March 07, 2020

A Guide to the Different Yoga Styles

If you are thinking about joining a Yoga Teacher Training, one of the first questions to arise is “What style of yoga do I want to learn?” If you are struggling with the decision, this article will be a welcome reminder about some of the most popular styles of yoga out there.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is an umbrella term that includes most yoga styles. Over time several schools of Hatha Yoga developed, introducing their own sequences and combinations of asana, pranayama, mudra, and bandha.

The word Hatha means “forceful” or “willful”, but according to a more modern interpretation “ha” and “tha” represent the sun and the moon. The soul is considered to be like the sun, never changing in brightness. The moon is like our mind, which has fluctuations and phases. Through the practice of Hatha Yoga, we seek to unite this dual energy to help bring peace to the mind and body.

Hatha yoga classes typically include a set of physical postures and pranayamas (breathing techniques). In traditional forms of Hatha Yoga, poses are generally held for longer than they are in other, more dynamic styles: from 30 seconds to several minutes. It gives the body time to settle into the posture, deepen the cleansing effects of the poses and gives the mind a chance to go inward. Silent and reflective periods in between the postures help to neutralize the body and let the mind integrate the effects of the practice. Hatha yoga can be also sequenced by linking the postures together.

Hatha Yoga is suitable for beginners due to it’s slow-paced, focused approach, and for advanced yogis seeking to their body and mind for deeper spiritual practices such as meditation.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, also referred to as Ashtanga Yoga, is a dynamic, flowing style that connects the movement of the body with the breath.

Ashtanga Yoga is named after the Eight-Fold Path of Yoga (Ashtanga = eight limbs) outlined by the sage Patanjali in the “Yoga Sutras” around 2000 years ago, although the practice today has very little to do with the original Ashtanga Yoga. Sri Pattabhi Jois who taught this style of yoga in Mysore (India) believed that the asana (postural) practice was the first “limb” that must be practiced before the others could be mastered.

In the Ashtanga Vinyasa tradition, there are six set series of yoga sequences through which the student progresses at their own pace. Often, Ashtanga classes are taught ‘Mysore style’ where students memorize and individually work through their sequence while the teacher walks around to adjust and support. Thus, students practice in a group setting with the support of a teacher but set their own pace. They should master each asana in the sequence before they move on to the next.

Ashtanga Vinyasa is a vigorous and dynamic practice, suitable for students that wish to challenge themselves physically.

Vinyasa Yoga

This creative, powerful style of yoga developed from the more methodical and strict Asthanga Vinyasa tradition.

The term Vinyasa is derived from nyasa (to place) and vi (in a special way) indicating that practitioners should bring their awareness into the flowing quality and the connection between each movement and each breath.

The central idea of Vinyasa Yoga is to shift the emphasis from posture to breath and thus realize the impermanence of everything. Poses are often held less time than in a typical Hatha yoga class, and the practice becomes a “moving meditation”. This cultivates states of clarity, brightness, and ease similar to those cultivated in stillness.

Ujjayi Breathing is commonly used as a breathing technique throughout the class to keep the body heated and the mental focus inward. Unlike Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa doesn’t have any set sequences. Therefore, classes might differ a lot from one teacher to another.

This type of yoga is great for students looking for an exploratory practice that brings together breath and movement in a continuous flow.

Yin Yoga

The Taoist theory of yin and yang – two opposite concepts that together create balance – can be found in yoga. Yang is changing and active, much like Asthanga or Vinyasa Yoga. Yin is stable and passive.

Yin poses are passive, performed in a seated or reclining position, where you can allow the muscles to fully relax. Students go into a healthy deep stretch – not too much, not too little. Once practitioners find their edge, the connective tissue (fascia, ligaments, joints) begins to release. The postures are held for a long period of time (typically three minutes or longer) to improve flexibility and increase circulation in the joints.

Yin Yoga also works on an emotional level, facilitating the release of pent-up emotions. It offers a lot of opportunities for silence, introspection, and meditation. Yin Yoga is a great addition to more active, yang-style forms of yoga and exercise.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga and yin yoga often get confused, with many new students thinking they are the same practice. While they have much in common – they are both relaxing and slow-paced approaches with a focus on cooling and calming the body – there are some key differences.

Restorative Yoga aims to facilitate deep rest and a gentle release of mind and body tension. The poses are very subtle, without deep stretching sensations. Instead, practitioners use props like bolsters, blankets, blocks, straps, and sandbags to be fully comfortable in the pose, surrender and let go. By holding the poses for typically five to twenty minutes, we slow down movement, allow the breath and the mind to settle, and soothe the nervous system.

Restorative Yoga is suitable for students of all levels and abilities, and can be especially beneficial if your body is restoring and recovering from injury or illness.

Besides these most popular yoga styles, there are many other styles such as Iyengar Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Kriya Yoga, and Bikram Yoga to name a few.

Join our 200hr Multi-Style Yoga Teacher Training to explore different styles of yoga and go deep into the traditional form of Hatha Yoga.