An ultimate guide to different types of yoga. Find your match!
Have you ever wandered what’s behind the various definitions of yoga styles – Hatha, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda (where I started my own yoga journey), etc.? And how can you choose the style that best suits you?
My fellow yogis, you are in the right place. With the help of some comprehensive online resources, I’ve put together this very ultimate guide to yoga styles to answer all you existential (yoga) questions.
As you know, yoga is one big family that embraces a wealth of practices and philosophies – different schools of yoga, different traditions and different methodologies.
The Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ has several translations and can be interpreted in many ways. It comes from the root yug and originally meant “to hitch up,” as in attaching horses to a vehicle. Another definition was “to put to active and purposeful use.” Still other translations are “yoke, join, or concentrate”. Essentially, yoga has come to describe a means of uniting, or a method of discipline.
The Yoga Sutra is a 2000 years old collection of 195 statements that provide the framework upon which all yoga practiced is based today.
The father of modern yoga is Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. You may have never heard of him, but this amazing man has probably influenced most of the asanas you practice today. He never crossed an ocean, but Krishnamacharya’s yoga has spread through Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Probably no yogi before him developed the physical practices so deliberately.
So, let’s take a panoramic look at the various styles of yoga that are most popular today. (warning: there A LOT!)
Once an obscure backwater of yoga, Hatha is now one of its central currents. Hatha yoga emphasizes physical exercises to master the body along with mind as well as exercises to withdraw it from external objects. The Hatha yoga practice emphasizes proper diet, processes to internally purify the body, proper breathing and its regulation particularly during the yoga practice. In the 20th century, techniques of Hatha yoga particularly the asanas became popular throughout the world as a form of physical exercise for relaxation, body flexibility, strength and personal concentration.
The Ashtanga yoga is a style of yoga codified and popularized by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century, which is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. Ashtanga means eight limbs or branches, of which asana or physical yoga posture is merely one branch, breath or pranayama is another. Different types of aerobically vigorous yoga exercise have derived from Ashtanga yoga, and they are often referred to as “Power yoga”.
Iyengar Yoga, named after and developed by B. K. S. Iyengar, is a form of Hatha Yoga that has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama). The development of strength, mobility and stability is gained through the asanas. Iyengar Yoga often makes use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas. The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, minimising the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old.
Kriya Yoga is a comprehensive spiritual path that was brought to the West by Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi. The Kriya yoga system consists of a number of levels of pranayama, mantra, and mudra based on techniques intended to rapidly accelerate spiritual development and engender a profound state of tranquillity and God-communion.
Yep – as you may already know, this is one of my favourites. The Sivananda training system aims to promote health and vitality by simply and naturally cultivating the body. The system philosophies are summarised in 5 principles:
1. Proper exercise: Asanas
2. Proper breathing: Pranayama
3. Proper relaxation: Savasana
4. Proper diet: Vegetarian
5. Positive thinking and meditation: Vedanta and Dhyana
Sivananda yoga is an unhurried yoga practice that typically focuses on the same twelve basic asanas, bookended by sun salutations and savasana. It involves frequent relaxation and full, yogic breathing. (Remember: breathe, and then breathe some more… 😊)
Kundalini yoga, also known as laya yoga, is a school of yoga that is influenced by Shaktism and Tantra schools of Hinduism. It derives its name through a focus on awakening kundalini energy through regular practice of meditation, pranayama, chanting mantra and yoga asana. Called by practitioners “the yoga of awareness”, it aims “to cultivate the creative spiritual potential of a human to uphold values, speak truth, and focus on the compassion and consciousness needed to serve and heal others.
As the name suggests, Integral Yoga® seeks to integrate all parts of the practitioner. The main aims are to create peace and a more balanced life. Pivotal to Integral Yoga is the idea of selfless service, known as Karma Yoga. Also used are prayer/devotion (Bhakti Yoga), meditation (Raja Yoga), repetition of mantra (Japa Yoga), and self-inquiry (Jnana Yoga), alongside to Hatha yoga postures.
Bihar is a modern school of yoga founded by Satyananda Saraswati in 1963. Bihar yoga takes influences from both ancient and traditional schools of yoga. The practice focuses on posture (asanas), breathing (Pranayama) and meditation.
