Ask people what comes to mind when they think of yoga and you may get descriptions of yogis striking body-contorting positions, sitting cross-legged in meditative bliss, or dripping with sweat in a sauna-like room. So, which of these is the most accurate depiction? Actually, all of them. But how can yoga be all of these things?
The term yoga is synonymous with mind-body practices, but it can be more accurately described as a collection of disciplines, each focusing on a particular aspect of physical and mental well-being. There are 7 main types of yoga: ashtanga, hatha, hot, Iyengar, kundalini, restorative, and vinyasa.
Whether due to physical limitations or personal goals, not every form of yoga is suitable for all practitioners. The ancient art of yoga comprises diverse disciplines that have unique characteristics and distinct benefits. Keep reading to learn about the 7 main types of yoga and how to figure out which one is best suited to enhance your physical and mental well-being.
What Makes a Yoga Type Different From Others?
One of the main reasons why yoga has millions of practitioners around the world is because it offers something for everyone. No matter your age, experience, or fitness level, yoga can enhance your physical and mental health in ways that no other activity can.
What makes this possible is the fact that yoga is a collection of unique but interrelated disciplines. While they all share a common ancestry and fundamental beliefs, each approaches the objective of achieving personal well-being in different ways. For example:
- Some types of yoga, like restorative, take a gentle, holistic approach to well-being and emphasize techniques that soothe and relax
- Certain types of yoga, like ashtanga, vinyasa, and certain forms of hot yoga, are very regimented and can be physically challenging to practice
- Other types, like kundalini, are as much about spiritual awareness as they are about physical and mental health
Whether you practice yoga to calm your mind or get in a great workout there is a discipline that is perfectly suited for you. Best of all, any type of yoga can be adapted to your personal preferences and capabilities.
Is There Really Yin and Yang in Yoga?
The concept of yin and yang goes back thousands of years to ancient Chinese philosophy. The basic premise is that the universe consists of opposing, yet complementary, forces, and it is the balance that is struck between them that creates harmony. These are the fundamental principles of this belief system:
- Yin encompasses feminine energy and is represented by darkness, water, cold things, the moon, and passivity
- Yang incorporates masculine energy and is represented by light, fire, warm things, the sun, and activity
In the context of yoga, harmony between yin and yang can be accomplished by combining the attributes of different disciplines to create a cohesive practice that has balance among its components.
For example, if you sequence a session with a few relaxing postures of restorative yoga and mix in more challenging poses commonly found in ashtanga or vinyasa yoga, you can achieve your own personal yin and yang in yoga.
The 7 Main Types of Yoga Explained
Are you interested in learning yoga but don’t know where to start? Or, are you looking for a change of pace on the yoga journey you’ve already started? These are the 7 main types of yoga, and one is certain to be a good fit for you.
This type of yoga appeals to practitioners looking for a good, full-body workout. With six levels of pre-sequenced postures, ashtanga yoga is a highly regimented discipline requiring a strong commitment to practice and development to progress from beginner stages to advanced levels. Flexibility and strength are must-haves to become a skilled practitioner of ashtanga yoga.
Power yoga is a related discipline and features a more freestyle approach to postures but is equally demanding in terms of activities and workouts.
If there is a yoga studio in your neighborhood or classes being held at the local recreation center, there’s a good chance that the type of yoga being taught there is the hatha discipline. With its emphasis on proper mechanics, correct posturing, and coordinated breathing techniques, hatha yoga is ideal for beginners and experienced yogis alike.
This type of yoga also incorporates meditation into its sessions so hatha yoga is a complete mind-body wellness solution.
Hot yoga is an exhilarating discipline that has earned throngs of followers for its unique physical challenges. What sets hot yoga (known by many as Bikram for the version that was popularized by its controversial founder) apart from other types of yoga are the unique conditions under which it is practiced:
- A heated room or studio where the temperature is maintained at a constant 105° F
- Humidity is also controlled and set to 40%
- There are exactly 26 poses in hot yoga and they are always performed in the same sequence
Because it can be so physically demanding, hot yoga is not for everyone but it is one of the 7 most popular types practiced today.
Named after its founder and well-known yoga figure B.K.S. Iyengar, this discipline is founded on the principle that proper form and body alignment are critical to reaping the benefits that each pose has to offer.
To aid practitioners, Iyengar yoga encourages the use of props to guide and hold the various parts of the body in their correct positions. These include:
When it comes to learning the fundamentals of postures and acclimating your body to the rigors of yoga practice, Iyengar is an ideal way to start your yoga journey.
Of all the main types of yoga, kundalini has the strongest spiritual components. This discipline emphasizes exercises like chanting mantras, controlled breathing, and deep meditation, and seeks to uncoil your shakti – the mythical life force that lies within all of us.
While some disciplines aim to stimulate soft tissue and target certain muscle groups, restorative yoga seeks to relax your body and serve as a conduit for the release of stress and anxiety. This type of yoga is ideal for people recovering from injury or those focusing on their mental well-being.
Unlike other yoga disciplines, a typical session of restorative yoga comprises only a handful of poses and each one is held for a lengthy period, sometimes as long as 15 minutes.
A typical vinyasa yoga session can be best described as constant motion synchronized with measured breathing. The word vinyasa means “flow, “ which is precisely how each posture leads into the next. This type of yoga is great for improving your fitness level, increasing stamina, and strengthening your cardiovascular system.
Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all activity and it is for this reason that millions of people practice this ancient art, making it one of the most popular forms of well-being exercise in the world. Whether you want to improve your physical fitness, work on your breathing techniques, or focus on meditative techniques, there are seven main types of yoga to choose from and one is bound to be a perfect fit for your needs.