Yoga offers numerous health benefits that range from increased flexibility, strength, stamina, and body awareness to better breathing, injury prevention, stress reduction, and a calm mind. According to some estimates, 20 million people in the US regularly practice some form of yoga and that number appears to be steadily growing.
While there are dozens of different types of yoga to choose from, the key to enjoying yoga is finding the style or styles that resonate with you. Not sure where to start? Don’t be intimidated! Here’s a look at five of the most common and popular styles of yoga, and what you can expect from each one.
1. Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa is one of the most popular styles of yoga in the West, known primarily for its athletic fitness approach. Also known as “flow yoga,” “power yoga” or “vinyasa flow,” this style involves a continuous flow of movement, offering more of a cardiovascular benefit compared to some of the other styles. Vinyasa means “to synchronize movement with breath.” Essentially, each inhalation and exhalation links different postures and serves as a transition between the asanas (poses), allowing the student to move in a rhythmical way that calms the mind. Vinyasa yoga permits a great deal of variety in terms of teaching and sequencing, but in general, you can expect a lot of movement, substantial stretching, and a moment to relax at the end. Some classes include chanting and music. The pace of the class and whether it is alignment-oriented or not depends on the teacher, so be sure to try different teachers to find a style you like.
Is it for you?
If you like to move, enjoy a challenge and prefer mixing things up a bit, you’ll probably be drawn to vinyasa yoga. You’ll leave feeling strong, stretched, and relaxed. Vinyasa yoga is primarily geared toward intermediate to advanced yogis, but don’t be afraid to try it if you’re a beginner! Take a workshop for beginners to learn the basics or ask the instructor if you’re not sure whether a class is appropriate for you.
2. Iyengar Yoga
Developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, this style of yoga employs props such as straps, blocks, bolsters, and blankets to encourage correct alignment. Iyengar yoga focuses on precise physical alignment, pranayama (breath) techniques, and slow, methodical sequencing to eliminate pains, improve posture, and treat ailments. The focus on props and detailed alignment enables students to maintain poses for extended periods to let the effects of each pose penetrate deeper. The pranayama techniques used in Iyengar focus the mind, which helps students create the mental space to find a meditative state. Iyengar classes are quiet and slow-paced due to the amount of concentration spent on each pose and breathing practice.
Is it for you?
Iyengar yoga is excellent for newcomers to learn about the proper alignment of poses. It’s also great if you’re looking to slow down, learn more about anatomy, or if you’re simply looking for relief and relaxation.
3. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga is a vigorous, vinyasa-based yoga that involves multiple predefined series of sequences from which students progress at their own pace. In ashtanga, there are six vinyasa-style series that focus on pranayama, bandhas (muscle contraction) and drishti (focal point). Together, they are designed to work as a moving meditation. Philosophy is a significant and essential part of the practice of ashtanga. Like in vinyasa classes, students sync movement and breath, raising their body temperature and working up a detoxifying sweat. In class, you’ll move through sun salutations, standing and balancing postures, backbends, seated forward-folds and inversion poses, at a faster pace than vinyasa classes. You can find ashtanga classes that are led by an instructor or you can attend Mysore-style classes, where students practice on their own in a group setting while the teacher provides assistance.
Is it for you?
Ashtanga is very popular and inspires intense loyalty in its students. This method of yoga is excellent for athletic types who love repetition, structure, and gradual progression. If you like to move independently or want to develop a personal practice, Mysore classes would be a good option for you.
4. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini is considered the yoga or science of awareness. This method of yoga consists of both active and passive postures based on kriyas (postures that combine breath and sound), pranayama, chanting, and meditation techniques. Kundalini, which means “coiled” in Sanskrit, is described by practitioners as dormant energy that lies in the base of the spine. Its primary focus is to raise awareness to develop consciousness and spiritual strength.
Kundalini classes usually begin with a chant, and may include a series of quick, repetitive movements combined with the breath, or holding a posture while employing a specific breathing technique. There is an array of techniques in kundalini, but the majority of the postures focus on the movement of the spine. Classes end with a meditation, which may incorporate the teacher playing a large gong, and a closing song. You don’t need exceptional strength or flexibility to benefit from kundalini yoga.
Is it for you?
Kundalini is best suited for the advanced yogi, but if you have an open mind or are spiritually inclined, you may enjoy it as a beginner.
5. Restorative Yoga
In restorative yoga, students use props to support their bodies in seated or supine poses for long periods. Restorative classes are extremely relaxing and therapeutic, thanks to passive stretching that opens and soothes the body. Bolsters and blankets used in various poses enable students to surrender to each pose, where there is no movement and no effort, resulting in a deep sense of relaxation. Restorative postures consist mostly of seated heart and chest openers. Expect to lie around and hold poses anywhere from ten to twenty minutes.
Is it for you?
Need to chill out? Restorative yoga is ideal for stress relief, injury, insomnia, pregnancy, and meditative purposes. Restorative yoga classes are also a great complement to a more active exercise routine or yoga practice.
How to Get Started
If you’re just getting started with yoga, no matter what style you choose to explore, find a class suited to beginners to get acquainted with some of the basic postures. You can branch out from there. Finding teachers and studios you resonate with makes all the difference, so if you don’t enjoy it the first time, don’t give up. It can take time to determine what styles of yoga you enjoy—and your preferences may change over time, or even from day to day. Some days you might want a vigorous, sweaty class and other days you might want to slow down and focus.
Regardless of the style of yoga you choose to practice, it’s likely to make you feel stronger, more flexible, and incredibly relaxed. Above all else, yoga will tune you into yourself, enabling you to be more present in your life and open to new experiences. Remember: Yoga is a very personal experience. And it is a practice; there’s no mastering it. Enjoy.