5 Different Types of Yoga – Which One Suits You the Best?

[Editor's note: This is a guest post by Chiara Fucarino who blogs at Yoga-Paws]

Ah, yoga. What’s not to like about stretching your muscles, sprawling out on a comfortable mat, and losing yourself in tranquility? Not only does practicing yoga tone your body and refresh your mind, it also improves your immune system, helps lower your stress level, and provides so many more health benefits. Yoga has been around for more than 5,000 years, and we’re still fine-tuning the practice. Today, aside from having a yoga studio around every corner, we have many different styles of yoga. Even though they’re all based on the same poses, each style has a particular focus. For example, one style has a purpose to improve flexibility, while another style primarily strengthens your core.

With many different types of yoga being practiced today, it may be difficult for you to figure out which style benefits your mind and body the most. It’s important for you to find out which type of yoga meets your needs, so here’s a quick explanation of five of the most common yoga styles practiced everywhere.

Hatha

Hatha originated in India in the 15th century. This type of yoga is slow-paced, gentle, and focused on breathing and meditation.

  • Purpose: To introduce beginners to yoga with basic poses and relaxation techniques
  • Benefits: Relieves stress, provides physical exercise, and improves breathing
  • Good for: Beginners and people wanting to learn the basics of yoga

Vinyasa

Much like Hatha, Vinyasa covers basic poses and breath-synchronized movement. This variety of Hatha yoga emphasizes on the Sun Salutation, a series of 12 poses where movement is matched to the breath.

  • Purpose: To link the breath with movement and to build lean muscle mass throughout the body
  • Benefits: Helps improve strength and flexibility, tones the abdominal muscles, and reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes
  • Good for: Beginners and advanced yogis alike seeking to strengthen their bodies

Ashtanga

Ashtanga yoga metaphorically focuses on eight limbs. Considered a form of power yoga, Ashtanga is fast-paced and intense with lunges and push-ups.

  • Purpose: To help improve one’s spiritual self
  • Benefits: Relieves stress, improves coordination, and helps with weight loss
  • Good for: Fit people looking to maintain strength and stamina, and those who want to get in touch with their spiritual side

Iyengar

Iyengar covers all eight aspects of Ashtanga yoga and focuses on bodily alignment. Different props like straps, blankets, and blocks are used to assist in strengthening the body. Standing poses are emphasized, and are often held for long periods of time.

  • Purpose: To strengthen and bring the body into alignment
  • Benefits: Helps improve balance, speeds up recovery from an injury, and builds up body strength
  • Good for: Beginners who want to learn the correct alignments in each pose and those with injuries, balance issues, and chronic medical conditions like arthritis

Bikram

Also known as hot yoga, Bikram is practiced in a 95 to 100 degree room. It’s typically a series of 26 poses that allows for a loosening of tight muscles and sweating.

  • Purpose: To flush out toxins and to deeply stretch the muscles
  • Benefits: Speeds up recovery from an injury, enhances flexibility, and cleanses the body
  • Good for: Beginners and advanced yogis alike who want to push themselves and those with physical injuries

These are only a few of many styles of yoga. Try one or all of them to figure out which one suits your needs the best.

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Comments

  1. great intro post! To clarify, Bikram is based on Hatha yoga postures, which is what makes it a beginner’s series.

  2. Power yoga is a western interpretation of Ashtanga. Ashtanga came first.

  3. Reblogged this on The Lotus Blossom Shop and commented:
    This is a GREAT resource for those trying to decide which yoga is right for them.

  4. This post is terrifying. Hot yoga for people with injuries? seriously??? encouraging injured people to attend classes with no adjustments, either of alignment or of the sequence, for individual cases; in a heated space where their muscles will have artificial flexibility and be more liable to injury; in an environment that attracts competitive types prone to overdoing it; is downright irresponsible.

    Iyengar yoga is just for beginners or those with injuries and poor balance? Have you looked at Mr Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” lately?

