Really, there’s only one style of yoga, and that’s called yoga. Yoga is yoga, and yoga is good. Okay.
Sometimes yoga is fast and sometimes it’s slow. Sometimes we hold. Sometime we’re gentle, sometimes we go for strength. It worked like this forever and ever, and then yoga went west. And you know what we westerners like to do with things: categorize.
So now we have lots of styles of yoga and that’s fine, too. If you see these words on the yoga schedule, it’s good to know what you’re getting into before you enter the studio.
Pretty much all yoga is Hatha yoga in the traditional sense; if the class includes physical postures
and breathing techniques, there’s some version of Hatha going on in there.
If you see Hatha on the yoga schedule, you’re looking at a beginner-friendly class that might be a little gentler or slower than other classes on the schedule.
You probably won’t see this on most schedules, actually, but I include it because it’s the style we practiced as I received my yoga teacher training. Akhanda means “whole,” and this is the yoga taught by my teacher Yogrishi Vishvketu, yoga as described in his book Yogasana: The Encyclopedia of Yoga Poses as a “…complete system of movement, sound, breath, and meditation.”
An Akhanda class would include postures that move the spine in every direction as well as pranayama (breathing techniques), mantra (sacred sounds, words, or phrases) and meditation.
There are lots of other yoga styles that fall under this style. Vinyasa refers to a flow, so a Vinyasa class would include a lot of movement, flowing with your breath from pose to pose, and not a lot of holding.
This sometimes is used to refer to power yoga, but while Ashtanga is an athletic power yoga, not all power yoga is Ashtanga. Ashtanga is generally credited to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and includes three series of progressive postures.
Developed by Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga is a series of 26 poses always performed in the same sequence in a room heated to 105 degrees. I tried it twice and wasn’t a fan, but there are devotees all over the world. It’s very strenuous and I don’t recommend it for beginners. (You can read about my Bikram yoga experience here.)
AcroYoga in the United States is attributed to Jason Nemer and Jenny Klein. It is a partner yoga practice that incorporates elements of yoga, acrobatics, and Thai massage. In fact, to get certified as an AcroYoga instructor, you have to go through a specialized training–but before you can be accepted into that program, you have to complete a 200-hour yoga teacher training, 50 hours of training in both Thai massage and acrobatics, and more.
Developed and taught by B.K.S. Iyengar (who wrote the very popular Light on Yoga and other books), this style focuses on alignment and longer holds. It’s common to use props like blocks and straps to help the body achieve the correct alignment.
This is a gentle practice that includes easy, gentle poses like child’s pose, crocodile, and spinal twists that are held for a long time. You generally use bolsters and pillows to support your body in the poses, so that you’re always comfortable and finding it easy to relax.
A general term referring to yoga in a heated room. Bikram yoga is hot yoga, but not all hot yoga is Bikram.
Poses are held for a long time, so you don’t do many different ones during the course of your practice. You use gravity and patience to help you deepen the poses.
What other styles of yoga have you tried?
If you’re new to yoga, you might find these helpful, too: