Yoga is a wonderful form of meditative exercise having seen a surge of popularity in Western cultures within the last decade. Yoga offer many health benefits such as lessened anxiety, greater flexibility and strength, and increased self-awareness—among many others.
Different types of Yoga are best suited for different types of personal goals. Knowing how to discern between each can help you build a practice that best suits your own needs.
Hot yoga, often mistaken for bikram yoga, is a practice that offers invigorating and detoxifying results. Aerial yoga on the other hand is a slower paced practice that builds a deeper cadence with gravity and letting go. Different types of yoga all have different benefits and can each offer you a unique experience.
Yoga has been around for centuries, having mostly originated in India. Many of the terminology used in modern Western Yoga practices finds root in Sanskrit origins. This language is though to have developed around 2000 BCE and having carried such beautiful ideas as poetry, philosophy, and even scientific concepts.
India is also renowned for having been the birthplace of Ayruvedic medicine, also having become popularized in Western culture as alternative medicine. While much of our written records of Yoga trace it to this period, it’s generally believed to have developed as far back as 5000-8000 BCE. This long history has seen many divergent branches having evolved into fully developed—yet unique—yogic practices.
Cataloging the exact evolution of Yoga would be a tiresome affair even for the most-renowned of scholars. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be limiting our discussion to types of Yoga you’ll likely encounter by walking into your local yoga studio.
Bikram Yoga (Hot Yoga)
This type of yoga was founded by Bikram Choudury in the late 1970’s and is a modern adaptation of the Hatha Yoga style. This type of Yoga is actually patented by Mr. Choundry and only available from studios having Bikram-trained teachers. This type of yoga consists of a 26 movement series that is recommended to be done in a 95 °F environment with high humidity.
Much like Hatha yoga, Bikram poses are meant to emphasize the physical mastery of the body while also providing mental exercises to remove oneself from the external world. This type of yoga is great for building strength, detoxifying the body, and gaining a harness over mental dynamics. Teachers interested in becoming Bikram-certified must complete a nine week training course developed by Choudury himself.
A 2015 review of clinical data related to Bikram Yoga found that while more reliable data is needed, Bikram Yoga offers a powerful means of improving lower body strength, range of motion, bone density, cholesterol levels, lower arterial thickness, and produce anti-anxiety effects. Bikram yoga certainly isn’t for the average beginner, but with a little familiarity one can find it a nice change of pace from their regular practice. Be mindful that an average class lasts 90 minutes and involves a lot of sweating!
This type of yoga is centered around a premise of warming up muscles before they are stretched, and is often called flow yoga. A Vinyasa practice is often characterized by repetitive transitions from such poses as plank, down dog, up dog, and child’s pose to build a sort of circulatory momentum. Sanskrit translations of the term vary—as do most—but comprise of such concepts as meaning a single breath, a single path, or simply; to be.
This type of yoga is different from many others in that it is often adapted by Yogis to help strengthen the core of their practice. Vinyasa Yoga is built around repetitive movements and learning to better connect to one’s breath. This isolation of intent helps to underline the importance of Yogic aspects that often get muted by the pain and exertion of more difficult moves. Many other types of Yoga practices incorporate many of the same poses as seen in Vinyasa.
The secret to this type of yoga is in it’s repetition and ever-present modulation of musculoskeletal tissue is such as way as to lower the chances of injury. A close variant of this type of yoga is Ashtanga, sometimes referred to as Ashtanga Vinyasa. Ashtanga is also referred to as power yoga, and progresses through flowing catalytic movements into stronger more intense poses.
This type of yoga is meant to help awaken what Dharmic perspectives regard to be the subtle energy body within us. This frame of reference portrays a series of energetic nodes within our body thought to resonate with different universal frequencies—all coalescing into a single harmony. The best effort that modern Science has made to described this is similar to how it describes acupuncture; as a series of energetic nerve clusters and endocrine intervals.
If you’re looking for proof it exists; we won’t be diving in quite that deeply here. Kundalini Yoga, also known as Laya Yoga, was pioneered from offshoots of the Skatism and Tantra teachings of Hinduism. This practice is best characterized by repetitious movements and the use of chanting to ‘awaken’ the kundalini energy within us. If you imagine a pillar of multiple points extending from your sacrum to your crown—often described as a spiraling snake—you can imagine to approach. Kundalini yoga attempts to start at the most basic point of energy at the base of our spine.
