A guide to the many types of yoga

6 mins
19 Jan 2023
A guide to the many types of yoga

From Ashtanga to Z... okay Yin. This is a guide to the popular forms of yoga. What they are, how to do them, and their benefits.

image BARRY BRECHEISEN//GETTY IMAGES

words Rhys Thomas

Getting into yoga? The ancient Indian group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices which originally aim to "still the mind" but today just help to provide a sense of zen within our busy day to day, a form of exercise that improves our balance and strength, or just gets us moving and provides a biiiiiiigggg stretch to counteract all the sitting and looking at a screen we’re doing in life. When you read about it like that, there’s no wonder yoga is super popular with people all over the world. It’s also incredibly accessible. The goal is simply to progress, not to be able to do a handstand on one fingertip from the get go. Plus the equipment needed is pretty minimal, and you can do it pretty much anywhere that has ground beneath you.

But how can you “still the mind” when there’s endless varieties of yoga to consider turning up for? What do they mean? Will you enjoy it? Will you fall over? Well, yes you’ll often almost fall over with some of them but that’s okay. Anyway, the yoga world is a little difficult to navigate, so we’ll break down all the main and popular forms of yoga that people do today. Get seated in a comfortable position with your back straight. We’re about to begin.

Wait, what’s the difference between yoga and pilates?

Pilates and yoga are both low impact forms of exercises, meaning they're not going to be hard on your joints. The basic difference is that in yoga you tend to hold a position before moving into a different position (the duration, difficulty, and goal varies, we’ll get to that in a bit). In pilates you hold a position and then you challenge your core (and sometimes other muscles) by moving your arms and legs in ways that make you rely on your core. While there’s overlap, and a big variety of yoga and pilates, essentially pilates is better for strength, yoga is better for flexibility and stress relief. Both challenge you to listen to your mind and body.

Okay cool, so what is Hatha yoga?

Hatha is the most popular yoga in modern society, and it’s basically a mid-point between all of the other styles. Some other popular styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Hot yoga are close enough to be considered forms of Hatha by many. Hatha as a word comes from the Sanskrit for sun and moon, and is rooted in balance. It’s fairly medium paced, and will always include a mix of poses, breathing exercises, and meditation. This makes it a great place for beginners, and anyone looking for a varied and gentle form of yoga.

What is Ashtanga yoga?

Madonna helped to popularise ashtanga yoga in the global north, apparently she does it six days a week. Ashtanga synchronises breath with specific movements which you repeat over and over. There’s a primary series for beginners, but more advanced versions exist too. The rhythmic breathing combined with the movements makes it feel a little like yoga being combined with a dance. The idea is for this to build internal heat, and it’s a pretty good workout for strengthening the body. The primary series can work for beginners, but delving into the deeper world of Ashtanga requires a lot of dedication.

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What is Iyengar yoga?

Iyengar yoga was founded by Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, a yoga teacher and author who lived in India until the ripe old age of 95. This is an alluring type of yoga that leaves you feeling like you’ve had a bit of a workout, but it’s not going to get your heart racing. The focus is on deep, controlled poses (which are essentially stretches). The idea is you hold a pose, focussing on breathing, for a little while (it can go into the minutes) and gradually you will push yourself further into the stretch. It’s great for flexibility and recovery if you have sore muscles. Iyengar is suitable for all, from beginner to advanced.

What is Power yoga?

As the word power might imply, power yoga is a high energy form of yoga. Very similar to Ashtanga, but it’ll test your balance, strength, and fitness far more. It’s constantly flowing like vinyasa, but with more testing poses.

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What is Vinyasa yoga?

Vinyasa is typically said to mean "flow", so if you’re looking for something that’ll get you moving plenty and even bordering on being a cardio exercise (along with helping to tone and strengthen the body) this is for you. When you get good at it, you can try something like "dynamic vinyasa", a subcategory which is really difficult and feels more like ballet than yoga.

What is Hot yoga?

You can do any form of yoga in a hot environment, but generally the idea is to do the forms of yoga which are more active such as power yoga and ashtanga. That’s because the additional heat will help the muscles to be less tight and that in turn will allow you to push the poses harder than normal. Of course, you’ll also dehydrate doing this form of yoga quicker than others, so a towel and bottle of water can be a good shout.

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What is Kundalini yoga?

Kundalini is one of the more spiritual of the popular practises. The sessions are generally good when you’re feeling drained and want to reinvigorate a little. The practice itself involves a mixture of chanting, movement, breathwork, and meditation. People generally wear white to do Kundalini, so you could follow suit. We have a review of Kundalini yoga here.

What is Yin Yoga?

We live in a pretty yang world. It’s busy, we’re always switched on, looking to do more. Yin yoga is very much the antidote to that. The whole point of Yin yoga is to move slowly and hold poses for minutes on end, with mindful breathing. It’s very calming, but also the lengthy pose holds are great for repairing muscles and even the connective tissues in the body. As Yin is calming, some people who do yin in the day also report improved sleep quality.

What equipment do I need to do yoga?

Aside from suitable trousers and a yoga mat, many forms of yoga don’t require equipment. Iyengar does use bolsters and blocks, for the more meditative yoga like Hatha and Yin, you might want a blanket and perhaps a calming essential oil or palo santo. We’ll guide you through some options here.

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