Different types of yoga classes: the ultimate guide

Yoga classes bring a whole range of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional benefits, offering a far more holistic approach to ‘exercise’ than many traditional western regimes.

The classes you see popping up in towns and cities across the globe are most commonly built around the physical practice of Yoga. Through the practice of movement coupled with breath, a deeper mind-body connection is experienced and people discover a path to experiencing more comfort, strength and peace in their bodies and minds.

Originating in ancient India, yoga's disciplines and practices aim to help people experience their true nature through permanent peace of mind.

In recent years, yoga has become trendy and increasingly popular and now forms a part of many peoples exercise regimes. It has become a trend with celebrities, with almost every fitness centre offering classes and there seems to be a surge in yoga based retreats and outdoor activities.

An ever-increasing number of both men and women are looking to partake in Yoga classes to help them relax and relieve stress, to stretch and strengthen, and to experience the balance Yoga can bring to busy day-today living.

There are a host of inspiring Yoga teachers of both sexes to meet these needs, offering classes in studios, halls, offices and even Yoga for Kids in schools. More and more Yoga classes are also becoming available online.

Yoga can be slow and gentle, energising and invigorating or technical and demanding...and often times a mixture of all these qualities. Each style of yoga class offers its own methods as well as different takes on philosophy, and every yoga devotee will have their own preferences.

If you want to take up yoga the choice can be overwhelming and it can be difficult to know which one will provide the benefits you want. We take a closer look at 21 different types of yoga, how they are practiced and the philosophy behind them.

It is worth noting at this stage that the term ‘Hatha Yoga’ can be used in two different ways. All physical based Yoga classes are a form of Hatha Yoga. As Yoga evolved over thousands upon thousands of years, it encompassed philosophy, breathing practices, meditation and movement practices. The movement practice (or Asana) is part of the ‘Hatha Yoga’ branch.

Hatha is also the term used for a specific style of Yoga class we practice today (as laid out in the descriptions below).

Ananda Yoga

Ananda is considered to be a very gentle type of practice where the focus is firmly on the internal benefits rather than the pursuit of athletic exercise.

A series of 39 'Energisation Exercises' are an integral part of Ananda Yoga, intended to improve the flow of energy through the chakras and recharge the batteries by tapping into the cosmic life force (Prana)

Ananda came into existence gradually during the 1940s/1950s and was created by a disciple of a revered yogi. 

The main goals of Ananda Yoga are about preparing the body and mind for meditation and heightening spiritual awareness, as well as uplifting and energising the individual. This type of yoga practice includes both asanas (yogic postures) and pranayama (regulation of the breath using certain techniques).

Anusara Yoga

Anusara is a very modern interpretation of Hatha Yoga, having only been created in 1997 by US-born yoga teacher John Friend.

A unique set of concise biomechanical alignment principles called the “Universal Principles of Alignment” are applied to each asana in an Anusara class, and movements are coordinated with breath.

Another key element to the class is the heart theme - a theme that incorporates the philosophy of energetic goodness that underpins Anusara Yoga.

The teachers are trained to integrate alignment instructions with heart themes in artful and inspiring ways, offering students a new experience in every class. The theme is woven through the breath and postural instructions in order to create an expression of the poses from the inside out.

The combination of the heart theme and alignment cues, cultivate the connection between the physical yoga poses and the greater spiritual purposes of yogic practices.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Often abbreviated to simply Ashtanga Yoga, this is a particularly athletic and physically demanding form of Yoga practice, and best practiced by individuals who are reasonably fit, although there are classes suitable for beginners.

Ashtanga Yoga is a breathing and movement system, whereby each movement is coupled with an inhale or exhale, and postures are held for a specific number of breaths.

There are 6 series of Ashtanga Yoga, with most classes focussing on the Primary series, which is to be mastered before moving on. The series are made up of a set of postures, which follow on from each other in the same order every time.

Ashtanga classes are traditionally taught in ‘Mysore’ style, whereby work through the sequence at their own pace, with a teacher in the room to offer guidance and assistance. In this way, a beginner can practice in the same room as an advanced practitioner. There are also what are known as ‘led’ Ashtanga classes, where postures are instructed and breaths counted by the teacher, with everyone practicing at the same pace.

A key component of Ashtanga Yoga is the combination of dynamic breathing and movement, heating the body in order to purify the blood, organs and nervous system and thus create transformation from the inside out.

Bihar School of Yoga (Satyananda Yoga)

With a motto of “harmony of head, heart and hands”, the Bihar School of Yoga is an esteemed establishment that lies on the banks of the Ganges and provides a service to yoga devotees from across the globe.