By stimulating this area one can ‘awaken’ the kundlini serpent to uncoil and spread energy through the rest of the sutble body. Kundalini poses are focused heavily on the navel, spinal movements, and the focus on energy meridians throughout the body. This type of yoga isn’t taught at every studio, but is often a very rewarding integration into your practice.
Ashtanga Yoga is perhaps one of the most integral and complex practices of all the types of Yoga. Literally translated, Ashtanga Yoga means somethings along the lines of ‘eight-limbed-yoga’. Clearly, this practices isn’t meant to spur the growth of extra limbs but rather has evolved to catalyze the growth of our complete self.
Mastery of this type of Yoga is found only after dedication and progression through each of the limbs, often referred to as the series of Ashtanga. The first four limbs comprise the Primary series, which detoxifies and builds deeper alignment. The Secondary series is meant to integrate the nervous system and mind into the practice. The Third series, called the Advanced Series, is one of the highest levels of Yoga practice and is meant to refine yogis on very subtle and deep levels—connecting them to their universal self.
Each series of Ashtanga yoga can only be completed after mastery of the prior. The Primary series alone can take years to master, and further adventure into this type of yoga often lasts a lifetime. Ashtanga is a fast-paced series of pre-defined movements and poses that are connected by breathing. When practices in such a flowing manner, one can consider such practice to be a Ashtanga Vinyasa flow. This practice is not for the feint of heart, and the primary series alone takes about 90 minutes of non-stop movement to complete. This practice has been found in clinical settings to greatly improve balance and stability.
This type of Yoga is relatively new to the world, even Eastern cultures—though it has likely been practiced throughout history in smaller yogic sects. Aerial Yoga is a common term for Anti-Gravity Yoga where a yogi makes use of a Yoga Hammock to suspend themselves above the ground. This unique approach of posturing oneself helps isolate the relationship between ourselves and gravity.
When practicing more traditional types of yoga you experience balance as an act to prevent falling forward, backwards, or side to side. Aerial yoga eliminates much of this experience and helps focus only on the downward pull of gravity. Subjectively, it allows greater cadence with allowing gravity to control you and helps cultivate a sense of submission to the universe (control freaks love it).
Beyond simple isolation of balance, aerial yoga offers the ability to strike some unique poses such as cross pose, many unique binding poses, and very kinetic poses great for stimulating the flow of lymph. Many yoga studios have dedicated themselves to promoting Aerial practices and now offer this unique practice as part of their weekly schedule. If you see odd looking hammock-type devices hanging from the ceiling—chances are you’re in the right place!
Yin yoga is an exploration of inner calm—a realigning of the subtle feminine energies in each of us. As one might suspect, this type of yoga is the opposite of yang type practices where strength and physical energy are explored. Yin consists of a series of yogic postures that are held for extended periods of time.
A typical Yin practice may only involve 10 different poses, but last for an hour. These poses are typically beginner-level, and the cultivation of benefit can be found in the complete submission to each during long periods of experience. In Western culture, Yin yoga’s popularity began in the late 1970’s after Taoist Paulie Zink begin spreading the teachings.
Zinks full practice integrated a lot of Taoist teachings though and is truly meant to be a unique practice. The Yin element however, has spread in popularity among many yoga studios today. Yin yoga is often a great practice for inner relaxation, for calming a chaotic day, or as a great way for beginners to get a taste of yoga for the first time.
Other Types of Yoga
There are nearly as many types of Yoga as there are varieties of imagination in our world. Personal adaptation is commonplace these days, and not given much valor in terms of novelty. Throughout the years though, certain sect adaptations or regional splits have created several widely-observed types of yoga—though they aren’t always referred to under the same name. Below is a brief list of some other types that you may encounter:
- Iyengar Yoga
- Sahaja Yoga
- Kriya Yoga
- Tantra Yoga
Balance & Love
Yoga is a lifelong endeavor meant to awaken, connect, and strengthen the human experience. As different as we all are, we are very similar in how we are driven mentally, emotionally, and physically. Yoga serves as a forum in which anyone can better reach the innermost workings of themselves and endeavor to evolve them into more conscious aspects of their lives.
Different types of yoga approach this concept in truly unique ways and each offer the capacity for truly unique experiences. Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Aerial, and other more kinetic practices can strengthen the body physically while Yin yoga focuses more wholly on inner perceptions. Regardless of your circumstance in life, Yoga offers a powerful and beneficial means of cultivating a deeper experience in the world.