    And one type might focus on flexibility and another on core strength… I’m sorry, but that is literally nonsense.

    • Beth Ann says:

      i’m sorry but your comment, like any blanket statement, is ludicrous. the OP didn’t specifically say which injuries are good for hot yoga so don’t jump to conclusions. hot yoga is good for people with arthritis or bad knees. it’s not like people with broken limbs should do hot yoga to recover and i trust that everyone is smart enough to know that. in fact different types of yoga have different focuses like flexibility or core strength. the post not nonsensical at all. your comment is.

      • thanks for your thoughts.

        please could you point me to a study showing the benefits of hot yoga for the many injuries, including arthritis and bad knees, that people reading the article may suffer from and be led to think that hot yoga could solve rather than exacerbate?

        also, please could you tell me what genuine school of yoga’s raison d’être is a strong core or flexibility?

        • Beth Ann says:

          are you aware that the founder of bikram hot yoga developed it because he suffered a knee injury from a weightlifting accident? it is said that his knee healed after 6 months. i just performed a quick google search and found many testimonials on hot yoga healing back and knee injuries. you’re acting like everyone reading this blog post is too dimwitted to understand that they need to visit a doctor before running off to a hot yoga studio to heal their injuries. its like someone saying that wearing a cast can heal injuries… you can’t say that it doesn’t because people with chronic back pain cannot benefit from wearing a cast. it’s called making a blanket statement and you’re doing it. for someone who teaches yoga you seem way too uptight. good day.

          • Beth Ann says:

            one more thing… i’ve lived next to a hot yoga studio for 5 yrs now and with the permission of my doctor i succesfully recovered from back pain from herniated discs with the help of hot yoga. i don’t need to find studies to back my argument… i’m walking proof that hot yoga can help heal injuries. im offended by your comments because you’re saying that i and everyone else who has done hot yoga to heal injuries was irresponsible and that others shouldn’t do what we did because it’s “wrong”.

  5. I am a Bikram practitioner and from my experience, have learned that hot yoga can be rehabilitating to those with injuries. I just interviewed a runner, who got injured from this sport, and found relief through Bikram Yoga. I have posted about this on bikramyogamusings.com and you may take a read and understand that person’s POV. That said, even though there are no standard adjustments in say – Bikram, the dialogue is safe and must be listened to correctly; practitioner’s are encouraged to only stretch to their limits and find peace in their practice. Unfortunately, I have become injured in classes that are non-Bikram and think that this has to do with poor dialogue and the teacher doing the poses alongside us – as opposed to checking the class to ensure they are following the words. To me, it is a strong statement to say that this post is terrifying and irresponsible as you must take into consideration others’ experiences.

    • hi marina,

      I appreciate that people have different tastes and talents. However, I do not think that anecdotal evidence is enough to make a convincing argument.

      Neurologically speaking, people learn in different ways, but most people learn best by imitation, although words and touch are also important, so as teachers we need to cover all of these bases. It has been shown that the best approach is a demonstration first, while the class observe, before trying the pose themselves, according to precise spoken instructions. The teacher is free to observe, offer corrections and make adjustments as they do so.

      Unfortunately, in my experience of teaching, you can say whatever you like about working within your limitations, but that does not mean people will do so. What works better, I’ve found, is to emphasise correct alignment as the goal.

      I would normally keep these kinds of thoughts to myself as I don’t really like putting negativity out there, or starting arguments, but on this occasion, I just winced to think of all the people with back pain and so on considering taking up yoga for relief, reading this post and going blithely off to hot yoga. I feel strongly that the post offers inappropriate advice.

      sorry about the long essay.
      sarah

  6. I think it is great to have this discussion as this will also give beginner’s pause to understand what they may need to look out for, and make their decision based on safety first. The more we share, the better!