Set up in 1964 by Swami Satyananda Saraswati the School teaches a type of yoga which integrates intellect, emotion and action: the head, heart and hands. Known as Satyananda Yoga or Bihar Yoga (the School lies in Bihar in India), the system embraces many different philosophies and encourages students to examine the very essence of their being and make gradual changes to improve their awareness. Satyananda Yoga is considered truly holistic and suitable for everyone.

The Bihar School of Yoga offers courses and events as well as placements for those committed to more intense studies, plus teachers who trained at the school teach their own Satyananda classes in different locations throughout the world.

Bikram Yoga

A modern variant of Hatha Yoga, it was established by Bikram Chaudhury during the 1970s and is protected by a strict copyright.

All Bikram yoga classes follow exactly the same format lasting 90 minutes, during which the same 26 postures will be completed, which includes two breathing exercises. Only Bikram certified teachers may teach the class.

One of the identifying features of Bikram Yoga (although not exclusive) is that it is performed in a room heated to 105ºF, with 40% humidity. See Hot Yoga below for the more generic facts that all yoga types performed in this manner share.

Dharma Yoga (or Dharma Mittra Yoga)

Based on the teaching and practice of New York's renowned yoga master Sri Dharma Mittra, who was exposed to various yoga techniques directly from his Guru (Sri Swami Kailashananda a.k.a.Yogi Gupta) for over a decade of intense study in the 1960′s. He has refined this knowledge over an almost half century of practice and teaching into the Dharma Yoga he (and his certified teachers the world over) share with students today.

Dharma Yoga is a graceful, yet challenging form of yoga, which emphasises good health, a clear mind and a kind heart. The method weaves together many traditional Yoga teachings in order to bring all students closer to the goal of Self-realization (gaining absolute knowledge of the True Self)

The essential qualities of Dharma’s teachings are imparted to the students through the Shiva Namaskar Vinyasa, a flowing sequence that is both physically and mentally challenging. The practitioner develops strength through a series of balancing poses, twists, backbends and inversions, enabling Prana - the vital life force - to flow freely through the spinal column and emanate deep into all areas of the physical, metabolic, intuitive and bliss bodies.

Dharma Yoga is made up of several series, making it accessible to practitioners of all levels and according to their condition.  Having said this, always check with the studio or teacher before attending, as many Dharma Yoga drop-in classes that are not at a dedicated Dharma Yoga centre, are at a more advanced level and not suitable for beginners.

Forrest Yoga

Forrest Yoga seamlessly blends techniques, philosophies and movements from a number of different types of yoga including Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa and Sivananda.

Created by Ana Forrest, an esteemed yogini from the US, Forrest Yoga embodies traditional concepts but utilises them for modern bodies and minds. For example, specially designed wrist stretches have been added in order to combat carpal tunnel syndrome, whilst shoulder exercises were also created to help deal with modern ailments of tight upper backs and neck tension.

Renowned for being physically intense and internally focussed, Forrest Yoga emphasises how to carry a transformative experience off the mat and into daily life.  Classes challenge students to access their whole being, and to use Forrest Yoga as a path to finding and then cleansing the emotional and mental blocks that dictate and limit their lives.

Intense pose sequences help you develop the skills to awaken each of your senses, while long holds help you go deeper into the poses. Forrest Yoga is also a form of semi-hot yoga, taking place in studios heated to 85ºF, to aid the body in releasing toxins.

Hatha Yoga

Where Hatha is used as description for a Yoga class (as oppose to encompassing the entire branch of physical Yoga, as previously described in the introduction to this article), it generally refers to a class that incorporates Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation.

The poses are usually held, rather than flowing in and out of postures (as the more Dynamic classes tend to do). Hatha Yoga moves at a slow pace, allowing time to experience each posture.

There is no one school of Hatha Yoga. Classes vary depending on the teacher, where they trained and their own approach to the practice of Yoga.

If you have been unwell or injured, finding the right Hatha class can be a great place to start in order to aid your recovery. It is also a good choice if you are not used to physical exercise, or at a time in your life when you want to slow down while still taking care of your body.

Hot Yoga

Generic Hot Yoga classes are not the same as Bikram Yoga but share a number of similar features. They don’t stick to the strict Bikram sequence, and therefore the postures carried out in Hot Yoga classes can vary depending on the studio where you practice.

Usually performed in a room heated to 105ºF, with 40% humidity, Hot Yoga is not something that everyone enjoys. You can expect to leave the session dripping with sweat and to endure a very sweaty and demanding exercise session.

Because of this heat, both Bikram and Hot Yoga are not suitable for everyone, including pregnant women, so medical advice is essential before starting out. However, if you can tolerate such warm conditions, there are a number of benefits.

