In the last 100 years, the dissemination of yoga and more specifically transnational postural yoga has reached the far corners of the world resulting in evolving styles, approaches, and teaching methodologies.
In this article we’ll explore:
- Popular types of yoga
- Their influences and origins
- Key teachers within the different types of yoga
What we know as yoga is relatively young in terms of yoga’s vast history. Through teachers such as Vivekananda and Yogananda yoga reached the West in the late 1800s with considerably less focus on the physical aspects of yoga than we see now.
Arguably most of the types of yoga we see today stem from the work of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) who was considered the “Father of Modern Yoga”.
Through his primary students K. Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga), B.K.S Iyengar (Iyengar), and Desikachar (Viniyoga) we continue to see the dissemination and evolution of his approach to postural yoga throughout the world.
So many of us are drawn to yoga for its physicality but the subtle nuances of various approaches can help us refine and hone our approach to this mental and spiritual practice. It is said that some 37 million people now practice postural yoga in some form and no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic with the boom of internet classes has reinforced this.
Why are there so many different types of yoga?
The traditional types of yoga found in the rich history of India are Hatha, Raja, Kriya, Jnana, Japa, Yantra, Laya, Kundalini, and Bhakti Yoga all share the goal of self-realization and enlightenment. Contemporary styles differ radically from the practices found in historical texts and are often named after the person who pioneered the approach.
Modern postural yoga is dominated by movement and well-being rather than austerity practices and spiritual transformation.
Most of what we practice now stems from postural yoga schools such as Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Viniyoga but increasingly teachers are moving away from certified schools, gurus, and brands. Styles continue to be influenced by other movement modalities such as pilates, FRC, somatics, and fitness which adds to the rich and diverse evolution of modern yoga practice.
What do the different types of yoga have in common?
Most of the types of yoga explored in this article include some or all of the following with asana largely being the primary element:
- Asana –Static, or flowing movements or postures
- Pranayama – Breathing techniques and practices
- Mudra – Seals or gestures usually performed with the hands
- Mantra – A repeated phrase, word, or sound used to aid concentration and meditation
- Kriyas – Cleansing techniques used to unlock energy channels within the body
So, what are the different types of yoga?
The Founding Fathers
#1: Iyengar Yoga
Founded by B.K.S Iyengar | 1918-2014
Iyengar yoga is an alignment-based approach that relies heavily on the use of props to personalize support in postures.You can expect to use chairs, walls, ropes, straps, bricks, blocks, and bolsters in a class and while it is often considered “gentle” traditionally it can be vigorous. Poses tend to be held for longer than in other styles and it uses a methodical approach to sequencing.
Gaining popularity in the 1970s it is known for its rigorous teacher training and detailed and precise instruction. It is an informant of many subsequent styles.
#2: Ashtanga vinyasa yoga
Founded by K. Pattabhi Jois | 1915-2009
Ashtanga yoga is an energetic and demanding physical practice based on six progressive series (Primary, Intermediate, and four advanced sequences) which must be completed in order without deviation.
Ashtanga vinyasa has influenced most vinyasa styles which have adopted its rhythmic approach to combining movements with ujjayi breath.
Finding popularity in the 1990s by celebrities such as Madonna, Ashtanga is one of the stricter approaches, rarely uses props, and is counted in Sanskrit. Each series takes around 90-120 minutes to practice but it is generally practiced Mysore style. The Mysore approach differs from other styles as it is self-paced with one-on-one support from a teacher.
Despite the far-reaching popularity of Ashtanga, its founder K. Pattabhi Jois was accused of assault by his students which has had a global impact on the practice and its students.
Founded by T.K.V Desikachar | 1938-2016
Desikachar, the grandson of Krishnamacharya, adopted an approach focused on therapeutic and personalized options to facilitate healing, well-being, and personal transformation.
While poses are linked with breath, the style does not demand a good level of fitness, and sequences are tailored to the different stages of life and health conditions, as well as physical, mental, and emotional needs.
Evolution and New Directions
#4: Hatha yoga
Not to be confused with Haṭha this type of yoga is often an umbrella term for styles that don’t belong directly to a linage. More recently it is used to describe a gentle approach to asana that focuses on foundational poses and omits rhythmic breath movement transitions.
Hatha yoga includes longer-held poses with a slower pace making it a more accessible style for those newer to yoga.
#5: Vinyasa flow yoga
Arguably one of the most popular forms of yoga practiced right now it emphasizes synchronized movements with ujjayi breath, “vinyasas” and sun salutations. Translated as to place with awareness, vinyasa flow generally requires a good level of fitness, comes in various levels of intensity, and is often accompanied by music.
