Are you ready to plunge into yoga?
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Learn about different yoga styles
Different types of yoga - yoga style guide written by Claudia Steinhauser
Yoga Style Guide - different styles of yoga
For a beginner coming to their first yoga class (and even for somebody in the yoga world for some time), the many “names” we give to yoga out there, can be very confusing. The person is confronted with so many types and labels to distinguish between different methodologies, styles, schools and / or teacher´s names that often it can become very disheartening and the question arises "which yoga class is the right one for me?"
This guide is outlining only a brief description and offers therefore only a vague definition of the many “styles” and “methodologies” out there nowadays.
What yoga class to chose?
I heard the question “what is normal yoga”? This question in itself shows an utter confusion and I hope this little article will bring some light or inspire you to investigate further or go and try different types of yoga.
The differences overall are usually about emphasis, e.g. focus on strict alignment of the body, specific function, holding the postures, or flowing from one posture to another, incorporating other aspects, such as rituals, chants or breathing exercises (pranayama). Some focus on more fire, earth, water, air, or ether and all aim to achieve “liberation” or “self-realization” (or so you would hope for).
Many “founders of styles” share a common lineage ( “K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga, B. K.S. Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga, and T. K. V. Desikachar, founder of Viniyoga” are modern yogis. However, there are many more, such as, “Shivananda”, “Satchidananda”, “Yogananda” etc.)
Iyengar, Jois, and Desikachar were students of the same teacher Krishnamacharya. Indra Devi, the first woman to bring yoga to the West, was also a student of Krishnamacharya. Krichnamarchaya is also called the father of modern yoga.
Many “founders of different styles” adapted their styles to what they perceived as their most important emphasis or function. Life is change and evolution. We should always remember yoga belongs to nobody and everybody. The Romans used to say: “all roads lead to Rome” and so can it be if you practice one particular type or the other. “Non-attachment” & “no- stealing” are some of the values outlining a yogic way of life. Nevertheless, as in any other power relationship, it can lead to misuse, trust issues, greed and taking without giving credit.
History of Yoga
According to Georg Feuerstein (an important scholar of yoga) the history of yoga in India can be divided into five periods:
· Vedic yoga (pre 2000 BCE)
· Preclassical yoga (2000 BCE to 200 BCE)
· Classical yoga (200 BCE to 300 CE)
· Postclassical yoga (300 CE to 1750 CE)
· Modern yoga (From about 1750 CE to present)
In the Hindu system the seven (7) main types of yoga are:
1. Râja yoga, also known as astânga yoga, which has an eight-fold path to follow and is mainly meditative yoga (note the small “a” in comparison to Ashtanga (see below).
2. Hatha yoga, which is a physical yoga. Hatha yoga developed as part of tantric yoga.
3. Jnâna yoga (the study or knowledge of Yoga, the mental process concerned with the understanding and science of our perceptions and what is happening around us.
4. Karma yoga, which is known as the yoga of action. The ‘action’ in karma yoga is ‘to serve’.
5. Bhakti yoga, which is the yoga of devotion.
6. Mantra yoga, which is yoga of sound and words. Mantra yoga as Hatha Yoga are part of Tantric yoga.
7. Tantric yoga is the yoga of our modern age (last thousand years) and essentially embraces everything, everything is connected and everything is part of the ultimate reality.
What is Hatha Yoga?
HATHA Yoga (even thus people often believe this to be a style), is more a general term or “type” of yoga that includes many of the physical styles of yoga with different sets of emphasis, therefore within the definition of hatha yoga, you find many different “styles”. Sometimes the style borrows the surname of a given yogi (e.g. Iyengar Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Sivananda) or /and sometimes a Sanskrit word, such as Jiva (individual self, is a living being, or any entity imbued with a life force) and Mukti (liberation) (Jivamukti Yoga), Anusara (flowing with grace,” “going with the flow,” “following your heart).” (Anusara Yoga).
Hatha also often is referred to as the Moon and the Sun (cold and heat) opening Bandha and contracting bandha (the flow (e.g. blood flow, energy flow) influencing the coolness or heat within the body, releasing and contracting.
Ashtanga, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Dynamic, Anusara etc. all fall all under the term Hatha Yoga.
This style of practice is most concerned with bodily alignment, anatomy and using props to support the correct alignment in order to obtain a maximum flow of energy within. Overall this safe method tried to avoid injury and is used a lot for a therapeutic approach. It might be difficult to imagine the simple act of standing upright involving so many subtle movements and adjustments taking place in the whole body, but attention to detail is the main characteristic of the earthy approach Iyengar Yoga uses to unite mind, body and emotion. Mr Iyengar died 20 August 2014 and certainly has left an amazing impact and some amazing teachers.
