Yoga is an amazing practice for physical health, flexibility, exercise, strength, and for mental and emotional health as well. However, there are so many different types of Yoga that it may seem overwhelming and hard to know what is the best kind for you. In this article, we’re going to cover the 7 most popular forms of Yoga practice, so you can get a better idea of what kind of Yoga is the right fit for you.
What Is Yoga?
First and foremost, let’s get clear on what “Yoga” actually is. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word “Yuj,” which means “to join” or “to yoke” or “to unite.” According to Yogic scriptures, the practice of Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness, creating a union and harmony between the mind and body, humanity & Nature.
Yoga is originally a spiritual practice aimed at helping people achieve higher states of consciousness and to connect with the greater totality of the universe. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Yoga is defined as:
Yogahsa citta vritti nirodhah
Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam
Yoga is the stilling of the movements of the mind.
Then the seer can abide in its own nature.
So, the goal of Yoga, as defined by the sage Patanjali, is to still the mind, for when the mind is quiet, we realize and abide in our true nature of consciousness. Realizing this true nature is said to liberate us from the idea that we are our thoughts, ego, or social identity, and consequently from all the suffering that comes with that mistaken sense of identity. Essentially, Yoga, as it is traditionally taught, is about self-realization, inner peace, and freedom from life’s suffering.
In the Yoga Sutras, this realization is said to occur through a systematic process known as the “8 limbs of Yoga,” or “Ashtanga Yoga.” These 8 limbs are:
- Yamas, or social ethics, of which there are 5 that Yogic practitioners follow (non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess/self-restraint, and non-possessiveness). These are said to create harmony in social relationships and to ease the mind.
- Niyamas, or personal ethics, of which there are also 5 (cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender to Life/God). These are described as the personal standards and ethics that one involved in Yoga practice is to adopt.
- Asanas, which are the physical postures and stretches that people most often associate with “Yoga.” These were originally intended to help one find a comfortable position that they could sit in for extended periods of time for meditation, but have since grown to be used as a form of preventative and physical therapy.
- Pranayama, breathing exercises that help control one’s energy, or “prana.”
- Pratyahara, which translates as sensory withdrawal or internalizing the mind. It is when one is less interested by the external world and begins to explore more deeply the world within.
- Dharana, or concentration, which is the practice of focusing the mind on a single object, such as the breath, and maintaining a steady focus upon that object.
- Dhyana, or meditation, which is the steady flow of attention, the state of present moment awareness that can be achieved through prolonged concentration upon a single object.
- Samadhi, the last and final limb, which is the realization and absorption in one’s true Self. This experience of absorption is said to be one of absolute freedom and bliss, not limited by anything in the mental or material world.
Yoga in The Modern World
Now, in the modern world, the word “Yoga” takes on a whole different meaning. Most people don’t know about the history or origins of Yoga, and if you are new to Yoga practice then the information above may be somewhat of a surprise to you. We can see that nowadays, Yoga is an entirely different practice with entirely different aims.
What we call “Yoga” today in the west is simply the physical postures, stretches and exercises that were originally called “Asanas.” If you are interested in developing a Yoga practice, it is helpful to know where it came from and what the original intention of the practice was. This doesn’t mean you have to practice it the same or adopt the philosophy of Yoga just because you want a good stretch or cardio workout.
For the rest of the article, the word “Yoga” will typically refer to Asanas, the physical postures. However, it is good to know what the word Yoga means in a traditional context.
7 Most Popular Types of Yoga
So now, let’s dive into the 7 most popular types of Yoga:
Hatha Yoga is one of the most popular types of Yoga, and it is a type of Yoga that emphasizes asanas, or physical postures. Traditionally, Hatha Yoga referred to “Ha” and “Tha” which were the “solar” and “lunar” forces of energy in the body. Traditional Hatha Yoga practitioners believed that everyone contained this two energies, just as the Chinese traditionally referred to “Yin” and “Yang.” They sought to balance these two energies through their Yoga practices. Interestingly, modern researchers believe that these Yogis were really trying to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, though they didn’t have the scientific knowledge or understanding available to us now.
