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Different Types of Yoga: An Overview of Popular Yoga Styles

Chet is a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher and has been practicing yoga for over 15 years. He teaches three to four yoga classes per week.


Are you interested in beginning yoga? Or, have you been taking classes in a particular yoga style and are curious what a different type of yoga class might have to offer? You may be looking for specific benefits of yoga and whether one type of yoga will help you more than another. How do you choose from the many different types of yoga that are now available in most places?

Though yoga poses, also called asanas, are more or less the same in each style of yoga, the way they are practiced, the types of instructions you receive and the way a sequence of yoga poses fits together will vary depending upon the type of yoga class you attend. Depending on your age, physical condition, health issues and personal interests, you will find some types of yoga are more suited to you than others. Following is an overview of the most popular yoga styles.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Yoga, named after Bikram Choudhury, is one of the most unique forms of yoga practice. Official Bikram studios heat their practice rooms to 105 degrees. A sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises are performed during the 90 minute classes. This series of Bikram poses for beginning and intermediate yoga students is unchanging; Bikram has tried to legally copyright the sequence, with lawsuits resulting.

Bikram practitioners swear by this type of practice. Bikram Yoga has a large, devoted following. Many claim that Bikram Yoga has cured various ailments and restored them to good health. Others do not believe a 105 degree room is the most beneficial place to practice yoga. The rigidity of the sequence would not seem to lend itself to modifications for different health conditions or other circumstances. Actual Bikram Yoga poses are the same as in other styles, but the names do not always match.

Bikram Choudhury himself is a controversial figure. As of late 2013, several former students had filed lawsuits against him for sexual harassment. Bikram seems to be fond of a lavish lifestyle, wearing flashy watches and boasting about his Rolls Royce collection. This is in contrast to a more austere lifestyle practiced by most yoga gurus.

If you are young, healthy and enjoy consistency, knowing what to expect at every class, you might give Bikram Yoga a try. Given the heat, expect minimal clothing, but lots of towels and water bottles. Only authorized, franchised studios are allowed to use the Bikram name. Their owners have paid a high price for their Bikram Yoga certified teacher status, but they do receive extensive training.

Hot Yoga

Hot yoga is based on the idea of practicing in a heated studio, similar to Bikram yoga. Some hot yoga teachers are former Bikram yogis who very closely follow the Bikram sequence and mandated 105 degrees. Others just like the hot aspect, but may keep the temperature “only” in the 90s and use a variety of sequences. As there are no set standards or official hot yoga methodology, do some research before going to a class. It may be anything from hot vinyasa yoga to a close copy of Bikram yoga.

Iyengar Yoga

As a teenager in the 1930s, B.K.S. Iyengar was sent to live with his brother-in-law, yoga guru Krishnamacharya. Iyengar emerged as a young yoga teacher and quickly ascended to become one of the world’s premier yoga masters. He began traveling to the West in the 1950s and 60s, wrote Light on Yoga, the authoritative guide to yoga, and by the mid 1970s had established a sizable following in the United States. Iyengar passes away at age 95 in August, 2014. Even in his last year he maintained a daily practice at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India, where his daughter Geeta, son Prashant and granddaughter Abhijata carry on the family tradition.

Iyengar Yoga student

Iyengar Yoga student

The sequence of Iyengar Yoga poses taught in classes changes from week to week, rarely is the same sequence taught multiple times. Teachers make modifications and adjustments based on what they see in class. There is an emphasis on alignment and precision; Iyengar Yoga poses are often held longer than in other styles. Iyengar certified yoga teachers go through a demanding certification process and are trained in the use of props and how to modify poses for typical health issues.

If you are interested anatomy and alignment and want to spend time exploring poses rather than moving through them quickly, try an Iyengar Yoga class. If you have an injury or health condition that brings you to yoga, Iyengar Yoga is likely to be helpful. Again, poses are similar to other classes, but there is often a particular emphasis on standing poses and, for more experienced students, inversions.

Vinyasa Yoga | Flow Yoga

Vinyasa yoga is sometimes called flow yoga. The roots of vinyasa yoga are generally considered to have come from Ashtanga yoga, but most styles of yoga use flow at one point or another. Classes and sequences are often energetic, with movements and the breath synchronized as part of transitioning from each vinyasa yoga pose to the next. Vinyasa yoga may be combined with other styles such as hot yoga. If you like the idea of an energetic, athletic class, but are new to yoga, look for an entry level, Vinyasa for beginners class.

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Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga has become a generic, catch-all phrase that, unfortunately, does not have much meaning when referring to types of yoga. Despite what you may hear, the definition of hatha yoga is going to depend on who is using the term. A hatha yoga teacher is typically not aligned with a particular style, but may draw from different types of yoga, depending upon the individual’s background, training and interests. This is not to say you should avoid a hatha yoga class, but do some research or talk to the teacher and other students to make sure you know what to expect.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini yoga, as it is typically defined in the West, uses physical postures, breath techniques, meditation and rhythmic sound to release energy and allow it to rise through the chakras. If that sounds too esoteric, Kundalini yoga may not be your best choice. Kundalini has a small, devoted following in the United States.

Ashtanga Yoga

Pattabhi Jois, like B.K.S. Iyengar, was a student of Krishnamacharya. Jois popularized Ashtanga Yoga as a sequence of poses that dynamically flow together with an emphasis on the breath. There are set sequences, but with more variability and options than in Bikram yoga. Ashtanga Yoga, which is sometimes called Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, is considered to be the source of vinyasa and power yoga. As the increase in popularity of these spin-off styles has occurred, actual Ashtanga yoga has remained somewhat stagnant in size. Pattabhi Jois passed away in 2009 at the age of 93.

Choosing a Yoga Teacher

Though there are other types and methods of yoga, the list above includes the yoga styles you are mostly likely to find. With yoga methods that follow a particular individual’s methodology, such as Bikram Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga and Iyengar Yoga, it easier to know what to expect in class when you go for the first time. You will also know that the instructor has been through a particular yoga teacher certification program.

For types of yoga without specific guidelines, including hot yoga, vinyasa flow yoga and hatha yoga, it’s a little harder to know in advance what type of class it will be. There are no true standards for national certification, although Yoga Alliance serves as a registry for certification. Their Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) designation has some minimum requirements, though there is also a lot of flexibility.

Ustrasana, camel pose

Ustrasana, camel pose

If you want to start beginning yoga classes, it pays to do a little research. Search for local yoga studios online, read through their websites or give them a call. Find out what kind of training the yoga teachers have and how long they have been teaching. If you are exploring different types of yoga classes to attend, ask the teachers how they approach yoga for beginners. Though there is a wide range of options available to beginning yogis, with a little research in selecting the right teacher and a lot of determination in yoga practice, you will discover that yoga benefits your life in many ways.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 chet thomas


chet thomas (author) from Athens, GA on September 18, 2016:

Glad you liked it!

wiserworld on September 17, 2016:

Great overview of all the styles. Thanks for sharing :)

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