It can be a bit confusing to understand all different Yoga Styles.
The truth is, in the modern world, many different type of Yoga exist, and you can find so much variety! There is always a yoga style for you, and it is important to understand the style differences. To make it clear and try to be simple, let’s start from roots.
Understanding the roots
The term Yoga as we know it in the western world, is only a part of what Yoga really means.
Yoga means in sanskrit* ‘union’ and it is related to the union of the body, mind, soul and spirit.
In the western world we think in Yoga mainly as a form of exercise with different styles and we will be getting there later in the post, but first, it is important to point out what the 4 original types of Yoga are.
To make it simple, according to the vedantic** tradition, in life we can act, we can think, we can feel, or we can do nothing. Therefore, 3 different paths were established:
- To act is Karma Yoga: by involving joyfully in any activity, the path of work
- To think is Jnana Yoga, or Jnanamarga, and it is the path to of knowledge
- To feel is Bhakti Yoga, the path of love
- I mentioned that there were 4 paths and not 3 because Raja Yoga can be seen as the final step and goal of all Yoga. In ancient and medieval Sanskrit texts, it means the highest state of yoga practice ( reaching Samadhi, the state of meditative consciousness).
I know all this can sound a bit complex and I will be digging a bit more in Yoga traditions and history in other posts, but the context of where the Yoga we all know comes from is important that stays clear.
Raja Yoga, consists in balancing the main 3 yoga types already described.
In order to do this, there are 8 stages – also called ‘limbs – of Yoga.
This is a passionate topic and I suggest you check this post to know more about the 8 limbs of Yoga and its amazing book.
The Yoga as we know it in the western world is represented in 2 of these limbs, the third and the fourth which are Asana (Pose) and Pranayama (breath control).
Yoga practise is brought to America first in the 1990’s and this is where the different schools and teachers from India will start bringing different styles and others will also evolve later.
Are you still with me? Great, as now I will be defining the Yoga styles we generally practice!
I will be pointing to the most important Yoga Styles and the ones I believe the rest inspires from.It is quite subjective to know what a definite style is as you could be a teacher and incorporate something new to the class, and that could be technically a new style, but only known to you and your students. Technically, Any yogic technique used to address physical injury or pain, and/r mental and emotional stress and trauma can be considered Yoga Therapy
The styles I am focusing in this post and its main differences are referred below.
We could call it the foundation of all styles because Hatha Yoga was the first type of Yoga focusing particularly on asanas (postures), so it would be the umbrella where the other styles originate.
Hatha Yoga classes are great for beginners and improvers – and they can be quite challenging!- as usually poses are held for longer, and you have a great mix of strengthening and stretch. It really varies from one hatha class to the other, as you could have a real gentle class one day and a quite challenging class the other day, depending on the poses you do and the time you hold the poses for. Hatha Yoga teachers tend to mix quite a bit the poses and they usually go at a slow/mid pace transitioning from pose to pose.
For students: You should not expect to leave the class with a sweat, but more with a feeling of being longer and stronger.
For teachers: Hatha Yoga is a great foundation where you will learn all poses and you will then be able to be creative and customize your own classes.
Is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009).
It involves breath with a progressive series of postures, a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. Among its benefits, it improves circulation, it really strengthens the body and at the same time calms the mind.
For students: Ashtanga is quite demanding and would not be suggested to beginners. It is a complete workout so you should expect to feel stronger, leaner, and calmer by practicing frequently. There are many variations in the poses so there is no need to master the pose perfectly – as there is not such a thing like a ‘ perfect pose – and you can always modify it for your own body type.
For teachers: There are 6 different series in Ashtanga and these series need to be followed exactly as they are taught. It means it is a sequence that can’t be altered. It is great to learn and master the technique, however if you are more on the creative teaching side, it can turn out to be a bit flat once you know all the series by heart.
Vinyasa means’ in sanskrit ‘to place in a special way’, referring to a sequence of poses. Vinyasa derives from Ashtanga, and follows the similar concept of breath and movement. By using a special type of breath, the Ujjayi ‘ victorious breath, we produce intense internal heat and a purifying sweat that rinses out the toxins of the body. The best thing about Vinyasa – my favourite style – is that you do not need to follow the exact same sequence, as long as you follow a path and build the blocks, you can play a lot during the class with different poses. This is an intense workout and previous knowledge of most poses is recommended, although you can always attend as a beginner if you are in good health and discuss with the teacher beforehand You will feel awesome after the class.
