Yoga Types, Explained

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Looking for a yoga class? Do you want Bikram? How 'bout Flow? Maybe a nice Jivamukti? ...Kundalini? Ashtanga? Furniture Yoga? Are you confused yet? You should be. The state of yoga today is both amazing (It's everywhere! Your mom loves it!) and terrible (Confusing! Spandex!). And every new-wave yogini has a random practice named something like "The Crystal Light Meditation," which is only useful if you consider pink lemonade a form of exercise.

So we decided to sort that shit out, definitively. Below, the seven types of yoga you're most likely to meet at the gym/spa/commune, and what they're actually good for:

Ashtanga
Aliases: Flow, Vinyasa, Power
Yoga isn't typically associated with teenage boys (although many of them do get excited around yoga pants), but Ashtanga was conceived specifically to "channel the hyperactivity" of the young male mind—which explains the fast, athletic sequences. It's rapid-fire, repetitive, and physically challenging, making it a favorite of workout junkies. Beginner? Look elsewhere.

Bikram
Aliases: Hot, Sauna, Body Temp
Bikram's founder is now persona non grata in much of the yoga world, but doing your planks in a heated room is still very popular. The raised temps (100+ degrees Fahrenheit) make you more flexible and you'll sweat...profusely, which may or may not be "cleansing," but definitely does get rid of water weight. Anyone with health concerns should approach with caution, and this type isn't for people who dread perspiring. If you do go this route, prepare to strip down to your skivvies—boy shorts and a sports bra—and have plenty of water on hand.

Iyengar
Aliases: Core, Technique, Furniture Yoga
This practice is also named for its creator, B.K.S. Iyengar, a significantly less controversial (and significantly more adorable) guru who's 95 and still practicing his asanas every day. Mr. Iyengar is the man we have to thank for yoga's global popularity, and his precise, form-focused technique is an excellent base for learning postures correctly. This is the one for patient people who like getting things right the first time and want strength without bulk.

Hatha
Aliases: All Yoga, Original Yoga, The One Yoga To Rule Them All
Here's the thing: almost all the yoga we practice is Hatha—all the other types on this list are variations on this method's precepts, which were established in the 15th century. So if you see a Hatha class, it's probably straightforward and basics-oriented, good for people just starting out or those who dislike trendy, "themed" lessons.

Jivamukti
Aliases: Holistic, Spiritual, Bhakti
Jivamukti is an Ashtanga offshoot that reincorporates traditional yogic elements like vegetarianism, activism, and reading (non-kama) sutras. “Hardcore” does not begin to describe these peoples’ commitment to social justice, or their love of pigeon pose. It’s more a lifestyle choice than a yoga class at this point, but if you’re itching for a total karmic makeover complete with Sanskrit lessons, here it is.

Kundalini
Aliases: Chakra, Laya, Pranic
Penetrating your seventh chakra, tantric postures, and alternate-nostril breathing (perfect for fans of the pass-out game!) sound like a good time? Give Kundalini a go. It’s intensely focused on meditation and breath instead of merely working out. Experienced practitioners who want some variety will probably enjoy this, but it is in no way gym-style mat work.

Sivananda
Aliases: Ashram
How do you feel about relaxing? Sivananda is basically Ashtanga's polar opposite; it focuses on relieving tension, emphasizes full breathing, and generally leaves you refreshed and mindful. Also, it's a really great prelude to a nap.

Namaste.

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  • Rachel Baynard

    Nice! I've been doing Ashtanga yoga for years and absolutely love it. I never knew about the others, though...and now I'm glad I do. I've had a hard time finding a good yoga studio here in NYC, so I started doing doyogawithme.com and it's been great! I'd still like to find a good studio that isn't astronomically expensive.

  • Charlotte

    Thanks for this! Just what I needed to know.

  • rebecciiy .

    Awsome! I have practiced Ashtanga for years, mostly with Tara Stiles youtube videos. If you live in NYC I would suggest you try her yoga studio Strala. I will if I ever visit the US.