Vinyasa is a derivative of Ashtanga but also takes influences from Iyengar yoga, dance, and other movement modalities. Without a fixed sequence, the teacher has creative license to adapt the class and add inspiration from other styles of yoga and movement forms. Subsequently, variations of the style such as slow flow, hatha flow, dynamic flow, and mindful flow have become popular.
#6: Power Yoga
Beryl Bender Birch created power yoga in the mid-1990s. This dynamic form of yoga requiring a good level of fitness was inspired by ashtanga but with a more “accessible” brand name that emphasized “workout” more than spiritual practice.
Practitioners can expect to focus on flexibility and strength as well as cardiovascular endurance. Power yoga is a vigorous form of Vinyasa Flow.
#7: Rocket yoga
Developed by Larry Schultz in the late 1980s, like power yoga this style is heavily influenced by ashtanga but with an emphasis on making it more accessible. Classes focus on flowing movements linked to breath and the style often features complex asanas such as handstands and arm balances.
Its playful approach mixed with traditional elements such as sun salutations, meditation, and bandhas has made it a popular style for those looking for a more energetic yoga practice.
#8: Jivamukti yoga
Founded by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984 this is another style influenced by Ashtanga. Jivamukti classes are challenging physical practices integrating spirituality, pranayama, and meditation. Classes are often themed and music and chanting feature heavily.
#9: Anusara Yoga
Founded by John Friend in 1997 and informed by Iyengar principles the style is based on tantric philosophy. Anusara translates the term Anusara as “flowing with grace”.
Fusing elements of flow and hatha yoga Anusara teaches the Universal Principles of Alignment which are said to fuse the physical and philosophical elements of the practice bringing body, heart, and mind into alignment.
In 2012 Friend handed over the rights to Anusara to The Anusara School of Yoga following a financial scandal and sexual involvement with many female students.
#10: Dharma Yoga
Sometimes called Dharma Mittra Yoga this style was founded by Sri Dharma Mittra in 1975. This dynamic vinyasa style practice blends long asana holds and vinyasa style sequencing with Raja Yoga principles and the Eight Limbs of Yoga of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.
Akin to ashtanga yoga, Dharma Mittra created a progressive sequence of 6 levels each increasing in difficulty and demanding a good level of fitness.
#11: Kundalini yoga
Rooted in tantric philosophy the teachings of Kundalini were traditionally kept secret only finding their way to the USA in the 1960s through Yogi Bajan.
This spiritual approach to practice focuses heavily on fast repetitive movements, chanting, meditation, pranayama, and kriyas. Serpent energy or Kundalini is said to lie dormant in the base of the spine and when awakened travels up the spine and leads to enlightenment.
#12: Bikram yoga
Bikram Choudhury’s hot yoga consists of 26 held hatha yoga postures each performed twice in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity. The heat and subsequent sweating are said to rid the body of toxins over the course of the 90-minute class which is practiced in front of floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
Like ashtanga yoga, it uses a set sequence, but the teacher dialogue is pretty much the same in every class. This is a rigorous practice and not for the faint-hearted!
Many hot yoga teachers and studios now teach under the name hot yoga or 26/2 as a way to disassociate themselves from Bikram who was of sexual assault and rape.
#13: Sivananda yoga
Based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda, this is a gentler approach geared towards well-being, philosophy, and spirituality.
Sivananda yoga was introduced to America in 1957 by Sivananda’s student Vishnu-devananda who taught the five fundamental principles “proper exercise (asanas); proper breathing (pranayama); proper relaxation (Savasana); proper diet (vegetarian); and positive thinking (Vedanta) and meditation (dhyana).”
Classes provided a blend of hatha-inspired practices as well as sun salutations and some flow.
#14: Forrest Yoga
Named after its founder Ana Forrest, this is a physically demanding style of yoga combining breath, asana, and meditation devised to heal the body and awaken the spirit. Sequences fuse power yoga with an emphasis on core strength to push the practitioner to physical exertion and self-inquiry.
Forrest yoga speaks to the spiritual side of the practice and aims to break down personal barriers and promote healing. The practice includes music, song, drumming, and stories as well as fusing yoga with shamanism and philosophy.
#15: Scaravelli inspired yoga
Vanda Scaravelli was a student of Iyengar who inspired her students to prioritize grounding, find support through bones, and effortless movement.
While this style is physically gentle it demands a significant amount of attention and awareness which is what makes it challenging. Much of Scaravelli’s work was based around the spine and her book “Awakening the Spine” remains a great informant on modern practice.
