But much like choosing a pair of yoga pants, the options can feel downright intimidating.
If you’ve ever stared blankly at a yoga class schedule, wondering what the eff the difference between Vinyasa and Kundalini is (Spoiler: a whole lot), then you’re in the right place.
The physical practice of yoga takes many forms — but what factors make them all yoga?
“Whether it’s a power flow class, a prenatal yoga class, or a Yin class, all of them go for creating a connection between your mind, your body, and your breath,” says Sarah Burns, a Memphis-based E-RYT 200 yoga instructor. “There’s also a big emphasis on being present on your mat and making space for anything you’re feeling in your physical and emotional space.”
To view yoga as a whole, consider that “it’s ultimately about breath work related to physical postures (or asanas),” says Kate DeSisto, a CYT-250 yoga instructor with additional certifications in aerial and SUP yoga. “Everything is based on breathing. You’re going to move with a breath.”
The structure of all yoga types is similar as well. “Most classes you walk into will usually have a warmup, often based around sun salutations, then you’ll work toward some sort of focus posture or focus flow, and then you’ll have a cooldown,” explains DeSisto.
|Yoga type||Great workout||Flowy + fluid||Slow + grounding||Adventurous + outside-the-box||Relaxing||Extra support||Spiritual|
Finding your ideal yoga type is a little like dating: It’s not one-size-fits-all, and everyone has unique needs. But rest assured, you’ll find your yoga soulmate — or maybe even a few!
Here are some common (and a few new and trendy) types of yoga you can expect to see in studios and gyms or online.
According to traditional yoga philosophy, there are six branches of yoga. “Hatha” means yoga of sensation or of movement. So technically, any yoga where you’re moving your body is Hatha. (The other branches are nonphysical.) “But in Western civilization, if someone says Hatha, they mean slow flow or gentle flow yoga,” says Burns.
In a Hatha class, you start with a gentle intro to a variety of basic yoga postures and then move through a sequence of poses, holding each for a few breaths. Hatha is similar to Vinyasa (more on that in a second) — just slower.
“So, if you really want time to experience a posture, Hatha is the way to go,” says DeSisto. “If you’re more interested in moving your body and working things out, Vinyasa is your jam.”
Think of Vinyasa (or Vinyasa flow) as one-breath-per-movement yoga. Classes are organized to smoothly transition from one pose to another in coordination with your breath. Instructors switch up their sequences each class to keep it fresh, and they often play music.
If you’re looking for a real workout, rest assured that Vinyasa is physically demanding. “Vinyasa yoga is faster and more rigorous than Hatha yoga,” says Burns. “You’ll experience more dynamic motion and bodyweight resistance with positions like planks and side planks.”
It’s also very common at studios and gyms — so if you’ve taken a yoga class but don’t remember what type, it was probably Vinyasa.
Depending on the instructor, sometimes power yoga and Vinyasa are the exact same thing, says Burns — it’s all about that dynamic, fluid motion. “Power” as a marketing term just happens to appeal more to the gym crowd.
Additional strength-building moves like crunches are sometimes incorporated, says DeSisto. You’ll probably get some fun music to keep you motivated in this class too.
Some consider Ashtanga the OG of yoga, since it’s one of the longest-practiced forms and is based on ancient teachings. Ashtanga is a physically demanding practice that synchronizes movement with breath.
“There is some flow between poses, and then you do hold certain poses for five breaths — it’s a blend between flow and isometric holds,” says Burns.
A lot of what you see in a Vinyasa classes actually stems from Ashtanga. “This is what was brought to the West first, then people took it in different directions,” says Burns.
What differentiates Ashtanga from other types of yoga is the set series of postures every single time. A class will start with sun salutations and then move into a set sequence of standing poses and floor poses. “A benefit of returning to the exact same sequence of poses is that you get to feel your body change and make progress over time,” says Burns.
You’ll often see two types of Ashtanga classes offered: led style and Mysore style. In a led class, a teacher guides you through the sequence. In a Mysore class, you already know the sequence and do it on your own, with support from a teacher if needed. Pro tip: Start with a led class.
This yoga style was developed by the prominent yogi BKS Iyengar. It emphasizes proper alignment and body positioning in each pose, not the flowing motion of sequences or quick movements.
Most Iyengar classes are “all about the props,” says DeSisto. The use of blocks, straps, bolsters, or even rope walls to get deeper into certain postures safely is the norm. Postures are held for a while as you make minor adjustments to achieve optimal alignment. It’s a slower, more methodical yoga practice.
Hot and Bikram yoga
Many people think hot yoga and Bikram are one and the same — they’re not. “With a hot yoga class, you’re looking at a Vinyasa class or a power class with heat,” says DeSisto. Think: flowing through poses in coordination with your breath.
The room is typically heated to anywhere from 95 to 105 degrees, depending on the studio. Expect to move and sweat A LOT. You’ll leave feeling longer, looser, and relaxed.