  • http://ninadhollander.blogspot.be/ Nina | Hermania

    Iyengar, Hatha and Sivananda sound the best to me!

  • Kristien

    So glad to see these clarifications spelled out so simply. I went to a Sivananda class for a while that I liked - it was very flowing and reaaaaalllyyy stretched me out. My experience with Bikram, however, was awful. Even after drinking tons of water, I got super dehydrated and ended up with a massive headache (yoga hangover?) the next day. I'd never try that again, but I love other yoga styles I've tried.

    • Layla Corcoran

      Your headache was due to depletion of electrolytes. I had a packet I would put in my water so never got headaches. I loved loved loved Bikram. I am bored mentally during most exercise so it doesn't keep my attention and becomes a chore. When I have to overcome the heat, my mind is engaged.

  • http://www.twentysomethingintoronto.com/ Shanondoah Nicholson

    I tried hot yoga in the summer and had a love hate with it. The only classes I could find in near me were 90 minutes, it was just too long, not only to spend that much time in a 45 degree room but found it just took away my whole night. I'm on the hunt for a 60 minute class near me!

    • Nicole B.

      I once passed out in a Bikram class. 90 minutes in 105 degrees just does not work with my body! It was miserable.

      • http://www.twentysomethingintoronto.com/ Shanondoah Nicholson

        That sounds awful. The first time I did it I left the room at the 50 minute mark. Knowing I still had 40 minutes was just too much.

  • Sarita

    I'm more of an Ashtanga person (flow, to be exact). Thanks for spelling out some of the other derivations (and that Vanity Fair article on Bikram? Holy smokes! I knew that I didn't like the idea of yoga in 100-plus degree temperatures for a reason, but I didn't realize all the other stuff associated with the man behind the practice).

  • Nicole B.

    Love this article! I am a huge fan of vinyasa classes and like to also match those with yin classes (you hold poses/stretches anywhere from 5-10 minutes - really enhances flexibility!). If anyone is curious to try out any of the types of yoga mentioned in this article, you should check out yogaglo.com. It's $18 a month and the first 15 days are free, so you can get a feel for what you're interested in before you commit to expensive classes. They also offer guided meditations. I suggest any class with Kathryn Budig, she is amazing!

  • Jessica Lappe

    This is so awesome and perfect. Thank you!

  • Sarah

    I was hoping SUP Yoga and @yoga_girl (instagram) would be in this article too! She's a fabulous inspiration, and definitely a potential gal to interview in the future!

  • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

    Kundalini is sublime. It's such a cleansing practice -- as simple as it appears, the next day you feel it in your abs and in your mind (in a good way). I like ashtanga too (Tim Miller's studio in Carlsbad is spectacular) but it was great to discover a practice that isn't overtly strenuous but is still so, so nourishing.

  • Emily

    I'm a huge fan of Ashtanga and love to practice. I have tried Bikram- agree with some of the others, it was not a fit for me! Talk about miserable. And not to mention some of the devotees....woah. Not people I want to see with such minimal clothing on.
    Oh, and @yoga_girl on Instagram is awesome!

  • isaobeso

    very helpful!! thank you

    http://www.peoplewearfashion.com

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you. I was going to point out the same thing. I have a great studio where all of the Ashtanga and Vinyasa classes are done only to the sound of our breathing. Ashtanga is my favorite because (at least in my studio) you build your set of postures so slowly and are always going at your own pace. It isn't a led class because everyone is at a different point in the sequence, so the instructors work with you one on one when you are ready to add a posture. And if you're moving at a rapidfire pace, you're doing something wrong, because you should be moving to your breathing which is ideally a steady pace. I find it to be a hard but calming practice. I also found it to be perfect for me as a beginner because of the gradual addition of postures as you become ready for them.

  • Tajna

    I go to an Ashtanga-Hatha class once a week,we sweat so much and it's fantastic (apart from the emphasis on "love breath").I've done yoga for 11 years and the most important aspect is your home practice,it is a lifesaver,so great for all of you!

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