Vinyasa yoga is most famous and is taught at most studios and gyms. “Vinyasa” means linking breath with movement. The postures are usually done in a flowing sequence, or “vinyasa flow.” The fluid movements can be memorized and done as a moving meditation, almost like a dance.
The popularity of this style of yoga comes from the sensual movements, pleasant music, usually (but not always) practiced in a dark room, or sometimes by candlelight and with the eyes closed.
Ashtanga means “eight limbs” and encompasses a yogic lifestyle. Most people identify Ashtanga as traditional Indian yoga. Like Vinyasa yoga, the Ashtanga yoga asanas (postures) synchronize breath with movement as you move through a series of postures.
It was brought to the United States by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the early 20th century. The series of postures are practiced the same way every time and consist of Sun Salutation A, Sun Salutation B, a standing sequence, and a closing sequence. The practice is usually performed without music, and sometimes without verbal instruction (in silence).
- Iyengar Yoga
Also based on the Eight Limbs of Yoga, Iyengar yoga is named after B.K.S. Iyengar, a famous yogi from India. It was popularized in the West about the same time as Ashtanga yoga.
The emphasis on this practice is alignment in the asanas using breath control through pranayama and the use of props (bolsters, blankets, blocks and straps.) This style of yoga is usually taught without music and at a slower pace designed to assist students to get deeper into the postures.
Kundalini yoga practice is equal parts spiritual and physical. This style is all about releasing the kundalini energy in your body said to be trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine. These classes really work your core and breathing with fast-moving, invigorating postures and breath exercises. These classes are pretty intense and can involve chanting, mantra, and meditation.
Ashtanga yoga involves a very physically demanding sequence of postures, so this style of yoga is definitely not for the beginner. Ashtanga starts with five sun salutation A’s and five sun salutation B’s and then moves into a series of standing and floor postures. It takes an experienced yogi to really love it. In Mysore, India, people gather to practice this form of yoga together at their own pace—if you see Mysore-led Ashtanga, it’s expected of you to know the series. Vinyasa yoga stems from Ashtanga as the flowing style linking breath to movement.
Restorative yoga focuses on winding down after a long day and relaxing your mind. At its core, this style focuses on body relaxation. Many of the poses are modified to be easier and more relaxing. Like Iyengar, many props are used and are placed just right such as blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows. You spend more time in fewer postures throughout the class. All of the props are there to help you sink deeper into relaxation. Restorative yoga also helps to cleanse and free your mind.
Prenatal yoga is carefully adapted for “moms to be” and is tailored to women in all trimesters. Many have said that prenatal is one of the best types of exercise for expectant moms because of the pelvic floor work, focus on breathing, and bonding with the growing baby; prenatal yoga also helps mothers prepare for labor and delivery. I also practiced my own form of prenatal yoga during both of my pregnancies.
Anusara is a modern-day version of hatha yoga, most similar to vinyasa in that it that focuses on alignment but with more focus on the mind-body-heart connection and different verbiage. Anusara is also known for its emphasis on heart opening.Anusara focuses on spirals and how each body part should be moving. Anusara is also known for its emphasis on heart opening. Expect to often stop in class and gather around a student as the instructor breaks down a pose.
Jivamukti was founded in 1984 by Sharon Ganon and David Life. Jivamukti is mainly vinyasa flow-style classes infused with Hindu spiritual teachings. At its core, this style emphasizes connection to Earth as a living being, so most Jivamukti devotees follow their vegetarian philosophy. A series of chants usually open the beginning of class followed up by a series of poses that align with the five tenets of Jivamukti yoga and philosophy.
The Sanskrit term “hatha” is an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. In the West, hatha yoga simply refers to all the other styles of yoga (Ashtanga, Iyengar, etc.) that are grounded in a physical practice. However, there are other branches of yoga such as kriya, raja, and karma yoga that are separate from the physical-based yoga practice. The physical-based yoga is the most popular and has numerous styles. Hatha yoga classes are best for beginners since they are usually paced slower than other yoga styles. Hatha classes today are a classic approach to breathing and exercises. If you are brand-new to yoga, hatha yoga is a great entry point to the practice.