    I am doing a series on Runners and Yoga on my blog as there are two sides to the argument always! First I’m getting the anecdotal evidence out there, and also consulting with professionals to give (hot) yoga deserves. One thing that may work for this person, may not work for another. But you don’t know unless you try. There should be a disclaimer to a) discuss with your healthcare professional b) tell the teacher of your injuries before class (which Bikram teachers I have been led by, do). It’s hard for some to get the courage to do these two things which is why the dialogue and teacher are so important to have ‘present’ in the class.

    In terms of correct alignment, I can say that I have had much better experience refining my postures through learning via a beginner’s series; this is why dialogue and working with a set series that I can improve upon works for me. Having a teacher walk by to correct my alignment, grip etc in Bikram is more than I have ever had in any vinyasa, ashtanga, or power class. Going into a Birkam studio, I know without asking that the teacher is certified in that yoga.

    I had some lower back pain – Bikram helped me alot wit it, and today I wake up feeling great. It took a while – a consistent practice- but knowing by engaging my core actually, I was really helped by that. I think this is a muti sided conversation as I noticed that you asked the other commentator re: “what genuine school of yoga’s raison d’être is a strong core or flexibility?” As yoga is alot more Westernised in its gain in popularity, many do seek it for its physical and mental benefits (as i did), and I know from first-hand experience that initially, if a consistent yoga practice teaches anything, it is body and mind awareness. That is so important.

    PS Don’t worry about your long essay – look at mine! Sarah, do you teach yoga?

  7. Hi Marina,

    Yes, I am a yoga teacher. Let me just say that I am really glad you have found relief for your pain, and I would never knock your personal experience, I think it’s great that you proactively went out and found an answer.

    In truth, my most honest opinion is that the basic teaching qualification (generally a 200 hour training) is skimpy and does not prepare teachers for the real world, which is full of people with injuries; people who do not confess their injuries; medical conditions that a 200 hour training cannot even begin to equip you to deal with; people who have no body awareness whatever; and classes that are too large to monitor technique effectively in. I am sure I have just let myself in for a barrage of criticism from people with vested interests in that system, i.e. 200 hour teacher trainers and teachers who are content with their 200 hour qualification. But that is the situation I found myself in at first and it was really bewildering.

    By the same token, a good teacher, while hard to find, can in theory pop up in any style of yoga and really help people.

    But personally, if people are looking for a generic recommendation, I suggest Iyengar yoga, because as a rule, I think they are the most rigorously trained, and the most likely to know good alignment and appropriate sequences. I am not Iyengar certified, that is just my observation.

    ok, I think I have stuck my head over the parapet enough for one day! don’t think I’ll do that again in a hurry!

    Sarah

    • Very interesting thoughts and comments Sarah. I have to agree with you about the fact that the 200 hour yoga teacher training classes are too superficial to teach an age old philosophy and tradition that pertains to mind and body wellbeing. The reason I know that for sure is I’m born in that philosophy and have been practicing the art of yoga on and off since my childhood. I have trouble finding a good yoga teacher mostly because of the superficial nature of these trainings. I do not mean to disrespect anyone out there but these traditions have been a part of my culture for thousands of years and learning them in 200 hours is impossible.

      • Do you think that the people who took a 200 hour teacher training class have only practiced yoga for 200 hours? The Bikram program is exactly the same each time. You absolutely could learn to teach the method in 200 hours. My favorite teacher has been practicing for 20 years. The 200 hours were just a small part that 20 year period. I know one thing. I do not want to be a part of ANY yoga class or work with any teacher who thinks they know me better than I know me. People who are hateful of Bikram are everywhere. I hear it often, that somehow Bikram isnt “real” yoga. Well, neither is the hateful, negative, judgmental, “I know better than everyone else” yoga of some other people on this board.

  8. Reblogged this on A Charmed Yogi.

  9. I am actually reading “Light on Yoga” – what a fascinating read! Sarah, I think opinions and statements are a contribution to the ongoing conversation which is healthy. I know I learn so much from this yoga community :)

  10. ohmigosh! so much discussion over the benefits of Yoga :) I absolutely love it. whether we can agree on the 5 Yoga types or not, I’m just so happy this post is up… for newbies who feel even slightly intrigued it’s a great tool to figure out which kind you want to further research (ahem, ahem, eventually practice). Thanks for posting!