Many people copy some aspect of his style (some yoga students don´t even know that most of the other styles take from Mr Iyengar´s genius adaptation of postures with ropes, hanging rope (a sort of aerial yoga and acro-yoga existed LONG before it became commercialized and marketed). Also the use of blocks, belts, cushions, chairs etc. are used in Iyengar Yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga (founder Pattabhi Jois)
For those yogis ready to burn attachments with fire and those who need a more physical practice (at least in the beginning) and want to move through a series of postures in a meditative way building up strength, stamina and flexibility. Here alignment is not the most important emphasis but vinyasa (movement) and as Pattabhi Jois said “practice, practice and it all comes”. Many known teachers have studied with (some of them with both, i.e. Mr Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois) Pattabhi Jois. Great Yogis, such as Richard Freeman, John Scott, Simon Borg-Olivier, David Swenson, Hemish Hendry (and excuse me if I have forgotten some, I can only list those that I have had the pleasure to meet and study with). More and more have graduated and is licensed to teach this style of yoga. The grandson Sharath has taken over from his granddad, but also Jois´s kids teach it, so I went e.g. to Shamila’s classes in Bangalore and Manju is traveling the world to teach workshops etc..
Viniyoga: a step to step methodology which focuses on that a yoga practice should be adapted to fit the individual and the particular situation of each practitioner. This is the approach developed also by Sri. T. Krishnamacharya and continued by his son D.K:S. Desikachar. The key characteristic of this more therapeutic approach is the careful integration of the flow of breath with the movement of the spine. The sequencing is adapted to the overall purpose of the practitioner.
Indra Devi was often called "The First Lady of Yoga." In 1937, Krishnamacharya admitted her into his school. She was the first woman and the first Western woman in an Indian ashram. Funny thinking that nowadays most or certainly a lot of women teach and have made names (such as Shiva Rea, Donna Fahri, Patricia Walden etc.). It certainly was not that easy for Indra, but she nevertheless brought yoga to the West. She taught many Hollywood Stars in the 50s and later was invited to teach in Buenos Aires.
Ananda Yoga is a style of Hatha yoga that uses asana and pranayama to awake and experience subtle energies within oneself, especially through the energies of the chakras. The Chakras (wheels of energy) are used to fine tune and harmonise body, mind and emotions. A unique feature is the use of silent affirmations to do so. Ananda Yoga is a more gentle, inward experience and. was developed by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi.
Sivananda Yoga is one of the world's largest schools of yoga and was developed by Vishnu-devananda and named for his teacher, Sivananda yoga follows a set structure that includes pranayama, classic asanas, and relaxation. Other disciples of Sivananda (Swami Satchidananda (http://swamisatchidananda.org/) created another style called Integral Yoga, which puts as much emphasis on pranayama and meditation as on postures.
Bihar School of Yoga (e.g. the famous Yoga Nidra sessions people advertise is based and has been developed by the Bihar School of Yoga and in general there are some really good books coming from this Bihar School).
Kundalini yoga in the tradition of Yogi Bhajan, who brought the style to the West in 1969, The emphasis in Kundalini is on controlling the breath in conjunction with physical movement to free energy.
Hot Yoga or Bikram Yoga is practiced in a 95 to 100-degree room, which allows for a loosening of tight muscles and profuse sweating. This is said to be cleansing. The Bikram method is a set series of 26 poses but may vary in a general Hot Yoga class. Founder Bikram Choudhury studied yoga with Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda.
I would argue that most “modern styles” or “ways to teach yoga” (methodologies) have been inspired by at least one if not all of those great modern fathers and mothers of yoga (above), such as “Dynamic Yoga” (founded by Godfrey Devereux), a yoga that combines elements of Ashtanga, Viniyoga and Iyengar style and emphasizes the non-dogmatic approach. “Power Yoga” based on Ashtanga with teachers, such as Baron Baptiste, Rodney Yee etc, “Jivamukti Yoga” incorporates chanting, physical practice based on Ashtanga with alignment (based on Iyengar) (David Life and Sharon Gannon), Vinyasa Flow headed by Shiva Rea, “Anusara Yoga” founded by John Friend, which means “flowing with grace and “following your heart” or “to step into the current of the Divine Will”, “Dharma Yoga”, “Rocket Yoga”, “Sun Power Yoga”, “Forrest Yoga”, “TriYoga”, “Moksha Yoga”, “Kripalu Yoga”, “Svaroopa Yoga”, “Synergy Yoga” (currently my favourite way to approach my practice). Are you dizzy yet?
