Yoga is an ancient form of movement; it was developed over 5,000 years ago in northern India. Yoga was documented in the Rig Veda, which is the oldest documented book that exists in history. The Rig Veda comprises of ancient Sanskrit hymns and is considered one of the most sacred texts in Hinduism. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means to join and refers to the unison of the mind and body (Chang, 2016). The original intent of yoga was to train the body and mind to cultivate awareness and enlightenment. Yoga over the years has adopted a new form, and as a result, many different poses and forms of yoga have been created. There are 11 different forms of yoga that exist today and even more subcategories. Each type of yoga has a different goal or benefit. When choosing a yoga class, it is important to be aware of the different types of classes and types of yoga as some could be harmful for an individual. This article will be discussing some of the different subcategories of yoga that exist to guide you into choosing the appropriate class for your goals. This article is written in my opinion, a yoga instructor (YTT - 200 HR), who was trained in vinyasa primarily. Please note that many instructors use a blend of different styles of yoga, for example, my Sunday morning class is a mixture of hatha, restorative and yin!
Vinyasa yoga is a subcategory of ashtanga yoga, invented by K. Pattabhi Jois in 1948. Vinyasa means to connect breath to movement. Vinyasa style yoga is an aerobic style of yoga. It is a quick paced class and each movement follows the breath. For example, exhale to low plank, inhale to upward facing dog, exhale to downward facing dog. In a classic vinyasa class, the instructor typically takes you through a “flow” and adds onto previous flows as the class progresses towards a peak pose. The peak pose is the most challenging pose of the class, think peak pose as dancer, crow, headstands, etc. In a vinyasa class, expect to break a sweat and move into more challenging positions but typically it ends in a 10-15 minute cool down or meditation component. Most often, vinyasa yoga classes are heated, but not as hot as it gets in a Bikram yoga class. The studio where I worked, heated the class to about 80 degrees which I found much more tolerable than say, a 100 degree room. This is one of my favorite style of classes because each class is different so I never get bored, it’s a great form of exercise, and it gives enough of the yoga “wuwu” that I always feel satisfied walking out of this class.
gives enough of the yoga “wuwu” that I always feel satisfied walking out of this class.
Pros of vinyasa:
Endurance and isometric strengthening
Improves balance and flexibility
Don’t get bored as each class is different
Connects the breath to movements which helps to calm the mind
Cons to a vinyasa:
The class moves quickly, so beginners may find it challenging
Not having a great understanding of the poses could potentially cause pain
Ashtanga yoga was invented in the 1920’s by K. Pattabhi Jois. In Sanskrit, ashtanga directly translates to the 8 limb path, which consists of: Yama (attitudes towards environment, niyama (attitude towards self), asana (the yoga pose), pranayama (breath), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration) , dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (integration). The ashtanga practice is a set series of poses, that moves through each pose by integrating the breath. The poses are generally challenging. Ashtanga yoga is a great way to improve your practice as the poses are pre-set, so every time you return to the practice it is the same exact moves allowing you to improve every time. Ashtanga yoga is very similar to vinyasa in that they use similar poses and move with the breath. The main difference is that in vinyasa the class changes and ashtanga it is a set series.
Benefits of Ashtanga:
Endurance and isometric strengthening
Connects mind, body and breath
You know exactly what to expect every class
Challenging class for more advanced yogis
Cons of Ashtanga:
Set series may become boring to some individuals
Poses are challenging and may be frustrating to new yogis
Requires some baseline fitness levels to participate
Hatha yoga is the umbrella term for all physical poses and is the traditional form of yoga, first noted in the Rig Veda. Hatha is Sanskrit translates to sun (ha) and moon (ta) and is supposed to represent the fact that this is a balanced practice, incorporating the breath and pose. Vinyasa and ashtanga both derive from hatha and use many of the poses or asanas (asana means pose). Hatha yoga is slower paced, poses are held for longer, with emphasis on alignment of each pose. This class is good if you are working on flexibility since the stretches are typically held for a longer duration of time. If you are new to yoga, a hatha class would be a good first class. In this class, the instructor should explain the proper biomechanics of each pose, allowing adequate time to really “feel” or “experience” the pose.
