Different types of yoga explained: Ashtanga, Bikram, Yin and more

The A-Z of how you can practise the ancient art of yoga and which style will suit you best
Hatha v Bikram: Guide to yoga types
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Whether you’re new to yoga or not, one thing you’ll probably have noticed already is that there are far more than just one type you can practise.

If you’re completely new to yoga, the first thing you should know is that different practices will suit different people depending on what they’re looking to get out of it. When first starting out, you should therefore try to read about and experience as many of the different styles as you can until you find a type you feel best suits you, whether that’s more strength focused, spiritual or specifically tailored towards relaxation and mindfulness.

But even if you’re a dedicated yogi with years of experience under your belt, it’s always good to mix up how you practise and try a new style or class from time to time. It’s likely that even the more experienced practitioners won’t have tried all the different types of yoga available these days, and when heading to a new class, you’ll often discover or experience something completely new, whether that’s a pose or an entirely new style that you hadn’t thought of doing before.

Yoga studios usually offer an assortment of yoga class types, and it can be difficult to know which type is the best for you. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve in your yoga practice. Here we run through some of the most popular options available in yoga studios around the world.

Ashtanga yoga

Best for: Developing physical strength, improving alignment; intermediate practitioners

A guide to the different types of yoga

Those who have been practising yoga for more than a few months and want to up the intensity will probably want to go onto a more dynamic yoga practice; a type of class that is not only meditative but also physically challenging. Ashtanga is the perfect type of yoga for people in this very position. It’s usually quite an energetic practice that will definitely make you sweat, but it also focuses on deep stretches, tricky balances and accurate alignment.

Ashtanga yoga also has a flow to it. It leads students through the same sequence of postures before moving on to standing postures, seated postures, the finishing sequence and finally relaxation.

Those who get into Ashtanga should know that there are six “series” in Ashtanga: Primary, Intermediate and four Advanced Series, each of which has a set order of poses that increase in difficulty and will require you to work up through as you progress. If you’d like to access all these levels from the get-go, have a go a Rocket Yoga (explained below) which aims to do this.

Recommended gear: Blocks, straps, mat with alignment markers

Bikram or 'hot' yoga

Best for: Sweating and detoxifying; all practitioners from beginners to advanced

A guide to the different types of yoga

Bikram yoga was invented way back in the early 1970s by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury. All proper Bikram classes will follow Choudhury’s original design; a sequence of 26 poses to stretch and enable your muscles to lengthen, while you flow with the music through an ever changing sequence of postures.

However, what makes Bikram different to most other styles of yoga is that it’s made for those who love to sweat. Classes are usually conducted in rooms with heated panels to a temperature of around 105 Fahrenheit (40.5 Celsius) or higher. The sweat induced from this heat during practice is said to give yogis several benefits, including the compression and "rinsing" of the organs of the body, ridding the body of toxins, especially those built up in the liver.

Recommended gear: Sweat-wicking yoga mat towel cover, super-light/minimal clothing

Hatha yoga

Best for: Restoration, improving breathing technique; beginners

A guide to the different types of yoga

Hatha yoga is a hard one to explain as it incorporates many different traditional styles of yoga. According to popular London yoga studio Triyoga, the phrase “Hatha yoga” first appeared in ancient Indian texts around the end of the first millennium.

In Sanskrit, it means “force”, a strange terminology considering most hatha yoga classes are considered gentle. Over time, however, the concept of Hatha yoga has changed and since the 15th century has said to balance solar (ha) and lunar (tha) energies.

Generally, since its Westernisation in the 20th and 21st centuries, Hatha has transformed into a melange of different yoga style that appear in studios across the world and now includes the practice of asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises).

Some yoga studios, especially those who consider themselves more traditional, won’t call any of their classes “Hatha yoga” as many of the different styles are already rooted in Hatha yoga practices. These include popular styles such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Kundalini and Iyengar yoga.

Generally speaking, however, this type of yoga is usually considered good for beginners due to it including most yoga styles as well as being practised more slowly and with more static posture holds, to help bring peace to the mind and body, preparing for deeper spiritual practices such as meditation.

Recommended gear: Blocks, bolster, blanket, a cushioned mat

Iyengar yoga

Best for: Learning the subtleties of correct alignment, increasing flexibility; any level

A guide to the different types of yoga

Iyengar yoga is all about the precise focus on alignment. Born out of the traditional form of Hatha yoga, it has evolved into a precise and clear method focusing on three aspects: alignment, sequencing and timing.

In an Iyengar class, props will be used to assist students into an asana (yoga pose). Often, it will involve learning basic actions but scrutinising over it in order to deepen practice, especially when approaching advanced postures.

