What is yoga exactly, and what are the main types of yoga that are commonly practiced? There are many interpretations of what yoga is, but let's stick to the most important and traditional definition of it.
When I was in my yoga teacher training, the Sanskrit definition of yoga we were taught to remember was “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha”. These are Patanjali's (considered to be the father of modern yoga) words. In English, that translates to “yoga removes the fluctuations of the mind”. In other words, yoga centers and grounds you in your body and helps you let go of any mental disturbances. Yogas chitta vritti nirodha, say it with me!
Some of the other benefits of yoga are that it increases your flexibility, muscle strength, tone, energy, and vitality. It also helps your metabolism, cardiovascular health, and weight reduction.
Now, you may be asking yourself which style of yoga to choose. There are so many now. Well, it all depends on your needs and temperament. For example, if it’s hard for you to sit still and relax easily, you might benefit from more active, sweat-inducing styles, such as Ashtanga, Power, or Vinyasa yoga. But if you prefer more gentle and soothing practices, you will enjoy Yin or Restorative.
Let's delve into 10 popular types of yoga, their benefits, and who they are best suited for.
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1. Hatha yoga
Basic Hatha yoga overview
Hatha yoga is one of the most traditional types of yoga and the most widely practiced, making it the best style of yoga for beginners. Any form of yoga that moves your physical body is actually a branch of Hatha yoga. And yes, there are styles of yoga where you don’t move at all! Bhakti and Yoga Nidra, for example. A typical Hatha yoga class includes meditation and breathing techniques as well as asanas, i.e. physical postures. Ideally, a comprehensive hatha yoga class includes teachings about philosophy, but many modern classes skip this part, unfortunately.
Who is Hatha yoga best for
Hatha yoga is a great option for any level, whether you are a beginner or an advanced practitioner. You can change its intensity by increasing or decreasing the duration of holding each pose. It's also good for older adults who are looking to improve the mobility of their joints.
If you are looking for a more wholesome and comprehensive approach to yoga that does not focus on asanas alone, this is your type of yoga.
Benefits of Hatha yoga
Hatha yoga improves flexibility, strength, and core strength. It's great for back problems, and who doesn't have one of those? It can also help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. After a good Hatha yoga class, I feel at ease and centered. I am at peace and present.
2. Vinyasa yoga
Basic overview of Vinyasa yoga
While Hatha focuses on specific postures, Vinyasa yoga is all about patterns of poses. In a Vinyasa class, you are constantly transitioning from one pose to another, synchronizing breath with movement. Vinyasa yoga is a very active and rigorous form of yoga.
Who Vinyasa yoga best for
Vinyasa yoga is especially great for those who need a lot of movement to let go of stress.
Benefits of Vinyasa yoga
The scientifically proven benefits of Vinyasa yoga are that it improves flexibility, muscle strength, heart and bone health, and blood flow. It's great for strengthening cartilage and joints, as well as elevating your mood levels. Vinyasa yoga also helps with digestion, detox, and better sleep quality.
3. Ashtanga yoga
Basic overview of Ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga yoga has strict yoga sequences to be followed in each class. It synchronizes breath with the movement, just like Vinyasa. In Ashtanga yoga, the breath is very important because it informs you whether or not you are focused. Ashtanga is a very physically demanding style of yoga and is widely considered the most difficult because of this.
Who Ashtanga yoga is best for
Ashtanga yoga classes are great for those who like the sweat, rigor, and discipline of it. There's much to be said about the power of repetition. Indeed, when practicing the same sequence repeatedly and when the positions become routine, only then can you focus on the deeper aspects of your yoga practice. If you have to think every time which hand goes where then your mind will be distracted and concerned with whether you are doing the physical postures correctly.
Ashtanga is not for those who get injured easily because the injury rate is high, particularly in the joints.
Benefits of Ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga is great for losing weight because there is a big cardio component. Like with other types of yoga, you can improve your concentration by practicing Ashtanga. You can also develop healthy self-esteem because it strengthens your core, which is the seat of your solar plexus chakra associated with the sense of self.
4. Iyengar yoga
Basic overview of Iyengar yoga
Iyengar yoga is a form of yoga where great emphasis lies on the structural alignment of the practitioner. I like it because it’s very detailed and precise. This is good because there's a minimum risk of injury with proper alignment. This style of yoga makes great use of props so that the proper alignment of the body is achieved.
Who Iyengar yoga is best for
Thanks to the use of props, less muscular effort is made. So, Iyengar yoga is really good for beginners, the injured, the elderly, and those who have any physical limitations practicing asanas correctly. For example, when my students can't bend too low in a Forward Seated Bend, I give them a folded blanket to sit on. By raising the height of their hips, they manage to do the pose correctly. This is the principle behind most Iyengar yoga postures.
Benefits of Iyengar yoga
Iyengar benefits are similar to those of Hatha; it improves physical and mental health and helps with back pain and any postural issues. It helps you develop body awareness because you need to understand each instruction on what to do with your body parts.