Hatha Yoga, in its modern form, is a type of Yoga practice that focuses on performing the original 84 asanas. It also moves at a slower pace, and focuses on holding each Yoga posture for a certain amount of time before moving onto the next. In this sense, it is quite different from other modern forms of Yoga like Vinyasa, which involves fluid and continuous movements.
The word Vinyasa means "to place in a special way" and, in this case, this refers to Yoga postures. Vinyasa yoga is often considered to be the most athletic type of Yoga. Vinyasa was adapted from Ashtanga Yoga in the 1980s. Many types of Yoga can also be considered Vinyasa flows such as Ashtanga, and power Yoga.
In Vinyasa Yoga classes, movements are coordinated with your breath and the movements quickly flow from one pose to another. Vinyasa styles can vary depending on the teacher, and there can be many different types of Yoga poses in different sequences. It is a great cardio workout and a great way to energize your body and mind.
In Sanskrit, Ashtanga is translated as “Eight Limbs” and refers to the 8 limbs of Yoga that we discussed earlier. Ashtanga Yoga became popularized in Mysore, India, where they practice specific series of asanas. So, if you are a beginner to this type of Yoga, you will start out learning how to practice the Ashtanga primary series, and once you’ve mastered that, you will go on to learn further series. Typically, in each Ashtanga Yoga class, the same primary series is repeated.
The postures in Ashtanga yoga are very physically demanding, so this style of Yoga is definitely not for the beginner. It takes an experienced Yogi to really enjoy it. Vinyasa Yoga stems from Ashtanga Yoga as the flowing style linking breath to movement.
Kundalini Yoga is a practice that was influenced by the Sikh tradition of India and Pakistan. It is a practice that focuses equally on the spiritual and physical dimensions of life. This style of Yoga is all about releasing the Kundalini energy that is said to be trapped, coiled, or lying dormant in the lower spine. Kundalini practitioners believe that awakening this energy up the spine and through the 7 chakras allows one to reach the crown chakra and experience union with the divine and a higher connection to life.
Kundalini Yoga classes focus heavily on pranayama breathing exercises that are typically fast-moving and invigorating, as well as on physical postures that work the core, hips and spine. These classes can be quite intense and can involve asanas, breathing exercises, chanting, mantra, and meditation. It is definitely not for anyone that is put off or weirded out by spiritual or religious philosophies, or what some may call “woo-woo.” Kundalini Yoga is probably the most far out form of Yoga that is widely practiced in the west.
Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar and focuses heavily on alignment as well as detailed and precise movements. In an Iyengar class, students perform a variety of postures while controlling their breath. Generally, the Yoga poses are held for a long time while adjusting the minutiae of the pose. Iyengar relies heavily on props to help students perfect their form and go deeper into the poses in a safe manner.
There is not much cardio or movement in an Iyengar class, but you will still definitely get a workout and feel incredibly open and relaxed after an Iyengar class as the stretches go very deep. This style of Yoga practice is really great for anyone that is recovering from injuries or for anyone who needs to work slowly and methodically.
6. Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga is a very slow-paced style of Yoga with seated postures that are held for long periods of time. Yin invites practitioners to really relax, let go, and sink deep into their posture, often using props to support the body. Yin can also be a meditative Yoga practice that helps you find inner peace.
Yin Yoga is one of the best types of Yoga for beginners, as the postures can be held anywhere from 45 seconds to several minutes. The classes are relaxed, and the aim is to let gravity do most of the work for you.
Yoga is a practice with ancient roots. It originally was intended to help people grow spiritually, and used physical postures as one step along a systematic process to spiritual awakening. These postures by themselves offer many physical health benefits, and Yoga has since evolved to primarily focus only on these physical postures.
In modern times, what we call “Yoga” traditional Yogis call “asanas.” These are the physical postures that can greatly improve flexibility, strength and motility, as well as offer a great cardio work out or a deep relaxation exercise depending on the style of Yoga practiced.
There are many different types of Yoga, and they are often quite different from each other. Some are much more dynamic, while others are more relaxed. Some focus more on alignment and posture, while others focus more on breath and movement. Hopefully this article has provided a good overview of the most popular types of Yoga offered today so you can try out which one interests you most.