Your Guide to the Most Common Yoga Styles

There are many different yoga styles, and if you understand the differences, chances are you’re going to get way more out of the ancient practice than you would otherwise.

Just think: Say you try a class, find yourself suffering on your mat the whole time, and then swear off the practice for good. That’s like trying on a pair of jeans that just don’t work for you and declaring you’ll never wear jeans again. You wouldn’t do that. Instead, you’d try a different style. Maybe high-waisted is more your jam than the low-rise pair you first reached for.

So, to help you get a handle on all of the various ways to stand in tree pose and flow through sun salutations, we’re breaking down five common types of yoga and who they work best for.

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The important thing to understand is that many modern approaches to yoga incorporate elements from multiple styles. If your local class is all about flowing for the first half and then being still in deeper poses later on, the studio is probably borrowing from both vinyasa and Iyengar. So, once you have an understanding of some of these classic yoga styles, you’ll have to apply that knowledge to understanding what a studio offers.

Sounds a little complicated, we know. But don’t worry: It all ends in savasana.

Common Yoga Styles: The Basics

Vinyasa Yoga

What it is: If you hear the word, “flow,” that usually signifies vinyasa. Vinyasa yoga involves moving through sequences of poses fluidly, along with the cadence of your breath. For example, it usually includes sun salutations, where you’re breathing in and out as you forward fold, chaturanga, up dog, and then down dog.

Where you’ll find it: Pretty much everywhere. It’s the most common yoga class offered at modern studios and gyms.

Who it’s for: Vinyasa is super accessible, so it’s great for beginners and more experienced yogis. (Many studios offer differing levels.) Because it involves a lot of steady movement, it can also be a great workout, and people who are looking to sweat and get some cardio in while doing yoga often choose it.

Ashtanga Yoga

What it is: Ashtanga is like vinyasa with the volume turned up a few notches. Instead of flowing through poses as a group as a teacher cues you, you learn the sequences, memorize them, and then practice them on your own. It’s a particularly structured and physically rigorous practice, with several difficult poses that require a lot of strength.

Where you’ll find it: Some yoga studios that offer various styles will have ashtanga on the schedule, but there are also many studios that focus exclusively on ashtanga. “Power yoga” is also typically an outgrowth of ashtanga, although purists see it is a very different approach.

Who it’s for: You’ve got to be someone who is into self-discipline and self-motivation and be looking for serious physical challenges.

Iyengar Yoga

What it is: Iyengar is all about precision and props. Instead of flowing through poses, you get super set up in a single posture, often with props like blocks and straps to help you really nail the form. Then you hang out in a pose for a bit, breathing through it.

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Where you’ll find it: There are many studios dedicated solely to Iyengar and some studios that have multiple styles also put it on the schedule.

Who it’s for: Iyengar is less of a “workout” practice and is more therapeutic. If you’re trying to work on flexibility and posture, it’s super helpful. It’s great for athletes who need to balance out intense training and people with issues like back pain, since teachers help you carefully execute poses in ways that work for your body.

Hot Yoga

What it is: Bikram yoga used to be interchangeable with “hot yoga.” Then everyone found out Bikram was an awful human (he’s been called “the Harvey Weinstein of yoga”). What ended up happening is that many studios dropped the name “Bikram” from their name and marketing but still offer the style, which is essentially moving through 26 poses, which you hold for a bit, in a room that’s heated to over 100 degrees.

Where you’ll find it: As mentioned, many studios have “hot yoga” in their name. While many of them offer a variation on Bikram’s style, others also have taken the heat part of the equation and applied to other styles. CorePower and Y7, for example, offer vinyasa style classes in heated rooms.

Who it’s for: If you like to sweat a lot, hot yoga is for you. (As in, you’ll look like you went swimming afterward.) Many people love the added challenge the heat brings, others hate how it feels.

Yin Yoga

What it is: Yin is for when you’re going to yoga to relax. Forget standing; you are basically sitting or laying down the whole time, holding restorative poses for long periods of time (like three to five minutes).

Where you’ll find it: A lot of studios offer one or two of these classes a week in addition to their regular programming, for yogis who need to take a break from the more physical stuff to slow down.

Who it’s for: If the period of any yoga class where you lay down in pigeon pose is your favorite part, you’ll love this. Yin is for chilling out on your mat and stretching in ways that don’t require exertion—and almost all of us need that sometimes.

Kundalini Yoga

What it is: Kundalini is what many mainstream people would call the most “woo woo.” Its founder had some seriously out-there theories related to the universe, and the practice involves repeating movements over and over (like, a million yogi squats in a row), lots of chanting, intense breathing techniques, and even singing.

Where you’ll find it: Usually at specific kundalini centers.

Who it’s for: If you are into crystals, astrology, and believe strongly in the power of “energy,” you’re going to love it. If chanting “om” once at the end of a vinyasa class makes you uncomfortable, skip this one.

(Photos: Shutterstock)

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