“The heat does help you get deeper into a pose,” says Burns. “And if you want a really intense physical challenge, working out in a hot room will do it.”
Bikram is a branded type of yoga that was created by Bikram Choudhury. With this type of yoga, the room is heated to 105 degrees and you move through the same specific sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises every class.
It’s not as “flowy” as a Vinyasa-esque hot yoga class, but it’s a mega-workout nonetheless. (It’s become a smidge less popular over the years as a result of controversy surrounding its founder.)
Yin is a slow, gentle, more restorative style of yoga that can help balance out rigorous workouts.
Yin yoga doesn’t focus on large muscle groups. Instead, it targets deep connective tissues like ligaments, fascia, and joints through nonmuscular postures you hold for up to 5 minutes (like forward folds, hip openers, and seated twists). “This type of yoga is really, really good for your flexibility,” says Burns.
You’re not likely to sweat in a Yin yoga class. It’s practiced on the floor, and over the course of an hour, you might do as few as five poses. Yin can be meditative, allowing ample time to focus and sit with any physical sensations or emotions that pop up.
Yin yoga and restorative yoga sometimes get confused, but you can consider restorative the more passive of the two — meaning you don’t do a whole lot.
This style of yoga uses blankets, bolsters, and blocks to prop you into long, comfortable poses, allowing for a deeper state of mind-body relaxation.
“I like to think of it as professional napping,” says DeSisto. “The idea isn’t to fall asleep, but you shouldn’t really feel anything happening other than relaxation.”
Prenatal yoga addresses particular issues that may arise during pregnancy.
“In a prenatal class we’ll do a lot for relieving pressure in your back, in your hips where you’ll generally feel some discomfort,” says Burns. “You’ll see a lot of poses you’d see in a regular class, but designed specifically to help modify the body. Things like Pigeon Pose, which is modified with pillows to keep weight off the stomach.”
Prenatal yoga will typically include fewer inversions, more props, some gentler flowing, and work that helps with balance.
While it’s not super common at studios or gyms, chair-based yoga is becoming increasingly popular at community centers (you can find plenty of online chair yoga videos too).
You use a chair as a tool to perform postures that might not otherwise be possible if you have an injury or limited mobility. You might hold the back of a chair during standing lunges or do Warrior I over a chair if you have weak ankles.
“Think Hatha yoga with the support of a chair,” says DeSisto. “It makes things really accessible if you’re worried about injury.”
Swap the yoga mat for a silk hammock suspended from the ceiling. Aerial yoga classes look a lot like a standard yoga class — but suspended from a hammock.
“You may do a lunge or some take on sun salutations while partially suspended in the hammock,” says DeSisto, who’s a certified aerial yoga teacher. Other classes might look a bit more circus-y.
This type of yoga helps extend your spine and relieves pressure on your joints. “Aerial yogis like to joke that you’ll never go to a chiropractor again,” says DeSisto. “You’re kind of letting gravity do things for you.”
Aerial yoga helps balance out a mat-based yoga practice. “In mat practice, you’re using pushing muscles all the time in poses like Downward Dog, but in aerial you get to use your pulling muscles,” DeSisto says.
Stand up paddle board (SUP) yoga
New to the yoga scene, SUP yoga is gaining popularity among the outdoorsy crowd. If you’re having a hard time picturing this, basically “take a Hatha or a Vinyasa class, put it on a paddleboard in the middle of the water, and that’s SUP yoga,” says DeSisto, who’s also a certified SUP yoga instructor.
“It’s really fantastic for developing balance, more than any other type of yoga, plus it gets you outside.” (Some gyms offer it in their indoor pools as well.)
Don’t worry about floating away. Boards are anchored so you stay (relatively) put. Teachers can offer a variety of modifications to suit your level of balance.
Kundalini is for those who want to experience the spiritual side of yoga. It’s about awakening and releasing cosmic energy that’s trapped in the base of the spine through a combination of quick repetitive movements, breath work, chanting (aka mantras), and meditation.
It doesn’t look like your typical yoga class, either. Kundalini classes are composed of an opening chant, a spine warmup, a kriya (a specific series of poses paired with breath work and chanting), and a closing meditation or song.
It can bring up a lot of emotions. “I’ve seen lots of people cry,” says DeSisto. “It stirs everything up in your body to the point that sh*t just comes out.”
Yoga is about connecting your mind, breath, and body — all while tuning in to what you’re feeling, both physically and emotionally.
It can be deeply relaxing (restorative) or deeply invigorating (power or Vinyasa flow). It can be regimented (Iyengar) or free-flowing (Vinyasa). It can be done in a silk hammock (aerial) or even with the support of a chair. Yoga can be anything you need, once you know your options.
Keep in mind: Depending on the individual instructor or studio, there will be subtle variations even within each type of yoga, so don’t knock one type until you’ve tried it at least twice.