To begin with, the warm air allows the body to soften and flex, making stretching less challenging and allowing the student to perhaps achieve more than in a cold studio. It can be easy to overstretch for this reason so it's important to understand your own limits.

In such warm conditions, the blood vessels naturally dilate, thereby delivering an enhanced shot of oxygen to the body. This improves performance and also expedites the disposal of toxins, some of which can be gotten rid of immediately via sweating.

As well as the physical demands of Hot Yoga, it is also leads people to experience enhanced mental clarity and greater balance in emotions.

Hot Flow Yoga

Due to the flowing nature of these classes and the focus on breath linked with movement (see Vinyasa Flow description), the body builds more heat naturally and therefore these classes are often (but not exclusively) performed at 80-95ºF with no humidity.

The benefits students can experience are a combination of those experienced from Vinyasa Flow and Hot Yoga.

Iyengar Yoga

Founded by BKS Iyengar, one of the earliest students of Krishnamacharya (who is often referred to as "the father of modern yoga”), Iyengar Yoga aims to unite the mind, body and spirit by practicing asana with great precision.

BKS Iyengar was a key part of the movement that brought Yoga from India to the West in the early 1950’s. He has written many texts and trained vast numbers of teachers in the Iyengar method, making it one of the most widely known and well established forms of modern Yoga practice.

Iyengar Yoga is renowned for being precise, technical and detailed, as well as using belts, blocks and other props to support students in accessing a posture, thus making a broader range of postures available to different people.

Jivamukti Yoga

With the literal meaning of Jivamukti being “liberation whilst living”, Jivamukti Yoga was created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in1984, with the goal of re-integrating the physical, philosophical and spiritual aspects of Yoga.

Classes include Vinyasa (flowing asana sequences), hands-on adjustments, Pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, Sanskrit chanting, Yogic philosophical teachings and deep relaxation. To keep the practice inspiring, asana sequences are ever changing.

Jivamukti teaches a living translation of the Indian system of yoga in a way that western minds can comprehend. That is why Jivamukti Yoga emphasises vigorous asana as its primary technique, but other practices such as meditation, devotional chanting and study of the ancient texts play an important role as well.

Often enjoyed by top celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Sting, Jivamukti is a contemporary type of practice that focuses on how to apply yogic principles to the modern life.

Kripalu Yoga

This form of yoga is less about physical fitness and more about awakening your spiritual awareness as well as emotional healing and wellbeing.

Using asana, breath and meditation, Kripalu is a challenging yoga and one which is said to transform lives, bringing about a healing process which can be emotionally painful but ultimately fulfilling.

Kundalini Yoga

More profoundly spiritual than some others types of Yoga, Kundalini nevertheless offers a very vigorous workout too. It can be considered a safe and comprehensive technology, consisting of physical and meditative disciplines that can be practiced by anyone in order to open the heart, build strength and release energy blockages, thus creating healing and transformation.

Based on the philosophy that every person has a coil of untapped energy lying at the base of their spine (termed the Kundalini) the practice encourages the release of this energy, running it through all of the seven chakras and ending up at the crown.

Classes include a series of repetitive exercise designed to encourage the energy to move upwards. This is done in conjunction with very precise breathing exercises. Chanting, gongs and meditation are often used at various points during a Kundalini class.

Power Yoga

A phrase increasingly seen, Power Yoga does not refer to a particular branch or school of yoga but is instead used to describe a class of a certain nature.

Coming into common usage in the 1990s, Power Yoga loosely resembles Ashtanga Yoga, but rather than follow a rigid form of exercises the teacher is free to use whatever poses they choose.

It is a type of Vinyasa Flow Yoga (see description below) that is fast paced, focuses mainly on physical elements rather than spiritual growth and provides a strong work out.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga is a relaxing form of Yoga that involves only a handful of poses, held for extended periods of time with props for support, such as soft bolsters, blankets and eye bags, to help your body truly surrender.

 

Poses that fall into this special category of ‘restorative’ have a particular ability to leave us nourished and well rested, as they stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces our stress levels and resulting symptoms of stress.

The poses in Restorative Yoga are adapted from supine, inverted or seated yoga postures and invite us to relax, renew, restore and recharge body and mind.

Restorative Yoga can be described as active relaxation. By supporting the body with props we alternately stimulate and relax the body to move towards balance, creating specific physiological responses that are beneficial to health and help reduce the effects of stress.

As well as being a wonderful antidote to buys modern living, this style of yoga can be beneficial for people struggling with a variety of conditions such as insomnia, asthma, migraine headaches, and chronic pain.

