Yoga can be rather confusing for those who are just starting out. At least when I just started practicing yoga, one of my biggest challenges was learning about the different types of yoga and figuring out which appealed most to me.
After exploring almost all popular styles or types of yoga classes, I realised that my favourite were Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga. The first three types of yoga classes had just the right amount of strength vs cardio that got my adrenaline and endorphins up to a point that I really enjoyed. Yin yoga, on the other hand, helped to cool things down and bring balance to the mind, body and spirit.
When choosing the right type of yoga style for yourself, it is crucial to keep in mind your personality, objectives, and level of experience. Be it to improve flexibility, ease backaches, destress, detox, enhance body strength or cardiovascular health, there is a yoga style that suits everybody.
Here is an explanation of the 11 most popular types of yoga that are usually taught in classes. Do explore what works best for you and don’t be scared to try new styles. You never know what you really like until you give it a go.
Popular Types of Yoga Explained
1. Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga is an umbrella term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical poses (or Asanas in yogi language). The combination of Asanas and breathing exercises (or Pranayama) creates a meditative state that typically brings peace and harmony to the mind and body.
Hatha yoga in the modern world is usually used to describe classes that comprise gentle movements where poses are held for long WITHOUT a continuous flow between each pose.
This makes Hatha yoga a more accessible class for beginners to learn basic Asanas and is very adaptable to individual needs and physical conditions.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: Beginner-friendly
VERDICT: Hatha yoga tends to be slow-moving, so if your goal is to move fast and sweat a lot, this may not be the best option. However, you should end up leaving class feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed.
2. Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa yoga is a very popular type of yoga that is taught in many yoga classes. This style of yoga requires you to sync your breath with a series of poses. As yogis would flow smoothly from one pose to another, this style of yoga is also referred to as ‘flow yoga’.
Vinyasa flow incorporates more movement similar to dance and tends to be faster than Hatha yoga. Depending on the teacher, Vinyasa can be as easy as a slightly faster-paced class than Hatha, or as tough as a full-strength and cardiovascular workout. Do check with your studio on their style of teaching before you embark on a new Vinyasa class.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: Beginners with a few months of experience and are familiar with basic poses
VERDICT: One of the reasons why I really enjoy Vinyasa classes is because they allow for creativity within a structured flow. This is the style I fall back to whenever in need of a strong full-body workout that would provide both the endurance training of my runs while helping to calm both my mind and body through movement.
3. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga means “8-limbed yoga”, named after the 8 limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The strict style of Ashtanga Yoga is particularly suited for people who seek a physically demanding practice that follows a specific sequence. While Vinyasa allows for creativity, Ashtangis pursue perfectionism in the poses.
There are two ways to do Ashtanga Yoga:
- ASHTANGA LED – where a teacher prompts and guides you through the series, making light adjustments where needed
- MYSORE STYLE – all instruction is done one-on-one within the group class setting. Students practice the Ashtanga sequence at their own pace until they get to a pose where they require further help. The teacher assists each student individually by giving physical adjustments & verbal instruction.
Ashtanga Yoga is made up of six series (Primary, Intermediate and four Advanced Series). Each of the six series begins with Sun Salutations (5 of the A variation and 5 of the B variation), followed by the standing sequence, middle sequence, and finishing sequence. Note that it is only the middle section that has a different set of poses and focuses depending on the series.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: Best for experienced practitioners who are familiar with Vinyasa or flow types of yoga
VERDICT: As someone who dislikes doing the same thing over and over again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Ashtanga yoga really appealed to me. Once I was familiar with the poses, the yoga class became a meditative flow where I was able to let go of my “monkey mind” and focus on the present flow.
I also enjoy this athletic style of yoga as it is both a workout and a “work in”.
4. Power Yoga
Power yoga is a general term for more vigorous, fitness-based yoga methods that are rooted in Ashtanga Yoga but move much faster and focuses more on strength and cardio. Expect minimal chanting and meditation.