  11. A great resource, I wish this’d been around when I started!

  12. Thanks for the list. I have also tried Yin, and have always wondered where that falls into this list.

  13. Hi!
    Great to know the different kinds of Yoga that can be practiced by an individual’s capabilities.. because not everybody can practice with ease – depending on the age, health conditions and the like.. I also recommend this site http://lindayoga.com/ it also features different yoga practices and more useful and expose tips for everyone regardless of people’s differences.

    Namaste :-)

  14. Taoistophers says:

    Love this article. Exactly what I needed to read because I had no idea.. Now I am thinking Ashtanga is my flavor. It is time to begin.. Nameste and be well.

  15. I loved the article for the basic information about the different types of yoga and how it relates to helping your body. One EXTREMELY annoying thing though, which made me not read any of the comments is the stream of ads right before them that constantly keeps moving the comments stream up and down as they change so it’s difficult to read any of it. Can’t this ad be to the side or something? It is very distracting. Even as I’m typing it keeps moving the comments box up and down the screen. Does the blogger really think that was a good idea?

    • Travesaou–thanks for pointing out the jumping comments issue! Should be fixed now (you might need to clear your browser). Hopefully you and everyone else can enjoy enjoy comments now :) Namaste! ~Brian

  16. Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve been looking into different styles of yoga lately, but have been able to find surrounding the purpose and benefits of each style until I came here. I am a beginner in yoga, but have already begun to feel the benefits, such as stress relief and suppleness. However I do think it is important to have the right equipment, as before I searched through hundreds of yoga mats to find the right one for me.

  17. Hi Brian! Ali here! have you seen my yoga quiz? Seems appropriate…http://alisonhinksyoga.squarespace.com/storage/yogaquiz4.pdf or here http://alisonhinksyoga.wordpress.com/infographics/

  18. Thanks for sharing this information! The yoga instutue in Mumbai also practices some of these yoga.

  19. OK, i will try the Hatha first in my fitness studio!

  20. which type is most useful for beginners???

    • Try them all. Only you can decide that. I studied a very soft, peaceful version of hatha/vinyasa first. Now, I am 99% Bikram with some Iyengar on my days off from Bikram. Careful, though. People seem to HATE you if you choose Bikram for some reason. They will challenge you. Criticize you. Tell you its not “real” yoga. Ask you to cite medical studies and such to prove to them it works for you. You well never hear a Bikram person criticize another person’s choices but it seems to be OK for students and teachers of other disciplines to attack Bikram practicioners. Yoga is all about you. Try them all and make your own decision.

  21. Great comments and strong feelings too. If beginners read through them they will be beneficial to an understanding of what yoga’s about.

  22. you mention 5 types of yoga, but in actuality only speak of 1 type: Hata – an important, but subordinate part of yoga and meant to support the material base upon which any 1 or more of the actual yogas are then to manifest through.
    The 4 classical yogas are:
    1. Raja Yoga, which includes Patanjali (Ashtanga).
    2. Jnana Yoga (knowledge).
    3. Karma Yoga or the yoga of (selfless) works.
    4. Bhakti Yoga (Ishtadevata) yoga of (utter and complete) surrender to the Divine
    and 5th, you may add the Integral Yoga of the Purna Avatar, if you’re adventures.

    Hate is a very important, yet small part, in the overall ‘science’ that yoga represents. To concentrate only and exclusively on that, is the equivalent of focussing on grades 1- 3 of your primary class education.

    I’d urge all to make Hata Yoga a part of their life but don’t just stop there.

  23. Yoga is yoga and shouldn’t be classified with styles. Just as Master Bruce Lee realised that there is no one single martial art to practise, or a best style, but that it is the interpretation of the individual through the study of all styles and what works best for them and their unique abilities. Open your mind and ‘be like water my friend’! Study all and allow yoga to be what you interpret it to be, not what somebody else says it should be or what works best for them!

