The ancient practice of yoga, which only first gained popularity here in the U.S. during the 20th century, was actually developed thousands of years ago in what is now India. Fast forward to 2020, and nearly 15% of American adults now regularly practice yoga.(1)
Even if you’ve not amongst the regular practitioners though, you’re probably still aware of some of the basics — most of you probably know that yoga generally involves a series of postures and breathing exercises.
What you may not know, however, is that yoga entails much more than just striking a pose and remembering to breathe, it’s actually based around an intricate system of philosophies oriented around engaging and connecting your body and mind.
Through thousands of years of development — and especially since it was introduced to the west — all sorts of different forms have emerged, offering their own unique approach to the practice of yoga.
Before we get too far into the different forms, however, lets first talk about some of the basic principles that unite all of the various types of yoga.
What Is Yoga?
As a practice, yoga traditionally involves balancing, stretching, breathing, meditation, and bodily alignment exercises designed to both engage and unite the body and mind.(2)
Underpinning the basic practices involved in yoga is a series of principles known as the 8 limbs of yoga. Originally developed over 1,000 years ago, the 8 limbs of yoga form a sequence through which it’s believed the connection between mind and body can be fully realized.
As far as modern yoga goes — particularly here in the west — postures (asanas) are the central element of most types of yoga, while the focus on other limbs like breath control and meditation can vary significantly from one kind of yoga to another.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
- Yamas (Moral Code)
- Niyamas (Rules of Conduct)
- Asana (Posture)
- Pranayama (Breath Control)
- Pratyahara (Withdrawl of the Senses)
- Dharana (Concentration)
- Dhyana (Meditation)
- Samadhi (Realization of Self)
10 Different Types of Yoga: Which One is Right For You?
One of the biggest things that set them apart from one another is that different forms of yoga are designed for different purposes and as such, deciding which type is right for you ultimately depends on your reasons for taking up yoga.
While most forms will likely involve posing and breathing exercises, the ways in which those exercises are performed can vary significantly from one form of yoga to another.
Some types may require a higher intensity level, while others may be less physically demanding. Some may be more focused on breathing and/or meditative elements while others may primarily be concerned with the movements themselves.
1. Hatha Yoga
When most people think of yoga, they think of Hatha yoga, which is the yoga of postures (asanas). In fact, the postures used in most other forms of yoga come from Hatha yoga.(3)
There are literally hundreds of different asanas and even more variations that come from Hatha yoga — most of them were developed in the last two centuries as experts started adapting yoga to meet the various needs and circumstances of modern life.
Hatha yoga can entail a broad range of asanas, ranging from easy poses suited for beginners, all the way up to advanced postures that can take months and even years to master. Unlike other forms included on this list, there is not a standardized version of hatha yoga; classes can vary significantly based on a number of different factors.
Because it’s centrally focused on the practice of asanas, Hatha yoga is a well-suited style of yoga for beginners — it’s a good way to learn the foundational elements you’ll need in order to get into more advanced forms of yoga.
2. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga, which translates to “eight-limbed yoga”, is a specialized system of hatha yoga originally popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois in the mid-twentieth century. It’s now one of the most commonly practiced forms of yoga here in the U.S.(4)
Ashtanga yoga is a flowing style of yoga where one posture is meant to seamlessly flow into another. Particularly here in America, it’s heavily oriented around the 3rd and 4th limbs — posing and breath control — with the theory being that the other limbs will follow naturally.(5)
In general, ashtanga yoga is physically demanding, involving a number of classic yoga postures performed in a specific series accompanied by synchronized breathing movements (vinyasas) that allow for the flow from one asana into the next.(6) As a specifically designed system, ashtanga yoga offers numerous levels of advancement, making it accessible to practitioners of all experience levels.
3. Vinyasa/Power Yoga
(Ashtanga) Vinyasa yoga is another flowing and physically demanding style of yoga. Like Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa yoga also revolves around synchronized breathing movements that tie a series of standardized postures together.(7)
More recently, it’s been spun off into Power yoga, which involves a particular succession of postures specifically designed to develop and maintain strength and flexibility.(8)
By using intense, high-speed movements, coupled with postures designed to strengthen muscle weaknesses and imbalances, power yoga has become a popular approach amongst athletes and those recovering from injuries like joint and back problems, as well, as muscle strains, pulls, and sprains.