This list can go on and on and excuse me if I have forgotten yours. Less movement-based yoga, such “yin yoga” (mainly floor-based postures approached in a way that allows us to target our connective tissues (fascia and ligaments) as opposed to muscles or “restorative yoga” (very much taken from Iyengar Yoga) using props to stay in postures longer. Gentle Hatha, dynamic Hatha, fitness Yoga, Acro-Yoga, naked yoga, aerial yoga (I get dizzy as I write this)….
What is Yoga?
At the end of the day, Yoga is Yoga or as Elvis sang “Yoga is as yoga does” and no class should be too gentle nor too dynamic. Yoga should give you freedom of movement and not be too lax or to dynamic for any given person. If you overstretch, overbend you are more likely to lose vital energy and if you are too lax you might injure yourself. Yoga is not solely an exercise, yoga is art, yoga is science, yoga is a philosophy and a way of life and being. You find the balance between the extremes and you incorporate strength with softness, flexibility with strength, cold and heat.
Sometimes we add “flow”, “vinyasa” to yoga.
What is vinyasa yoga?
Vinyasa is a Sanskrit word (and not much to do with the Italian vinassa, i.e. booze) and means to flow, movement. "Vinyasa" is derived from the Sanskrit term nyasa, which means "to place," and the prefix vi, "in a special way" (linking one movement to the next through the breath). Vinyasa Yoga is not really a style but within Vinyasa Yoga there are many different styles. Vinyasa does not have to be dynamic as many assume. The simple movement of moving your arms up and down is vinyasa.
Some will focus on a specific sequence of postures (such as in Ashtanga), others will vary the sequence of posture and function of the class, some have designed their own sequences.
I think no style is better than another or going back to the beginning should any style deserve a label to be “normal” and it's simply a matter of your own personal preferences and abilities and needs. More important than any style is the student-teacher relationship. At the end, Yoga does what yoga does and yoga is what yoga is, so as long as you feel a positive change in yourself and personal growth, names and labels do not matter. I would always recommend a beginner to try a few classes with different teachers and styles and then to feel and investigate for himself which one is suitable for him/her in the development of one´s own spiritual awareness and higher consciousness. Saying that don’t get stuck in ONLY doing a particular strong or soft practice. Your body, energy level changes and at times you may need just the opposite of what you think!
Having outlined some labels, styles, types above (Dynamic Yoga, Anusara Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Tri Yoga etc.), schools and / or teacher´s names (e.g Iyengar Yoga, Shivananda Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Bikram Yoga), let’s dive deeper and see what Ayurveda has to say.
All those methods fall into different approaches and relate to ayurvedic constitutions. Some methods “emphasize” more the “fire” element, whereas others more the “water, air, ether or earth” element, although I believe that at the end yoga will achieve the balance in all those elements in an advanced yogi or yogini (you just need to look at some advanced “pitta” Ashtangi flowing in their practice with grace and in harmony with all the elements. They have used fire to achieve this level.
I believe equally that in the beginning, we ought to be aware that we also can increase some negative aspects and it can go all into disequilibrium, so we may want to stay a little bit longer in Sarvangasa if we are a “pitta” constitution and doing Ashtanga.
If pitta is not in balance (many aspects such as food, heat etc. can overheat us) we may feel even more irritated and nervous after our practice. This has happened to me and I had my heart pounding leaving some very strong Jivamutki class at a yoga conference in London in the need of some yogi tea to calm me down. I also remember in India an Ashtangi hissing at me when I told her maybe she needs a bit rest, because she looked tired and exhausted. She was practicing asana 6 hours a day.
You can achieve balance (even thus you are a fire person) with a “fire” practice nurturing and fuelling the fire within yourself, be friends with this burning in you and let it burn your thinking mind and channel this into fuel and energy for your devotion to your yoga practice.
You just have to learn to nurture yourself and listen to what your body needs whatever practice you do and whatever “name” you advocate. You may feel more attracted to a certain “style” and that´s ok, but to claim there is nothing better than “insert label”, may be misleading and unless you have a good teacher, who knows how to keep you in balance, you may overexert yourself soon feeling tired and depleted rather than nourished and awake.
A teacher should encourage a student to feel, nurture and adapt. Yoga needs to be adapted to the individual and the individual needs to adapt to yoga.