#16: Kripalu Yoga
The Kripalu center is a non-profit organization founded by Amrit Desai and provides a place for students to practice gentle hatha asanas as well as pranayama and meditation.
Encouraging students to learn at their own pace Kripalu yoga encourages listening to your own body and responding to what works best for you. Kripalu yoga promotes an inward approach to practice as well as self-exploration with student-led challenge underpinned by a holistic approach to healing.
#17: Mandala Vinyasa Yoga
Mandala vinyasa takes a 360-degree approach to using the yoga mat which means you’ll be facing all directions throughout the class. Sequencing is inspired by the elements (water, earth, air, and fire) as well as the different chakras. This is a dynamic vinyasa flow practice but with a slower approach.
#18: yoga Therapy
Using the practice of yoga to improve health and well-being is not a new thing but its popularity was found through Desikachar and his viniyoga method.
Yoga therapists have usually gone through specialized training to help them guide students who have specific needs. The teacher will tailor one-on-one practices, usually over a long period of time, to support mental and physical health issues such as sleep, PTSD, hormones, chronic illness, chronic pain, and recovery.
#19: Integrative Yoga Therapy (IYT)
Developed by Joseph Le Page in 1993 IYT is a form of yoga therapy and “was an attempt to create a training program with the focus on yoga as a healing art, and has designed programs specifically for medical and mainstream wellness settings, including hospital and rehabilitation centers.” This accessible and spiritual approach to mainstream wellness includes asana, pranayama, meditation, mudra, yoga nidra, and mantra.
Trauma sensitive approaches prioritize safety in the yoga classroom. Classes may be smaller than regular studio classes and the teacher will likely be highly experienced in the symptoms and triggers related to trauma such as PTSD. Classes are not a form of group therapy, but they will prioritize self-agency and students will generally be given choices rather than instructions.
#21: Restorative Yoga
Pioneered by Iyengar student Judith Lasater this style heavily relies on props to prioritize comfort, support, and ease. It is an accessible style of yoga that is generally floor based utilizing long holds and stillness to help the body and mind relax.
Often confused with yin this style does not encourage stretching but like yin it is a great complement to dynamic styles of yoga. Restorative yoga can be adapted for illness, injury, and pregnancy.
#22: Yin yoga
Paulie Zink established the practice of yin yoga in the 1970s with a focus on stretching and stressing the soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, bones, and facial networks) within the body. With a meditative but challenging approach using long holds (around 3-5 minutes), this style of yoga requires patience and a sense of calm.
While other forms of yoga often work more on muscles, Yin aims to relax muscles while stressing the tissues and joints facilitating length and strength in the connective tissue around the joints. Like Restorative yoga, it is a good complement to dynamic and movement-based styles.
#23: Somatic Yoga
This type of yoga is a culmination of teachers having fused elements of dance, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Body-Mind, Centering, and Laban Movement Analysis. The focus is on the “felt sense” of the body rather than performance or stretch.
Soma means body and a somatic yoga class may help you to re-educate your brain and body on how to move and how to ground by unpacking familiar postures in subtle and gentle ways. Somatic approaches focus on ease of movement rather than performing postures to help the body unwind habitual tension.
#24: Yoga Nidra
Known as “yogic” sleep this style is generally practiced in supported savasana or a comfortable supine position. Nidra is a form of guided meditation with no movement.
It is usually shorter than a regular yoga class and is often added to the end of another asana practice. Working through the koshas, nidra provides a platform for conscious deep rest, mental relaxation, and self-inquiry.
#25: Prenatal/pregnancy yoga
This one is just for those with a baby onboard. Prenatal yoga allows for changing bodies and growing bumps and omits poses that are unhelpful or unsafe during pregnancy. Gentle movement with lots of props, modifications, and breathing exercises aim to relax and prepare for birth.
Pregnancy yoga classes are great for those who don’t have a pre-existing yoga practice and they are usually taught by specialized teachers. This is a great self-care practice for moms to be and a place to meet other prospective parents.
#26: Chair Yoga
This accessible style of yoga uses chairs to support the body and reduce the weight-bearing load required in some traditional postures. The use of chairs in yoga helps to modify the practice making it particularly good for those who struggle to get up and down from the floor or have a lack of mobility.
While chair yoga is often aimed at aging bodies and those with physical limitations a lot can be learned from the practice by desk dwellers as it is easy to incorporate into the day without needing any special clothing or props.