Pros of Hatha:
Slower paced, great for beginners
Emphasis on alignment and biomechanics of each pose
Longer holds in each pose to help build flexibility and strength
Cons of Hatha:
Not as much emphasis on breath connection
Iyengar yoga is a subcategory of hatha yoga, developed by B.K.S Iyengar in the 1970’s. This style of class is similar to hatha yoga in which emphasis is on alignment of the pose and each pose is held for longer durations of time, with less emphasis on the breath. Iyengar yoga uses a lot of props such as bolsters, straps and blocks to assist students deeper into poses, without compromising their form. Iyengar yoga is the most widely researched yoga for physical benefits, for example, one study examined a population with low back pain and used Iyengar yoga intervention as a treatment, which shown to decrease overall low back pain over time. This is a great class for beginners as it progresses slowly and emphasizes body precision and biomechanics. Holding the poses longer allows for subtle adaptations to take place.
Pros of Iyengar:
Slower paced class with emphasis on body alignment makes this a great class for beginners or people with chronic pain.
Lots of research has been conducted on the benefits both physically and mentally of Iyengar yoga.
Cons of Iyengar:
Slower style with emphasis on attention to pose detail may be overwhelming or boring to some people.
Bikram yoga is a subcategory of hatha yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970’s. Bikram yoga is a set series consisting of 26 poses, performed in a room that is set to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 40%, intended to mimic the environment of India. The founder of Bikram yoga endured many lawsuits against him for sexual assault and as a result this style of yoga has been widely shunned. Bikram tried to copyright his 26 poses, but the court dismissed his request stating that yoga poses should not be copyrighted! All Bikram classes are taught by yoga instructors specifically trained in Bikram yoga. If you are looking for an intense sweat, this class is perfect for you! I personally cannot stand moving in an environment that hot, and find I get lightheaded easily. The poses are held a little longer and there is no emphasis on connection of breath with movement. This class should not be taken if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure or do not tolerate heat! Make sure to bring lots of water and a towel if you want to try to class. I wouldn’t recommend this style of yoga to a beginner, unless they are physically active to begin and really want a good sweat. If you want to watch an interesting documentary on Bikram check out the Netflix called “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.”
Pros of Bikram:
You will break a sweat
Some research has been done on this style of yoga which found it to be helpful at improving strength, flexibility, range of motion and balance.
Same series every time
Cons of Bikram:
Room is SO hot and may be unsafe or uncomfortable for some individuals.
Kundalini in Sanskrit means coiled snake. The idea behind this style of yoga is that the kundalini energy lies at the base of our spine and should be released to find spiritual enlightenment. When we activate this kundalini energy, it is thought to uncoil up through our chakras, leading us to the path of spiritual perfection, “kundalini awakening.” Kundalini yoga is thought to release the power of the “divine feminine”. Kundalini was founded by Bhajan in the 1960’s. As you can imagine, kundalini is focused on inner awareness with focus on experience; how does each pose, or breath work make you feel. Kriyas are a key component of kundalini and refer to a set of specific breathing techniques and poses that are practiced with a specific goal - to awaken the higher self. This style of yoga incorporates the idea of chakras, energies and healing more than any other style of yoga. In this class expect to do a lot of breathing and connecting to the mind. Sometimes this class can bring up negative emotions or release energy and may cause quite profound sensations or experiences.
Pros of Kundalini:
Cons of Kundalini:
Very spiritual and may be overwhelming for some
Lots of chanting (this could be a pro or con haha)
Yin yoga is one of my personal favorite types of yoga classes. Yin yoga was developed in the 1970’s by Paulie Zink and popularized by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. If we think of the yin and the yang as a concept, we can begin to understand yin yoga a little more. Yin and yang are terms associated with ancient Chinese philosophy and grounded in dualism. So, yang represents male energy, light, day, warmth, and yin represents feminine energy and is dark, night and cooling, in extremely simplified terms, obviously there is more to this concept. So, when we think of vinyasa style yoga, it is centered in yang principles, generation of heat, moving fast and yin style yoga is completely the opposite. In a yin class poses are held for two to three minutes, and only about 10 to 15 poses are done each class. There is a huge emphasis on yoga blocks, bolsters and straps as well as focus on the breath. This class really focuses on connecting to the breath and holding the stretch for longer periods of time. Although the poses are quite easy to get into, this class is one of the more challenging yoga classes I’ve ever taken simply because you are stuck with your thoughts. I have had some pretty profound ideas come to me while in a yin class. For me, a yin class is the closest I can get to meditation. The stretches are held for longer, this sustained stretch helps the stretch neurons in our muscles, ligaments and bones to lower their stretch tolerance. In other words, holding poses longer can make stretching less painful, as our bodies adapt to the new position and realize it’s not harmful.
