by Emily Regan: Choosing a yoga style to practice can be a little overwhelming, especially when realizing exactly how many there are…
Here is a cheat sheet of 12 of the main styles of yoga you might encounter:
Year Founded 1997
Founder John Friend
What It Is This is the modern successor of hatha yoga. Friend created it with elements of Iyengar yoga and reintroduced Hindu spirituality to create a more health-oriented Western style of yoga. It emphasizes five Universal Principals of Alignment and three Focal Points.
The five Universal Principals of Alignment are
- Opening to Grace: soft-hearted devotion and open mindedness
- Muscular Energy: drawing energy into one of three Focal Points
- Inner Spiral: an expanding energy spiral in the body
- Outer Spiral: a contracting energy spiral in the body
- Organic Energy: an outward extension of energy from the Focal Points
The three Focal Points are
- Pelvic Focal Point: at the core of the pelvis
- Heart Focal Point: at the bottom of the heart
- Upper Palate Focal Point: at the roof of the mouth
Popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois
Year Founded 1940s
What It Is This is often referred to as a modern-day interpretation of classical Indian yoga. This style is named after the eight limbs of yoga and utilizes these principles:
- Vinyasa: alignment of breath and movement
- Breath: breathing with sound in a diaphragmatic style
- Bandhas: muscle contraction
- Observation: where to focus your gaze during each pose
- Sequence and Series: an opening sequence, a main series, a backbending sequence, inverted poses, and conclusion with savasana
- Daily Practice: Ashtanga practitioners are encouraged to practice 6 days each week, resting on Saturdays
- Mysore Style: supervised self-practice
Founder: Bikram Choudhury
Year Founded: early 1970s
What It Is: This is a 90-minute sequence of the same 26 poses, including two breathing exercises. The studio is heated to 104°F (40°C) with 40% humidity. The thought is that by sweating, the body releases extra toxins while one practices yoga. If you decide to do this style, make sure you hydrate!
Founder: Lord Shiva, according to legend
Earliest Mention: 2nd Century B.C.
What It Is: Hatha yoga focuses on many principles and practices shared with other styles of yoga such as an emphasis on physiology, fixation of the elements, and focus on internal sound. This style also has an emphasis on preserving the life force, physically manifested as semen in men and menstrual fluid in women.
Developer: B. K. S. Iyengar
What It Is: This style of yoga is a branch of hatha yoga and emphasizes precise alignment in posture and breath control. Some say that iyengar yoga differentiates from other styles in three areas:
Technique: precision of poses and breathing
Sequence: performing poses in the proper order to achieve the maximum benefits
Timing: the time spent in each pose
Founder: David Life and Sharon Gannon
Year Founded: 1984
What It Is: This method attempts to create an all-encompassing practice that includes spiritual, physical, and ethical components. It means “liberation while living” and has five main tenants:
Shastra: scripture, the four main Sanskrit texts
Bhakti: “devotion to God”, or a devotion to humility
Nāda: chanting, the use of “Om”
Developed by: Swami Kripalu, in its current form
Earliest Mention: 1960s but it has roots in the Vedic tradition from 1700-1100 B.C.
What It Is: In this style of yoga, there is no standardization of classes or poses but there is a emphasis on the physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise during practice. Kirpalu focuses on three stages although these are not followed in a linear fashion.
Building a safe and strong physical practice.
Feelings and sensations in the poses.
“Meditation in motion”, the practitioner is guided by their intuition.
Based on: a treatise by Sivanada Saraswati
Year Established: 1935
What It Is: This style of yoga focuses on awakening kundalini, or circular, energy through meditation, breathing, chanting, and poses. It is also referred to as the “yoga of awareness” because it seeks to cultivate the potential of people to be compassionate and speak the truth.
Popularized by: Judith Lasater, a student of B. K. S. Iyengar
Year Founded: 1970s
What It Is: An offshoot of Iyengar yoga, it is a calming, restorative practice that uses a lot of props such as blocks, straps, and blankets to help practitioners achieve the poses. The intention is that through the use of these props that those who do this type of yoga will be able to relax for longer periods of time in each pose to sort of “reset” a tired or stressed out practitioner’s body and mind.
Founder: Swami Vishnu-devananda
Year Founded: 1960s
What It Is: A non-proprietary form of Hatha yoga. Unlike the more athletic Ashtanga, it focuses less on muscle contractions and more on relaxation and deep breathing. There are five main principles of Sivananda yoga:
- Proper Exercise
- Proper Breathing
- Proper Relaxation
- Proper Diet (vegetarian)
- Positive Thinking and Meditation
Founder: Paulie Zink
Year Founded: 1970s
What It Is: A slow-paced style of yoga in which practitioners hold poses for extended periods of time with an emphasis on meditative breathing. Yin yoga also incorporates the Taoist concepts of yin and yang, opposite and complementary aspects of nature.
There you have it! There are some of the main forms of yoga one might find when trying to decide what kind of practice they want to incorporate into their routine. There are a couple other variations that, while not specifically individual styles of yoga, are worth mentioning.
What It Is: A combination of acrobatics and yoga. There are three basic positions:
Base: the participant with the most contact points with the ground.
Flyer: the participant who is elevated by the Base.
Spotter: a third party who spots the Base and Flyer, helps to protect them from falls, and advises them on their form.
What It Is: Also referred to as Anti-Gravity Yoga, this variation is traditional yoga combined with pilates and dance. It is performed in the air with the assistance of a fabric hammock or yoga sling.
What It Is: While yoga is typically an individual practice, partner yoga involves two people in each pose. Each partner is fully engaged and provides support for each other in the poses, fostering a safe space and positive relations between practitioners. It is not intended to be a sexual practice but it can create intimacy.