5. Bikram yoga
Basic overview of Bikram yoga
Bikram is a type of hot yoga class. Again we have a set sequence to repeat, but this time it's in a room heated at 105°F with 40 percent humidity. A Bikram class is 90 minutes long and consists of 2 breathing exercises, 24 asanas, and a 2-minute-long Savasana.
Who Bikram yoga is best for
Bikram is best for those who thrive on heat. Really, your organism needs to be “into” this type of temperature. Also, if you like a more military vibe, this is the yoga style to practice. I, personally, am not that into it.
Benefits of Bikram yoga
Bikram is a great detox because you will be sweating profusely. It also improves strength, mobility, and balance and tones the muscles.
6. Sivananda yoga
Basic overview of Sivananda yoga
Sivananda yoga is based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda and has its roots in Hatha yoga. A class is typically 90 minutes long and starts with a relaxing asana, such as Savasana, and then progresses onto other 12 basic asanas. A Sivananda yoga class has a little bit of everything: inversions, backbends, forward bends, twists, and balancing. Regular relaxation periods are a part of this style of yoga, also.
Who Sivananda yoga is best for
If you are more concerned with your health and physical well-being, then this is your practice. The goal of the Sivananda yoga system is a healthy and vital body with zero illnesses.
Benefits of Sivananda yoga
Sivananda improves flexibility, circulation, and strength and keeps the body young.
7. Yin yoga
Basic overview of Yin yoga
The focus of Yin yoga is working deep into the connective tissues, unlike most other yoga styles that work more with muscles. Stimulating fascia is said to help release trauma, stress, and anxiety. Poses are held for 2-7 minutes in a Yin yoga class. The longer, the better because it enables a deeper release of tension. These classes are very soothing and gentle. But Yin requires patience because a lot of Yin yoga involves holding a pose and just waiting.
Who Yin yoga is best for
If you already have a more energetic routine, it's good to supplement it with Yin. For example, a friend of mine does Ashtanga first and then ends his practice with Yin. That's not to say that Yin is not suitable as a stand-alone practice. It's meant for everyone looking for a more gentle approach to mind-body health. Even though I teach Hatha, Yin is probably my favorite style.
Benefits of Yin yoga
Yin yoga improves joint and connective tissue health and brings balance and relaxation.
8. Restorative yoga
Basic overview of Restorative yoga
Restorative yoga is the most relaxing style of yoga that uses a whole lot of props, such as blocks, straps, sandbags, bolsters, and blankets to support the body and create a passive mind-body release. As the name indicates, it has a restorative effect on the mind and body. It aims to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and switch off fight or flight mode. When in our parasympathetic mode, we feel calm, relaxed, and safe. This is the goal of Restorative yoga. As mentioned, it's completely passive, and there are no active movements.
Who Restorative yoga is best for
Due to its healing effects, Restorative yoga is great for anybody looking for stress release, a sense of safety, and deep relaxation.
Benefits of Restorative yoga
Restorative yoga activates the body’s natural healing mechanisms and thereby brings you into a state of healing. It facilitates a sense of calm and relaxation. That's why it's not uncommon for people to fall asleep in a Restorative yoga class.
9. Power yoga
Basic overview of Power yoga
Power yoga classes are only concerned with the physical aspects of yoga. So, it's not so spiritual. Some criticize it because it deviates so much from what original yoga was about. But I say, let's focus on the similarities here, not the differences. As I see it, Power yoga does your body good, and it's rooted in the modern science of working out.
Who Power yoga is best for
Power yoga is great for anyone interested in a whole-body cardio and strength-building workout.
Benefits of Power yoga
Power yoga helps you release stress. It also activates the good biochemicals and thereby puts you in a good mood. When I was doing power yoga, I remember feeling ecstatic after class. I had more energy and felt like there was nothing I couldn't do.
Power yoga also invigorates your immune system and improves sleep by calming the chaotic mind from the great workout. It can also help work against the development of osteoporosis because it is focused on building strength. Moreover, it increases lung capacity from the cardio workout.
10. Kundalini yoga
Basic overview of Kundalini yoga
I have a friend who refers to this style as “Spiritual Crossfit”. It's a very special and the most spiritual of all styles of yoga, in my opinion. In Kundalini yoga classes, you do kriyas, mantras, chants, and repetitive exercises, and is accompanied by music. I remember my Kundalini yoga classes as classes I went to to let go of my frustrations and to become a more peaceful person.
Who Kundalini yoga is best for
Kundalini is best suited for people who are more interested in the spiritual aspects of yoga because, as your Kundalini energy awakens, you are closer to achieving enlightenment.
Benefits of Kundalini yoga
According to Healthline, Kundalini reduces stress and anxiety, improves cognitive functioning, and boosts self-perception and self-appreciation. It opens your heart, helping you become more compassionate and connected to yourself and others. It improves creativity, and charisma, and increases your energy levels.
Takeaway on types of yoga
There is an unwritten rule among some yogis that you should practice the types of yoga that challenge you the most, the ones that go against your nature. I disagree with this. I think we are already challenging ourselves enough every day in this crazy, modern world, so it's better to make things easier for ourselves, at least on the mat. Do what makes you most comfortable.
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