This yoga is not for the faint hearts. Bikram yoga classes take place in a sauna-like room, heated to nearly 40 degrees with 40% humidity. The poses are designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles as well as cleanse the organs of the body. Prepare for a lot of sweating!
This graceful, yet challenging form of yoga is appropriate for students of all levels, because it meets each student where they are and according to their condition. It’s a devotional practice that emphasises good health, a clear mind and a kind heart.
The Dharma Yoga system places great emphasis on the Yama and Niyama, as students are encouraged to go deeper and experience the practice in a meditative and spiritual way. The ultimate goal is self-realisation i.e. gaining absolute knowledge of the True Self.
This type of yoga derives from Ashtanga and features dynamic poses and a fast-paced flow.
The Rocket Yoga System differs from the Ashtanga tradition in what is called the ‘art of modification’. Students are encouraged to remove or modify binding postures that would cause them to get stuck in the traditional series, making this method more accessible to all, regardless of ability, flexibility and strength.
Forrest Yoga is based on Hatha yoga and was created by Ana Forrest. Inspired by some aspects of Sivananda yoga, along with the alignment and props of Iyengar yoga and the heat and flow of Ashtanga yoga, Ana Forrest took poses from these schools of yoga and modified or created new ones to address today’s lifestyle physical ailments, such as lower and upper back pain, neck and shoulder issues, carpal tunnel syndrome, and intestinal disorders. Forrest Yoga creates a place in which to welcome your Spirit back home and deepen the relationship with your authentic self.
Inspired by the teachings of Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi, Dru Yoga aims to create healing and unity by combining Asanas, Pranayama (breath) and the ancient Eastern tradition of Mudras (hand gestures). Its sequences, which include postures, breath work, relaxation and meditation, are called Energy Block Release.
Jivamukti translates as ‘liberation while living’ and this practice is all about reintegrating yoga’s traditional spiritual elements in a practical way into daily life for Western practitioners. Jivamukti classes often include chanting, music and scripture readings.
Through its core philosophy and five tenets, Jivamukti Yoga is seen as a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings, the five tenets being shastra (scripture), bhakti (devotion), ahimsa (nonviolence, non-harming), nāda (music), and dhyana (meditation).
This transformative, inclusive approach embraces self-empowerment, encouraging you to believe in yourself and in your body. Kripalu yoga leads students to develop a consciousness about the way they think, act, and feel not only in their practice, but in their daily life as well. In Kripalu yoga, your body is your best teacher. It allows you to understand your body and figure out how it manages in different poses, rather than doing poses in the ways prescribed by the books and experts.
This style of yoga is often described as ‘Iyengar with a sense of humour’. Anusara yoga is based on the belief that we are all filled with an intrinsic goodness and is seen as heartfelt and accepting. Through the physical practice of Anusara yoga, students open their hearts, experience grace, and let their inner goodness shine through. Students are guided to express themselves through the poses to their fullest ability, rather than trying to fit everyone into standard positions.
Viniyoga is a customised yoga experience tailored to each individual, according to their physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs and abilities.
All viniyoga teachers are trained to lead you through this highly individualised practice, which may include pranayama, meditation, yoga philosophy, and Vedic chanting. There’s a strong focus on alignment and holding postures after the body has been sufficiently warmed up.
Vanda Scaravelli developed this style of yoga in the late ‘40s. Her approach involves working on the breath, gravity and the spine, focusing on the importance of surrendering to gravity and dropping the bones towards the earth. Scaravelli encouraged her students to develop their own individual approach to yoga. Scaravelli-inspired teachers will encourage students how to listen to themselves, how to practise yoga in a way that makes sense personally, in their own bodies and minds.
Are you surprised by so many different styles and approaches?? While the core of yoga’s spiritual teachings has remained constant for the past 2000 years, their forms and practice are constantly evolving. We are multi-dimensional beings, and yoga is evolving into practices that touch every aspect of our lives. From being practiced mainly by male ascetics in India as a path for spiritual awakening, yoga has changed to become an integral way of being that can elevate ALL areas of our life, AND can help us become a catalyst for positive shifts in our world.
No matter what styles best suits you, the results of practising yoga are always positive: better health, better relationships, more clarity of thought, more joyful creativity, more inner peace and ultimately more LOVE.