musculature effort at all, and you can feel relaxed and at ease. The video below is a nice example of a short restorative practice without needing props.

Yoga Nidra

Sometimes referred to as iRest. It’s a type of meditation and can be done during a restorative practice or during savasana.

Yin Yoga

Poses are held for 2-7 minutes. It works to appropriately stress the joints, tissues, and fascia to help avoid degeneration. It works against contracture, fixation and can stimulate the production of hyaluronic acid. The joints can only be stressed when the muscles are relaxed. For me, I can feel my muscles let go around minute two. Then I can feel the sensation going deeper, past the musculature layer.

Kundalini Yoga

Less physical of a practice how we think in the West. It works primarily with your kundalini energy. That energy is said to be coiled like a serpent at the base of your spine. Kundalini helps to uncoil that energy, bringing it up your spine to eventually reach Samadhi (your highest state of being or concentration, enlightenment). There are a lot of breathing practices and kryas that cleanse and purify the body. Some kryas you do at home and are a bit extreme in my opinion, but some, like with breathing exercises, you do in class. I’ve only practiced this style a handful of times, and you need to go into it with an open mind. Still, afterward, I’ve always felt better mentally and spiritually. 

Again, there are so many other styles—Buti yoga, chair yoga, aerial yoga, core strength vinyasa. All styles incorporate all or parts of the eight limbs of yoga. The physical practice is only one part out of eight.

A nice example of what a gentle yoga sequence could be. Also important to note that the word gentle is subjective. What you think gentle is and what I think it is might be different. That goes back to finding a teacher who resonates with you.

The Takeaway

Whatever yoga you choose to do, know the difference between pain and discomfort. There should never be any pain. And if there is, you need to either back out of the pose, slightly or all the way, find an alternative pose, use props, or modify to suit your own body. Make it safely work for you.

Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual, uses an excellent analogy for all the different styles and approaches to yoga. It can be looked at like a forest filled with color and variety. Every single tree has the same goal: to reach toward the light. Each tree species has individual characteristics that lets it grow to its highest potential. One tree’s method is not better than any other. All of the various yoga systems are unique, yet they all have the same purpose: to grow towards enlightenment.

Now go out there and try out some different classes! Have fun. Or, if practicing in your home is more your style, Youtube as you can see has some great teachers. I also personally subscribe to DoYou, Yoga International, and Fit and Fierce Club. And if you want to dive a little bit deeper, I have a Udemy course that lays a good foundation on a couple of styles of yoga, some yogic philosophy, and breathing practices.

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