As yoga becomes more and more mainstream, there are so many different schools and styles readily available to practice. Often you’ll look at a yoga schedule of the nearest yoga studio and wonder what the difference is between the various types of classes offered. You may sometimes feel like you need a dictionary or even a translator to identify the difference between all the styles. So, how do you know which yoga style or school is right for you? Hopefully, this brief explanation of different schools and styles of yoga helps you to be able to determine which style will best suit you and your practice. So follow this simple guide to the key differences between the major schools of yoga. Happy practicing!
This practice is for expecting mothers or women who are hoping to conceive. A gentle maternal energy is usually present in these classes as women are guided through tender postures and stretches to naturally prepare their bodies for childbirth and motherhood, as well as relax any stress in their bodies and minds that pregnancy may create. These classes typically offer plenty of modifications to make the practice accessible for women during any stage of their pregnancy.
This practice of yoga was established by the teachings of Swami Sivananda. The style is of the Hatha Yoga tradition and focuses on preserving the health and wellness of the practitioner. This practice of yoga follows a set sequence of 12 postures that emphasizes and focuses on rest and relaxation between the postures and strong connection to the yogic breath. Some teachers follow the sequence very strictly whereas others may tend to add some flexibility to the practice. This practice is typically accessible to all levels of yogis, beginner to advanced.
The great yogi master, BKS Iyengar, created this detailed practice. This style of yoga is very specific and requires a lot of mental and physical awareness. There is a great deal of attention focused on proper anatomical alignment of the body. The practice stems from the Hatha Yoga tradition and tends to often use a lot of yoga props to support the body and move deeper into postures (i.e. blocks, blankets, bolsters, straps, etc.). Different levels are available for different practice experience. There is also a stem of the Iyengar tradition called Wall Rope Yoga, in which ropes are hung from holes in the wall to support and enhance poses.
Yin-Yang is a balanced practice that works with the energy systems of the Yin and the Yang to equalize the body. Typically, the practice begins with a faster-paced warm up to really prepare the body for deeper long-held stretches. The second half of class is traditionally very slow and restorative, allowing practitioners to surrender and relax into a meditative state. This practice is ideal for beginners and advanced yogis alike.
8 Yoga Therapy
Yoga Therapy is similar to physical therapy training but with the use of only yoga postures to help alleviate pain and rehabilitate injuries. The pace of Yoga Therapy classes tends to be slower as yogis are encouraged to draw their attention to the physical alignment of the body as well as the internal sensations of the postures. These classes are typically very therapeutic and are often recommended and tailored for people with injuries (and, of course, those without as well!). Always be sure to tell your instructor about any specific injuries before class.
This yoga is practiced in hanging hammocks. The style varies from school to school but it can be either a vigorous practice or can be offered as restorative as well. The hammocks allow students to deepen and advance their practice stemming from the techniques of aerial arts. The hammock works as a wonderful prop to allow students to move deeper into stretches and postures while fully activating deep core muscles and strongly toning the arms. The hammock also allows yogis to practice compression-free inversions, turning the body upside down without the need of brute strength and without creating any compression into the head, neck, or spine. Aerial yoga is typically accessible to all levels, just be sure to inform your instructor if it is your first class.
This practice is deeply meditative and restorative. Typically, passive stretches are held for about five to ten minutes with lots of supportive props to maximize deep stretching. The Yin/Restorative practice allows you to enter a meditative state of mind as you surrender and relax into the body and the breath. This practice is ideal for beginners and people with injuries, and also as a complement to those who practice more vigorous sports or forms of yoga.
This is a set series of 26 “progressive” postures and two breathing techniques that is practiced in a heated room. Bikram Choudhury created this style of yoga. The room temperature is set around 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40° Celsius) with 40% humidity levels. This practice is said to be accessible to many levels, but it is highly recommended to be very cautious in the heated room so as not to overstretch the muscles (as they are very warm). Be sure to stay very hydrated before and after class and try to take it easy until your body learns to adapt to the heat levels of the room.
This style of Vinyasa Flow yoga is fast-paced and, of course, powerful. Typically, more “advanced” postures are offered in Power classes and the flow of the class moves quickly. The body and the breath move together to create a heating sensation of the body. Power classes tend to incorporate cardiovascular training as well as deep stretching. A background in some form of yoga is typically recommended for Power Yoga classes.
This is a set, strict, pre-sequenced practice that is very physically and mentally challenging. It is the basis of Vinyasa Flow. The practice has six series and each one is more vigorous than the previous. A practitioner may typically spend years “perfecting” one series before being ready to move onto the next. Breath, focal point, and energetic “locks” of the body are all key elements of this practice. It is typically recommended to have some sort of yoga experience to practice Ashtanga, but beginners are always welcomed with modifications. Classes can either be led by a teacher or taught “Mysore” style where students practice the memorized sequences communally, yet on their own without a guiding teacher, and the teacher will assist as needed. The Primary Series typically takes about two hours to complete and focuses primarily on forward folding. Each pose is typically held for about 5 – 10 deep breaths.
2 Vinyasa Flow
Vinyasa literally means movement with breath. So, the breath links all postures in a Vinyasa class. The breath guides each movement of the body. It is almost like a choreographed dance. This practice is often slightly faster paced and involves a good deal of upper body strengthening but it is also highly modifiable so there tends to be options for practitioners of every level and skill set. This practice varies greatly from teacher to teacher and school to school. Classes are typically labeled "level 1," "level 2," etc. to find the appropriate class for your level of ability and experience.
This is the most classic physical yoga practice. It is the basis of all other practices. Again, the classes may vary from school to school and teacher to teacher. It is often practiced as reaching a pose and then taking a rest followed by the pose on the opposite side. This practice is accessible to beginners and advanced practitioners alike and often follows a slow and steady pace to the class.