For students: great workout, you can lose weight, tone your muscles and reach calm and focus
For teachers: this is my favourite style as mentioned, you can be really creative with your classes. I would say it is the perfect balance as style has the ashtanga foundations but you can adapt the class to your and student needs without following the exact pose to pose strictly as in Ashtanga.
Named for B.K.S Iyengar, brought yoga to the west in the 70s. His Book ‘ Light on Yoga’ is a gem and I highly recommend you to read it!
This style focuses on alignment, breath and precision in the poses.
One of the most distinctive things about the Yvengar method is the use of props, from blocks, to straps, belts, etc. The use of props is actually great to find the perfect alignment when we are not able to do it without it, this is why people with chronic conditions, or those injured or simply stiff, would really benefit from Iyengar style.
For students: classes are fun and the use of props makes it even more interesting and they help a lot to place you in the correct alignment
For teachers: a lot of in depth training and knowledge is needed to become an Iyengar Yoga teacher, and the beauty of it is that there are endless positions with props you can do to motivate students
Bikram or Hot Yoga
Named after Bikram Choudhury, this style became popular in the early 1970s. It is a system of hot yoga, a type of yoga as exercise, where the room is set up at around between 35 and 42 degrees celsius, at a 40% humidity.
Studies have discovered that heat can be highly synergistic with exercise, allowing the body to operate more optimally & ensuring you’re getting the most return out of your exercise routine.
This is an intense practise, that includes a series of 26 basic postures, with each one performed twice. Many of these poses are focused on proper alignment.
In the last years, Choudhury has faced multiple lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, assault, racism and homophobia. Many schools now changed the name to Hot Yoga instead.
For Students: careful if you have low pressure, start with a short class rather than a 90-minute class
For teachers: same for teachers, think whether you would like to be teaching a couple of classes a day in such a hot ambiance. It can be extremely challenging but extremely rewarding as well.
Created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984, Jivamukti classes integrate not only physical but also psychological and spiritual aspects of Yoga. Jivamukti style is based on vigorous vinyasa practice, breath awareness and meditation. Classes are generally themed and you should expect some lovely Sanskrit chanting.
For teachers: this is a lovely style as it has all the great mix of good workout plus spiritual and breath control, you can always base your teaching training on another style and then specialize in Jivamukti
For students: you will leave this class relaxed, with muscles probably sore but mind focused and aligned! Totally recommended!
According to the Vedantic tradition, Kundalini is energy that is ‘dormant’ at the base of the spine, and awakened by the practise of Yoga, activated and channelled upwards through the chakras.
Kundalini Yoga practise is focused on repetitive movements synchronized with the breath, along with chanting and meditating. Expect to chant mantras and to focus more on the meditation and breath to reach the alignment.
For teachers: great for teachers more inclined towards a spiritual practice
For students: great for students that want to move with clear focus mainly on the subtle body energy system and breath
Yin yoga is a stilling practice and focuses on releasing the connective tissues of the body. In Yin Yoga, poses are held for a longer period of time, this helps to stretch the body and find more space to relax, and there is also use of props to counteract that stretch and avoid overstretching. An antidote to urban life, Yin Yoga cultivates a deep sense of awareness through the release of mind and body stresses. It can also be named as restorative Yoga, however Yin Yoga places more focus on the release of the connective tissues (tendons, fascia, ligaments)
For students: great relaxing practise, attention to students with hypermobility you may want to discuss with your doctor or teacher first. Great to practise in the evening, especially after a stressful day.
For teachers: this is a lovely class to teach, as it is relaxing, and gives you a special connection with the student
Similar to Yin, and as the name says, this is a restorative practice, all about slowing down and opening the body through passive stretching. During this practice your muscles will be allowed to restore deeply and to reset.
For students: this class is great for people needing to wind down or for athletes that need to reset their muscles, or simply anyone that wants to distress
For teachers: similar to restorative Yoga, it is a delight to teach this class – it could be usually the last of your day – and you will leave with a sense of accomplishment but also relaxed to be ready for the next day.
There are endless Yoga Styles but the ones pointed above are the main ones for you to choose what to practice and/or to teach. And remember that we can love many more than only 1 style, and you can also specialise in as many styles as you like.
The path is endless, and the beauty is in the variety!
*Indo-Aryan or Indic language
**one of the six Hindu traditions