#27: Naked Yoga
The ancient yogis were not unfamiliar with practicing yoga without clothes despite it seeming like a new trend to us. As you can imagine, it differs from ancient practices because the style is generally based around static or flowing postures such as downward dog, child’s pose, and sun salutations, and it will likely be in a studio setting on a mat.
Teachers generally set up the expectations for the class and open with rules to make participants feel more comfortable. Some classes may be single sex but it’s worth checking before you attend.
#28: Animal Yoga
Not exactly a style but in recent years the trend of practicing yoga amongst animals has gained popularity. Most classes will feature hatha or flow-based postural practices but with fury friends running around creating quite a bit of distraction. Some of the animal styles you’ll find are goat yoga, puppy yoga, kitten yoga, bunny yoga, lama yoga… you get the idea. Lots of classes will allow you to spend time with the animals afterward.
#29: Broga Yoga
It is no secret that women dominate the demographic of yoga practitioners which is why Broga was created. Robert Sidoti’s challenging form of yoga – Broga (“where it’s okay if you can’t touch your toes”) was created to get more men practicing yoga globally and to help them find their “organic selves: strong, peaceful, guided, internally and outwardly connected, powerful and compassionate from the inside out.”
#30: Laughter Yoga
In this style of yoga, you can expect movements and breathing exercises that encourage you to learn how to laugh. Most approaches to yoga can seem a little serious in approach but this style of intentional laughter discovered in India in 1995 is used to help deal with stressful situations, encourage positivity and provide a “remedy for physical, psychological and spiritual ailments.”
#31: Aerial Yoga
Also called anti-gravity yoga this style is influenced by acrobatics and relies on silks or hammocks, and ropes that are suspended from the ceiling. While it can be dynamic and require strength it does make challenging postures such as inversions more accessible.
The silks create traction for the spine and provide a cocoon-like environment for more gentle poses and provide support for the body as well as reducing load on the wrists and knees often found in mat-based classes.
#32: Acro Yoga
This style is a fusion of yoga, acrobatics, thai massage, circus arts, and cheerleading and is practiced in dyads so you’ll need a partner. Considered a playful style promoting community and trust one person takes the role of the “flyer” and one person as the “base” – you’ll often see a spotter helping too.
This one relies heavily on technique, strength, and flexibility and there are two approaches. The Lunar approach allows the flyer to be in a passive position while the base offers movements and thai massage techniques to support and stretch them. While the Solar approach requires both the flyer and the base to be active and is where the dynamic techniques are practiced.
#33: Buti Yoga
Dance lovers will likely enjoy this type of yoga. This energetic practice fuses yoga with tribal dance, primal movement, cardio, and plyometrics set to loud electronic, pop, and tribal music.
Created by Bizzie Gold this is a less traditional approach to practice where “ wild and liberating movements will pump up your heart rate, so you’ll burn more calories and increase your resting metabolic rate.” Described as “vinyasa, remixed” this high-intensity workout merges intention and spirituality with fitness.
#34: SUP Yoga
SUP or stand-up paddle board yoga combines paddle boarding and yoga. First and foremost, you won’t find this one in your local studio as it needs to be practiced on water (think still lake rather than choppy ocean!).
The water provides an extra challenge and a new perspective so even familiar poses such as mountain pose, or down dog will have you feeling like a beginner. This is a great practice for those looking to develop strength and balance, and a particular draw is being able to practice outdoors in nature.
#35: Aqua Yoga
This one is in the water and helps to reduce impact and load but still facilitates strengthening and toning. Postures will be adapted and modified for water and will most likely be practiced in a pool with some props/floats. This is a great one for those with joint or mobility issues and pregnancy as well as aging bodies prone to falling over.
Interpreting the yoga studio schedule…
It can be overwhelming starting yoga and even if you’re a seasoned practitioner approaching a new style, studio or teacher can be overwhelming. Things to take into consideration when choosing a style of yoga are:
- Your fitness level
- Your aims – stress management, back care, mobility, and flexibility, spirituality
- How experienced is the teacher?
Class labels often fuse different styles or tailor practices such as flow and restore or yin and yang. These classes offer a blend of dynamic and restful styles. You’ll also find classes aimed at certain health needs or activities such as yoga for back care, yoga for pregnancy, or yoga for running.
This article does not provide an exhaustive list of the different types of yoga but it is a good starting point. If you’re ready to find out more about some of the foundations of the different types of yoga then check out:
Light on Yoga – B.K.S Iyengar
Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual – David Swenson
The Viniyoga of Yoga: Applying Yoga for Healthy Living – TKV Desikachar, Kausthub Desikachar), Frans Moors