4. Bikram/Hot Yoga
Bikram yoga is a standardized form of hatha yoga popularized by Bikram Choudhury. As a form of hot yoga, one of the central elements of Bikram yoga is a heated environment — the room is heated to 105° F at 40% humidity — with the basic idea being that the heat helps to optimize your body’s movement and clear it of toxins.(9)
A unique sequence of 26 different postures is ultimately what sets Bikram yoga apart from other forms of hot yoga. It also involves a couple of different breathing exercises as well.
5. Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga is a less physically demanding system of hatha yoga and one of the most prevalent types of yoga here in the U.S. Based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, it involves a unique sequence of therapeutic postures specifically designed to benefit people with disabilities ranging from chronic pain to depression.(10)
Iyengar yoga is also distinguished from other types of yoga by its use of props, which in combination with the postures, help to optimize your body’s structural alignment. It also involves breath control exercises borrowed from ashtanga yoga to tie the postures together.(11)
Iyengar yoga also involves a meditative component, with the general belief that becoming fully absorbed into the postures as they’re being performed is in-and-of-itself a form of mediation, and through regular practice, an individual can improve their mental well-being.
6. Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga is an offshoot of Iyengar yoga, featuring a series of postures specifically designed to facilitate relaxation. (12) It’s made unique by the use of specialized postured and props that provide the body with support, creating a relaxed environment.
Its therapeutic properties have been well documented and it’s commonly recommended for stress management, surgery recovery, back and neck pain, and for reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
7. Jivamukti Yoga
Jivamukti yoga, which emerged from New York City in the 1980s, is a spiritual take on yoga, combining elements of Ashtanga yoga — a flowing combination of postures and breathing exercises — with spiritual teachings and meditative exercises like chanting.(13)
It’s an accessible form of yoga to individuals of all experience levels and was specifically designed not only to improve your strength and flexibility but also to improve your relationships with others through spiritual and meditative practices.
Viniyoga yoga is a specialized approach to yoga that emphasizes individuality and the need to adapt yoga to the specific needs of each individual. Along with a unique series of postures, meditation is an important element of Viniyoga, with meditation objects being adapted to address each person’s particular life circumstances.
It’s a less physically demanding form of yoga primarily designed to improve your well-being by helping you to develop new desirable patterns or alternate existing ones through meditation. Viniyoga involves the use of a mantra in combination with breathing and movement exercises.(14)
9. Yin Yoga
Derived from Hatha yoga, Yin yoga is a meditative approach to yoga that utilizes lower-intensity seated and lying posture –held for up to five minutes — in combination with deep breathing exercises and a strong meditative element.
It was specifically designed for stress management, with the postures and breathing exercises being aimed at producing a calm and mindful state. It’s often prescribed as a coping tool, helping to induce relaxation and improve mental health in those who are dealing with stress and anxiety.(15)
10. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga is a standardized approach that involves the combination of physical postures, unique breathing exercises, and a series of meditation techniques including the recitation of a mantra.(16)
As a less intense form of yoga that focuses on improving aspects of both your mental and physical well-being, Kundalini yoga is accessible to people of all experience levels.
The distinct meditation techniques involved in Kundalini yoga have actually been discovered to aid in the treatment of a variety of different psychiatric disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), major depressive disorders, as well as phobias.(17)
There you have it — 10 different popular types of yoga. Deciding which one is right for you largely depends on your goals. If your looking for a seriously challenging workout, then a more physically demanding style might be right for you.
On the other hand, there are a number of different types of yoga that are less physically intense. Some may involve stong meditate elements, such as the recitation of a mantra (along with several other meditation techniques), while others may more centrally focused on building strength and flexibility.
While there are all different types of yoga to choose from, one thing is for sure, no matter which kind you go with, you’ll likely see improvements in both your mental and physical well-being with regular adherence.
- “Beyond Scientific Mechanisms: Subjective Perceptions with Viniyoga”Heeter, C., Allbritton, M., Bossart, C. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Jun. 2019.