If you’re looking to expand your yoga practice or still searching for the style that’s right for you, chances are you haven’t yet exhausted your options when it comes to styles to try.
Here are a few popular types of yoga you might find offered near you, ranging from flow-style yoga to structured yoga classes to relaxation-based practices.
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Hatha Yoga: A Combination of Breath and Movement
Hatha yoga (pronounced HAH-tah; the second “h” is silent) includes most traditional forms of yoga that are practiced in the United States, including vinyasa, ashtanga, and power yoga. Hatha yoga itself is a traditional category of yoga that is based on practices that balance mental and physical health; it dates back to the ninth century, according to Rishikul Yogshala, an international yoga education organization. (1) The thread that connects all styles of hatha yoga is the pairing of holding physical poses with breathing. (2)
But outside of the focus on physical poses and breath, classes can vary significantly from studio to studio and depending on the instructor. Unlike some more specific types of hatha, by definition hatha classes do not necessarily follow a flow, says Jen Fleming, yoga teacher manager and lead trainer at YogaWorks in Atlanta. Fleming is certified by Yoga Alliance, the world’s largest nonprofit yoga association that certifies teachers and schools.
A hatha class is likely to be slower paced than a vinyasa-type class, with pauses in between poses, she explains. “A hatha yoga class often brings in additional teachings of yoga such as pranayama, which is breath control, and meditation.” (2)
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Ashtanga Yoga: It’s Characterized by the Same Series of Poses
Ashtanga yoga, sometimes called ashtanga vinyasa yoga (because it is a type of vinyasa yoga), is recognized as being the style of K. Pattabhi Jois. (3) “Ashtanga” is the Sanskrit word for “eight-limbed union”; ashtanga yoga is based on eight tenets — including posture, concentration, breath control, moral discipline, self-restraint, meditation, sensory inhibition, and ecstasy. (2)
Unlike other types of vinyasa or hatha yoga, where each class is going to be a little bit different, ashtanga yoga has a specific series of poses, Fleming explains.
Typically, you’ll find one of two types of ashtanga yoga class:
- Led Classes Most beginners would be better suited in a led class, where a teacher guides you through the postures and everyone is breathing and moving together.
- Mysore Classes The Mysore format is more self-guided; it’s usually practiced early in the morning, and people do the sequence from memorization, says Fleming. “There’s a teacher there, but they aren’t leading the class; people do the sequence on their own,” she says. There are a total of six different series in ashtanga, starting with the primary series. It can take weeks or months to memorize each of the series, says Fleming. In the Mysore style, the teacher gives the practitioner a new pose when they feel they are ready, says Fleming. It’s worth noting that if you follow the Mysore style, you would likely work with the same teacher consistently (rather than popping in and out of various classes), Fleming says.
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Kundalini Yoga: It’s About Self-Awareness
Kundalini yoga is a specific school of yoga that Yogi Bhajan brought to the United States in the late 1960s, according to the Kundalini Research Institute. (4) Kundalini yoga includes a combination of breathing practice, meditation, and physical poses, like other types of yoga, but the focus is on becoming self-aware and attaining your highest level of consciousness.
In kundalini yoga, you do a particular movement with a chant or a mantra either out loud or silently, for a set period of time, says Fleming. The Kundalini Research Institute certifies yoga teachers in this specific style of yoga. (4)
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Yin Yoga: Think Stretching
There are a few different styles of teaching yin, but in general you’re not flowing at all, says Fleming. “In yin yoga, you stay mostly seated or lying down on your back or your belly with props,” she says. Each pose is held for a set period of time, usually anywhere from three to five minutes notes the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. (5) “It’s meant to be more passive stretching; in other forms of yoga, you’re not holding poses that long,” says Fleming.
Stretching affects your muscles, joints, and ligaments differently when they’re being activated in this more static way, as opposed to the more active stretching in a vinyasa type class, says Fleming, adding that this style of yoga can be good for your joints. The Arthritis Foundation recommends yoga as a gentle and less stressful way to improve joint function. (6)
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Yoga Nidra: It’s Relaxation for the Body and Mind
Yoga nidra could be described as “yogic sleep,” says Fleming. “Typically, a student would lie on their back as the teacher leads them through a guided meditation about their body,” she says. There are many variations of yoga nidra, but all focus on relaxation. (7)
“There are different ways to do it, but one way is to go through every part of your body, literally from your individual toes to your head,” says Fleming. “It takes 20 to 30 minutes, and it’s meant to bring deep relaxation for the body as well as the mind.”
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Yoga nidra, as well as other more relaxing types of yoga, like yin yoga and restorative yoga, are gaining popularity, says Fleming. They give people a chance to relax from their already fast-paced life, she says. “Having a more physical yoga practice like vinyasa has tons of benefits, but incorporating even just one of these [slower-paced] kinds of classes a week could really make a difference in a person’s quality of life and stress level,” she says.
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