    • Classifying yoga with a style helps beginners like myself be able to sort through the volumes of information on yoga so we have a place to start. Master Bruce Lee came to his interpretation after many years of experience and teaching, but even he had to start somewhere… with the basics. And people like me can’t start with the basics if we don’t know what they are. :)

  24. Thanks for sharing so many yoga types. I was completely unaware of the fact that there are so many yoga types that exist.

  25. To George: It looks like you’ve taken some heat in being more specific about the different styles of yoga. I thank you, actually, because I am a person who is interested in taking a yoga class, but who has utterly NO knowledge or experience. My doctor (who is East Indian, btw) advised me to find a class, but NOT hot yoga. That was it for information from him. No advice as to what I should look for, or where. So I started looking on the ‘Net for the name of the style of yoga that was more focused toward the spritual side and less toward the physical side of things (since I’m looking for help with anixiety and depression).

    Due to the wonderful information in this blog combined with your additional details I find out that I am COMPLETELY clueless! But on the positive side, I was provided with some valuable clarification, and a direction of where to start looking for a class that will suit me in my local area. There are complaints in the comments section about information not being complete, or disagreements on whether people are “smart” enough to know not to take hot yoga for unspecified physical injuries. I’m here to tell you that I am one of those people who would NOT have known enough not to try hot yoga, had no real idea of what I even needed, or where to start looking.

    Thanks to this blog and your information, I have a place to start. So thanks for the “Yoga for Dummies” crash course!

  26. Great article and good debate in the comments. I won’t take part of it though.
    I’m sure we can find different classifications of yoga, and I really appreciate the simplicity of your post, especially for beginners.
    Namaste

  27. There are basically two types of Yoga: Real and Phony. Real Yoga are the teachings and practices of the Hindu religion; taught by Hindus and not for a fee. Phony yoga is of course the opposite.

    Swami Param
    Classical Yoga Hindu Academy

  28. It’s sad that the conversation after any yoga-related article is sort of mean, and judge-y in the “I’m so zen I don’t judge” way. If we were all truly doing our work the only comment we would have would be thank-you. And that goes for me as well!

  29. There is another type of yoga that I am so grateful to have found 4 years ago, Dahn Yoga. It’s purpose is to awaken the life force in you, the energy, and by feeling that energy, you automatically reach mind body connection. And in the process, because this is all based on meridian channel and energy flow, releases blockages in your body and relieves ailment in your body.

  30. Thanks to share all types of yoga and its benifits .For more visit http://www.health4pk.com…...

  31. There are basically only two types of Yoga: Real and Phony. Real Yoga is Hinduisṃ. Phony is noṭ

  32. Thanks for sharing different types of yoga. It’s also available now on DVDs.

  33. Thanks for this list! I am a newbie in yoga and I guess these styles are good for me to start up to.

  34. You really need to get a golf ball muscle roller, it did wonders for my muscles flexibility, seriously check it out! http://www.zzathletics.com

  35. For me, I prefer the Vinyasa Yoga because it is a yoga which is connected with our breathing. It is also called Flow Yoga because of the smooth way of the poses that run together. I love doing the Sun Salutation all the time :)

  36. For me, I prefer the Vinyasa Yoga. The Sun Salutation is my favorite ;)

  37. The Best Measure of Success Help = So Important <3 Thank you for such a great post on grit. I reference it often in the work I do on goal setting.

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  38. we don’t know

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  9. […] So if you have tried yoga in the past and it was not your cup of tea, consider trying it again. In addition to the many varieties, the teacher you choose also makes a big difference. You can have completely different experiences in the same type of yoga class based on who is teaching it. Different teachers have different philosophies, routines, and styles. If you would like to learn about the 5 main types you can check out this link: 5 Types of Yoga […]

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