Pros of yin:
Great form of meditation
If you are looking to increase your flexibility, the longer sustained holds will help
Good to balance the vinyasa class with a yin class sometimes
Great grounding class, if life is getting hectic and you need some “you” time
Cons of yin:
Slow paced class
Sustained holds in poses may be intense or cause pain
Restorative yoga is another one of my favorites. This style of yoga is a spin-off of Iyengar B.K.S teachings and became popularized in 1995 by Judith Hanson. Restorative yoga is a slower paced class, lots of props used, and less poses per class than a vinyasa. Restorative yoga is meant to provide movement in a safe way, many modifications are offered and usually it is a smaller class. Emphasis on do-able motion and moving in ways that feel good. This class is quite slow, relaxing, quiet and grounding. Think of this class as a way to encourage movement even if it’s very subtle. The poses are not held as long as yin classes and typically an easier class than yin. There is a huge component of breath to body movement, instead of just the long holds as seen in yin. This is a great beginner class, good introduction to poses but with lots of modifications available by the teacher. This is also a great class to check out if you have had a recent injury and want to begin moving again but are worried about how. Typically, restorative yoga teachers will ask their students at the beginning of the class about injuries so they can work with you to figure out pain-free motions. If you have taken the gentle Sunday yoga, then you have taken a restorative yoga class.
Pros of restorative yoga:
Great beginner class
Great for post-injury mobility
Great way to relax and connect with the breath and body
Cons of restorative:
No emphasis on the “workout or sweat so if you are looking for a challenging class this is not for you
Prenatal yoga is a class offered exclusively to pregnant women and catered to the needs of women in all trimesters of their pregnancy. Typically, yoga studios will run prenatal sessions, so about 1-2 yoga classes a week per quarter, then a new session begins. Prenatal yoga is never heated and taught by registered prenatal yoga instructors. Prenatal yoga is often a slower paced class, with no poses that are contradictory during pregnancy. The poses help prepare the mom for birth as well as assisting to decreasing pains that develop throughout the pregnancy. For instance, calf cramps and low back pain are common ailments dealt with during pregnancy and these areas are safely addressed in class. The class focuses on the breath as well and teaches women how to control their breath for labor. The class also acts as a support system, usually at the beginning of a prenatal yoga class the women will all go around and talk about their pregnancy, things that maybe their partners or friends don’t understand. Even if you use prenatal yoga as a community or support system, it will be well worth the investment. Lots of research exists around the benefit, and safety of yoga, if you are pregnant or ever plan on being pregnant, I highly recommend checking out prenatal yoga.
Pros of prenatal:
Support system and community
Prepares for labor with breath work, visualization techniques and meditations
Can help decrease pregnancy related pain
Decreases fears and anxieties related to pregnancy and labor.
Cons of prenatal:
Exclusive I guess since it's only for pregnant women?
Chang, D, Holt, A, Sklar. M, Grossei. E. (2016). Yoga as a treatment for chronic low back pain: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Orthopedics & Rheumatology, 3(1), 1–3. https://doi.org/10.13188/2334-2846.1000018
Curtis, K., Weinrib, A., & Katz, J. (2012). Systematic Review of Yoga for Pregnant Women: Current Status and Future Directions. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/715942
Groessl, E. J., Weingart, K. R., Aschbacher, K., Pada, L., & Baxi, S. (2008). Yoga for Veterans with Chronic Low-Back Pain. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14(9), 1123–1129. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0020
mindbodygreen. (2020, October 11). Types of Yoga — Breakdown Of 11 Major Types. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-11-major-types-of-yoga-explained-simply
Miyoshi, Y. (2019). Restorative yoga for occupational stress among Japanese female nurses working night shift: Randomized crossover trial. Journal of Occupational Health, 61(6), 508–516. https://doi.org/10.1002/1348-9585.12080
Team, C. S. (2019, May 1). Canada’s low back pain epidemic. Canadian Chiropractic Association (CCA) - Association Chiropratique Canadienne. https://chiropractic.ca/blog/canadas-low-back-pain-
Woodford, C. (2018, August 12). What Is Kriya? Elemental Yoga. https://elemental.yoga/blog/2018/6/9/what-is-kriya