It is known to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce muscle tension, combat fatigue, boost immunity, improve digestion, enhance flexibility and calm and focus the mind.

Rocket Yoga

Also known as 'The Rocket', this is a style of yoga developed by Larry Schultz in San Francisco during the 1980s.  The original power yoga, Schultz's style was first called "Rocket Yoga" by Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead because "It gets you there faster!”

It is rooted in the traditions of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, but with the hierarchy of the primary and intermediate series stripped away and restructured into an open, fun format. Therefore, rather than work through one series at a time as you do in Ashtanga Yoga, not moving onto the next series until you have mastered the first (which may not happen in a lifetime!), Rocket Yoga sequences poses from across the series together, offering modifications for practitioners to access them at different levels.

A dynamic and very fast flowing paced class, Rocket is a contemporary physical form of Yoga that is not for the faint-hearted! Expect to move through a broad selection of poses, to sweat and to be challenged physically and mentally.

Satyananda Yoga

See Bihar School of Yoga

Scaravelli Yoga

Developed by an innovative Iyengar-trained Italian yoga teacher, Vanda Scaravelli, this form of yoga allows the individual to instinctively find a way to allow their body to unfold.

With no pushing, pulling or other awkward or forced movements, the spine learns how to unfold and muscles which have laid in slumber for many years start to re-awaken.

Moving into each asana should be a journey of personal exploration, which not just leads to physical lightness, but mental alertness and a natural re-balancing.

Sivananda Yoga

One of the first excursions of yoga into the West from India, Sivananda has stuck to its classical roots, offering a pure type of practice that is slow, gentle and thorough.

The Sivananda training system aims to retain the vitality of the body and decrease chance of disease, by simply and naturally cultivating the body, using the five core principles of asana, pranayama, vegetarian diet, savasana (relaxation) and meditation/positive thinking.

The individual is invited to fully explore each position in order to promote mental and physical well-being.

Viniyoga

A highly personalised type of practice, Viniyoga adapts various means and methods to create a practice that is right for an individual physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Viniyoga takes into account the age, gender, interests, goals, potential and physical condition of each student to individualise the practice and bring about self-discovery and transformation.

It is a comprehensive and authentic transmission of the teachings of yoga, including asana, pranayama, bandha, sound, chanting, meditation, personal ritual and the study of texts.

Vinyāsa (or Vinyasa Flow)

A derivative of Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyāsa is as an umbrella term that covers a variety of different classes, all of which adopt an overall dynamic and energetic style.

Vinyasa Flow is sometimes compared to dancing because of the flow from one position to another. The linking of movements with breath creates a sense of harmony through a moving meditation.

 

Unlike Ashtanga Vinyasa, Vinyasa Flow doesn’t follow a set sequence of poses, and therefore classes are often a creative blend of postures as determined by the teachers experience and inspiration.

The term Vinyasa means, “to place in a special way”. A good Vinyasa class will therefore be carefully crafted according to a specific theme or goal.

Vinyasa classes allow for teachers to bring their individual inspiration, experience and insights to what they share, whether anatomical, philosophical or spiritual. Classes can therefore very hugely, in terms of pace, content and teaching style.

Vinyasa classes are often taught to music and can be a fun and engaging way to experience the physical, mental and emotional benefits that the practice of Yoga has to offer.

Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a slow-paced, meditative style of yoga with postures (asanas) that are held for longer periods of time, to calm the mind, and establish physical, energetic and mental balance. It is a complementary practice that balances the effects of more active forms of yoga and exercise.

It was founded and first taught in USA in the late 70s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink. This Yin style of yoga is now being taught across North America and Europe, due in large part to the widespread teaching activities of Yin Yoga teachers and developers Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers.

Yin Yoga invites the body to rest and release in postures in order to gently stretch the connective tissue - the tendons, fascia, and ligaments - with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility.

Inspired by the Modern Meridian theory, Yin yoga stimulates the Chi (energy) flow through the 12 main meridians. It can be a very therapeutic practice because it investigates which poses affect which meridians, and is said to improve organ health, immunity and emotional wellbeing.

Still not sure which type of yoga is right for you and your needs?

It could be a good idea to visit a specialist yoga studio or teacher who might be able to advise further on what will suit your needs. There are also websites and online questionnaires that you can fill in to find out which type might be best for you, like this or this article but we would always advise getting a professionals advice first before undertaking any new exercise or regime.

 

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There's a yoga class to suit everyone here at Samsara. Whether you are new to yoga or more experienced, whether you like a dynamic practice or something more restorative, from modern styles such as Hot Yoga, through to the ancient practice of Kundalini. Find your Yoga!