Effective alignment can also help to achieve the balance between body, mind and breath, so you’ll be focusing on this by holding poses for very long periods of time. It’s therefore usually a very slow class but great for increasing flexibility and getting into poses you have never been able to before.

Recommended gear: Straps, blocks and bolsters

Kundalini yoga

Best for: A more spiritual practice; any level

A guide to the different types of yoga

Yoga Bajan first introduced Kundalini yoga from India to the West in 1969 and it quickly grew in popularity, with teachers developing a variety of different styles to communicate the science behind the system. The practice generally combines meditation, breathing techniques such as alternate nostril breathing, music, and chanting, as well as yoga postures, which is said to lead to a more profound sense of personal transformation.

Other benefits of Kundalini Yoga is that it provides increased flexibility, expanded lung capacity, a strong core and stress alleviation. But all in all, a well-taught Kundalini Yoga class will leave you feeling like you’ve gone to therapy, had a workout, and enjoyed a fun singing session with your mates.

Recommended gear: Blanket, bolster, blocks

Mysore

Best for: Those wanting to practise their own flow, lovers of Ashtanga; more experienced yogis

A guide to the different types of yoga

Mysore, named after the city of the same name in the south of India, is a traditional method of yoga that looks to deepen your understanding, focus and discipline of while enabling you taking responsibility for your own practice.

Mysore is where Indian yoga teacher Pattabhi Jois, who popularised the vinyasa style of yoga, established the Ashtanga yoga research institute. This is why Mysore became the adopted term used to describe practising Ashtanga in a self-practice environment. Generally, the teacher of a Mysore class doesn’t lead the class as a group by calling out the poses, but will instead introduce you to new asanas as you master the preceding postures in the sequence.

The idea behind this is that over time you will be expected to memorise the sequence and move through your practice independently under the watchful eye of a teacher, just as the first Westerners did upon finding Jois. It is therefore best recommended for more experienced practitioners. It’s also worth noting that most Mysore classes are scheduled at very early hours of the day.

Recommended gear: Blocks, straps, mat with alignment markers

Rocket yoga

Best for: Strength, sweating, intensity; more experienced and advanced yogis

A guide to the different types of yoga

These types of yoga are best for those who have been practising yoga for some time and are looking to push themselves and really deepen their practice.

Rocket is said to be the original “power yoga”, which we’ll tell you more about below. Created by legendary Ashtanga teacher Larry Schultz in San Francisco in the ’80s, the Rocket system is a remix of the Primary and Intermediate Series of Ashtanga yoga, designed to make the entire practice accessible to everyone, without the need to work your way up through different levels. As a result, it’s a very strong practice that will help sweat out your worries and cares as you link movement and breath while strengthening your body. Not for the faint hearted, but great at letting you experience everything Ashtanga has on offer, from the get go.

Recommended gear: A good grip yoga mat, blocks, strap

Vinyasa, flow or power yoga

Best for: Sweating, feeling like you’ve had a “workout”; beginners to intermediate

A guide to the different types of yoga

A vinyasa or 'vinyasa flow' class is usually an umbrella term for a yoga class where you will “flow” from one pose to the next without the teacher stopping to talk about the finer points of each pose. The idea is that you come away with a good workout as well as a yoga experience. If you're new to yoga, it is a good idea to take a few classes in a slower style of yoga first to get a feel for the poses. Mainly influenced by Ashtanga, some studios call it flow yoga, flow-style yoga, dynamic yoga or vinyasa flow.

Power yoga is also often bundled in with vinyasa or flow classes, being one of the most popular on offer at commercial gyms and the like. It’s yet another (very Western) term used to describe a vigorous, fitness-based approach to vinyasa-style yoga. In this type of class, power yogis will move quickly between poses, but they will often focus on building strength rather than flexibility. Expect to sweat… a lot.

Recommended gear: Blocks, a good grip yoga mat, a towel

Yin yoga

Best for: Achieving greater flexibility; beginners to any level

A guide to the different types of yoga

Yin yoga is a stilling practice that is all about cultivating a deep sense of awareness through the release of mind and body stresses. Often referenced as an “antidote to urban life”, Yin focuses on releasing the connective tissue of the body (tendons, ligaments and fascia), and in a class, poses are held for long periods, allowing the student to relax as they express patience and quiet.

Yin is also often referred to a “restorative yoga”, as it helps those practising to enter into a deep state of relaxation and release. It’s also said to help develop inner awareness and serenity as you ease into the many reclined or seated postures. Holding these healing and prop-supported poses for three minutes or more is supposed to be good for you as it opens the thicker layers of connective tissues around the joints, unravelling areas of tension that a dynamic yoga practice can’t always access.

Recommended gear: Bolster, strap, blocks, blanket, a cushioned mat

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