The term “power yoga” became popular in the mid-1990s when two American yoga teachers, Bryan Kest and Beryl Bender Birch who had studied with Ashtanga guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois wanted to move away from the rigid Ashtanga sequence and make yoga more accessible to western students.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: Not for beginners; Power yoga is hard work and best for those with a good level of stamina and strength
VERDICT: Unlike Vinyasa Yoga, which focuses on creative flowing with the breath, I find power yoga much more challenging in that the poses are aimed at strength-building, particularly for the upper body. This is particularly beneficial for people like me with weaker arms but is starting to explore inversions and arm balances.
That said, be mentally prepared to suffer from muscle aches for a couple of days after your first class.
5. Bikram or Hot Yoga
Hot yoga is the umbrella term for yoga classes typically taught in a heated room at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity and is a more challenging type of yoga!
Similarly, Bikram Yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury, is taught in a heated room but requires 26 poses to be taught in a structured sequence over 90 minutes.
The sauna-like environment of Bikram or hot yoga increases the intensity of the class, which is focused more on detoxifying the body rather than reaching some sort of spiritual enlightenment. By forcing the body to sweat profusely, toxins are eliminated through the skin.
Additionally, the extra warmth makes the body more flexible, which helps prevent injury, relieves stress, and helps aid in deeper stretching.
Some people oppose Bikram yoga because it defeats the principles of yoga – it has been heavily commercialized, and its creators protect it by copyright.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: Great for those who have some level of stamina and who do not mind sweating a lot!
VERDICT: Hot yoga is FUN and resembles the traditional cardio workout. After a day of indulgence, I make a beeline for a hot yoga class as the sweating and the increased heart rate makes me feel like I am detoxing and burning calories more than a typical yoga class.
The heat and sweat combined always leave me with happy vibes. Just remember to hydrate well and go to a studio with shower facilities! It’s also important to have a good open cell yoga mat to absorb moisture so you don’t slip when you get sweaty, I can recommend cork yoga mats as a great option for hot yoga.
6. Kundalini Yoga
For those who want to explore a more spiritual side of yoga, Kundalini might be the yoga style for you. A typical Kundalini Yoga class involves asanas, movement, chanting, breathwork, and meditation.
This practice is supposed to awaken the dormant energy at the base of the spine (Kundalini) and pull it upwards through the chakras that reside along the spine through the crown to increase sensory awareness.
One of the simple breathing exercises you may come across is the alternate nostril breathing, where you would only breathe with your left nostril, then right, and so on. The purpose of such breathing exercises is to enable greater relaxation or increased energy.
Because the focus of Kundalini Yoga is not only on the body, but the mind and soul, a good Kundalini Yoga class can leave you feeling freer, more energized and centered.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: Kundalini yoga is beginner friendly and good for anyone who wants to learn more than the physical aspects of yoga
VERDICT: Honestly, my first experience with Kundalini Yoga class was an awkward one. The chanting was fine, but the holding of postures and the long period of sitting left my limbs feeling numb.
Breathwork was alright up till the point when my head became light from the lack of oxygen. I thought I was done with Kundalini Yoga.
Then I gave it another go, and then another; Feeling and getting better each time I went for a class.
Though I still do not practice Kundalini yoga, I can understand why some people stick to it – you will need to try it yourself to experience the “awakening” of energy and awareness as promised
7. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is the practice of long-held poses or stretches (typically three to five minutes) that go deeper into the muscle to target deep connective tissue, or fascia, in the body that gets contracted due to excess stress or tension. The benefit of yin yoga is that it encourages relaxation while also challenging you to be patient, one of the hardest things to do.
Unlike more active forms of yoga such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga, Yin yoga involves passive stretching (most of which happens on the floor). By holding poses for 3-5 minutes, you get to deepen into the pose by softening muscles consciously.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: Great for all levels including beginners
VERDICT: Because Yin yoga is so different from dynamic yoga styles, some may perceive the class to be boring or easy. This is untrue because being able to hold deep poses really challenges both mental grit and physical tenacity in a different way to dynamic movements.
In fact, because I run regularly and tend to suffer from horribly tight calf and thigh muscles, I do some Yin yoga as part of my running and cooling down routine.
In you are a yin yoga beginner but are afraid the pace may not suit you, you can opt for the popular hybrid – YIN YANG YOGA – which involves the heating vinyasa flow style in the first half, and the cooling Yin in the second half of the class. One of my favorites for a balanced practice!
8. Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga is a type of yoga developed by B.K.S. Iyengar. It focuses on achieving alignment, precision, and self-awareness within yoga poses through the use of props such as yoga straps and blocks.
Classes tend to follow a disciplined sequenced system with a slower, more deliberate pace than yoga flows. Iyengar yoga may, therefore, be taken by people who may otherwise not have access to other forms of exercise – those who have back problems, are injured or elderly.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: The focus on discipline, assistance through props and precision allows this yoga type to be highly suitable for beginners (and perfectionists alike), as students can safely develop their practice over time.
VERDICT: While I do not actively practice Iyengar, I have a similar belief that GOOD FORM AND SAFETY are more important than being able to get into the full expression of a pose.
Just as a house needs to be built on a strong foundation, it is better to get a solid grounding in basic yoga poses with good alignment before progressing into advanced poses with bad form and risk injuries.
9. Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga involves holding supported poses for long periods of time. The practice typically involves five to six poses, each held for more than five minutes. Classes usually make use of props such as bolsters, blankets, and blocks.
Such a practice is great to balance an active physical schedule or to give yourself a break.
The key benefits of restorative yoga are to deeply relax the body, calm the nervous system, lower stress and enhances one’s mood.
Despite the similarity in pacing with Yin yoga, Restorative yoga should not be mistaken to be the same as Yin Yoga. While Restorative yoga focuses on restoring bodies with physically relaxing poses, Yin yoga remains a physically intense yoga type.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: All levels including beginners
VERDICT: If you hold a desk job that requires long periods of sitting and working at the computer, do some restorative yoga at the end of the day to save your back and shoulders from future chronic pains.
I personally do not do a full session of restorative yoga, but I do at least 20 minutes of restorative poses DAILY before sleep (my go-to pose is
Either way, relax and do some light restorative yoga pose as part of your night time routine and reap the benefits of a more peaceful mind and in turn, better quality sleep.
10. Aerial Yoga
Aerial Yoga also referred to as Anti-gravity Yoga, combines traditional yoga poses, dance moves, pilates, and acrobatics practiced suspended in the air using a silk hammock rather than on a mat on the floor.
Aerial yoga is claimed to be great for people who live with chronic back pain. The act of suspending from the hammock eases downward pressure on your joints and decompresses the spine, making you more mobile and looser.
In addition, the use of hammocks makes inversion poses accessible even to people who are unable or scared to do inversions. There will be no pressure on the head or spine, and hence no neck or back pains (which can occur after an intense regular yoga class).
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: Good for all levels, even non-yogis
VERDICT: Aerial Yoga is gaining much popularity, even amongst friends who do not go for traditional yoga. The thrill of suspending oneself in the air appeals to all ages it seems!
That said, Aerial Yoga is not my go-to yoga, mainly because I still prefer the feeling of grounding on the floor while moving my body or doing inversions.
Nonetheless, whenever my back kills me due to long periods of sitting, I do head to an anti-gravity class just to release and decompress the back.
11. Pre-Natal Yoga
The final type of yoga explained here is pre-natal yoga which is obviously very niche since it’s only for pregnant ladies.
While yoga is great for all people, pregnant ladies will need to take extra care as the common poses such as forward folds or twists in regular yoga may be unsuitable for you and your baby. If you are pregnant and are looking for ways to stay active, prenatal yoga may be the way to go.
Pre-natal yoga and regular yoga are not too different in that both encourage holistic wellness in your mind, body, and soul. However, pre-natal yoga is, in general, slower paced, and focuses on helping pregnant ladies prepare for labor through
- MODIFYING YOGA POSES (sometimes with the aid of props) to enable gentle and safe stretching while encouraging strength building, flexibility, and balance
- BREATHING TECHNIQUES AND MINDFULNESS to reduce shortness of breath during pregnancy and encourage relaxation
The key benefits of prenatal yoga include:
- Increased strength and flexibility of muscles required for childbirth
- Decreased lower back pain due to pregnancy
- Improved sleep quality and reduced stress
So there you go, while there are many types of yoga, we have just shown you the top 11 most popular ones.
Depending on whether your goals are to gain strength, increase flexibility, be more relaxed or build cardiovascular stamina, there is a type of yoga that will best fit your need. So explore away and find one that works best for you!
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The YogaMad is founded by Candy, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.