Vinyasa, Ashtanga & 8 Other Types Of Yoga, Explained

From all-day-every-day leggings to the sea of "Namaste" bumper stickers in your hometown, there’s no doubt that yoga has spread far beyond hippie culture and Madonna. No matter who you are, you’ve at least heard the word, and you’ve probably tried a class — if you’re not already a devotee.

A study conducted this year by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance found that more than 36 million people practice yoga in the U.S. And for good reason: Research has linked practicing yoga to better heart health, lower stress, and a reduction in PMS symptoms (yes, please!) and back pain. Plus, since yoga hones in on that mind-body connection, it’s also great for promoting body positivity along with better mental health. It may even help those of us with anxiety and depression manage symptoms.

Of course, we’re certainly not the first to discover all these perks. People were practicing yoga as a spiritual pursuit long before that trendy studio opened up in your neighborhood. Yoga is, in fact, ancient; it dates back so far, historians aren’t even sure of the precise origins. What they do know is the word “yoga” is mentioned in the oldest known Indian scripts, the Vedas, which date back to 1500 BCE. And the term started popping up even more in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist writings from the 3rd century BCE.

So if you still haven’t jumped on the yoga bandwagon, you’re about 3,000 years behind.

But don’t worry, we totally get it. Yoga can seem like an insular club, and with so many poses to learn and so many competing styles of practice, it’s hard to figure out where to even begin. It’s also an ever-evolving practice here in the Western world. While most people around the world who practice yoga continue to do so for spiritual or religious reasons, we have come to think of it as a form of exercise that is often completely divorced from its spiritual beginnings.

To get some info on the most common types of yoga out there today, we spoke with Heather Peterson, experienced instructor and the Chief Yoga Officer for CorePower Yoga. “I always say that yoga is for everybody, but not all yoga practices are right for all people at all times in their life,” she says. “Try as many different types of yoga as you can, and find the couple that really resonate with you. Yoga can be a lifelong practice, especially if you are willing to keep trying new styles to fit where you are at the current moment.”

Here, Peterson offers a rundown of 10 different types of yoga to help you discover your perfect practice.

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Probably the most common type of yoga class you’ll see offered at a local studio or gym. It is a great option for anyone seeking a mix of strength-training, flexibility, cardio, and mindfulness. In fact, the word “vinyasa” actually translates to a connection between two poses or places in a mindful way with breath, Peterson explains. She recommends this yoga style for yogis of any level who love motion (a.k.a. anyone who gets bored out of their minds holding poses for too long, or those of us who find meditation torturous).

In a vinyasa class, you’ll learn a variety of sequences and quickly flow from one move to another, to the rhythm of your breath along with a music playlist (that you’ll probably end up asking your instructor for post-class). Expect to get your heart rate going and work up a bit of a sweat during the flow. But don’t worry, the class will close with a savasana (unofficial translation: laying down on your mat in complete and delicious surrender) to get you totally blissed out.
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Hatha translates to “force” and refers to all physical forms of yoga. So really, almost every kind of yoga in the U.S. qualifies as hatha. But technicalities aside, if you see “hatha” listed on your gym’s yoga schedule, it’s referring to a slower, classic form of yoga. “This is a more gentle practice focusing on moderate alignment and longer holds and typically no flowing between postures,” explains Peterson. Which means there are fewer sequences than you’ll get in vinyasa and the pace is much less strenuous. If you’re hoping for a cardio workout, this probably isn’t the right class. But if you want to really tap into your mind-body connection and focus on reaching an ultra-calm state as you conquer challenging poses (followed by an extra-long savasana at the end!), go forth and hatha.
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Break out the blankets, bolsters, blocks, and straps — Iyengar yoga (often nicknamed “furniture yoga”) is all about using props to help you get into position. Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, this practice generally involves holding poses for long periods of time with the help of your props, along with frequent breathing exercises (called pranayama) that help your mind chill out and prepare for meditation. So as long as you’re not overwhelmed by all of the props (or the amount of patience required to hold poses), Iyengar is a solid option for both beginners and experienced yogis looking to become masters of alignment.
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If you’re friends with any yogis, you’ve likely heard them either rave or complain about this type of yoga. That’s because Bikram classes get really hot — as in 100-to-110-degrees-and-humid hot. Needless to say, you’ll want a towel and a lot of water. In classic Bikram, named for now controversial founder Bikram Choudhury, classes consist of a set sequence of 26 poses, held for 30 seconds to a minute each, and completed twice.

While you can, of course, hydrate as needed, traditionally there are only a few specific times when you’re instructed to drink water during the practice, so Peterson suggests hydrating beforehand for best results. This tip is especially important to note because, although rare, dehydration and heat illnesses during Bikram are definite possibilities. In fact, last year, after conducting a small study on the practice, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) expressed concern about the safety of Bikram. The ACE advises watching out for signs of heat exhaustion (cramps, headache, dizziness, and general weakness) and even heat stroke (bright-red skin color, rapid pulse, and labored breathing) if you opt to try this type of yoga. Also: Pregnant people should not try this type of yoga, as the heat can be dangerous for a developing baby.

But as long as you're not pregnant, and you hydrate and listen to your body, Bikram can be a great style for beginners who love a good sweat, or for anyone who wants to master poses and calm their mind with the help of focus and repetition.
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Hot Yoga
Wait, isn’t Bikram hot yoga? Yes, but while Bikram specifies a practice of 26 poses, "hot yoga" refers to any type of class taught in a heated room, explains Peterson. But what’s with the heat, anyway? Practitioners often say that sweating promotes some kind of detoxification (which is unproven), but what’s more likely is that the heat adds extra discomfort and difficulty, so when you power through it you feel that much more accomplished by the time you get to savasana. Plus, the added heat can assist flexibility, which may help you sink deeper into each pose.

This style is totally fine for yogis of any level (again, as long as you're not pregnant); just be sure you know what kind of class you’re getting yourself into when you sign up for “hot yoga.” And, of course, don’t forget your no-slip mat towel and H20! The same heat warnings apply here as well.
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If you’re craving a little more of the spiritual side of yoga, go for kundalini. “The word translates as 'coiled snake,' referring to the latent spiritual energy coiled at the base of the spine,” says Peterson. Whether or not you’re into the idea of a spirit serpent, this type of yoga aims to release that inner energy through various postures, breathing, chanting, and meditation. So for anyone looking to get more out of yoga than just physical exercise, a kundalini class truly completes the mind-body-spirit trifecta.
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Yin Yoga
This is a calm, meditative form of yoga that focuses on lengthening connective tissues in the body and improving circulation for the joints, says Peterson. In this slow-paced class, you’ll be majorly focused on flexibility. That means holding fewer poses for longer amounts of time — sometimes as long as five minutes. This relaxed practice is meant to complement yang, or muscle-forming, types of yoga like ashtanga, Iyengar, and vinyasa. Due to its gentle nature, yin is also a great option for yogis recovering from injuries, Peterson points out.
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Speaking of recovering, restorative yoga is all about rejuvenation. The class uses a variety of props to perfectly position your body in healing poses, with minimal physical effort on your part. Expect to work on restoring your scattered brain as well. “It creates constructive rest for the body and results in peace of mind,” Peterson says. Restorative yoga kind of seems like a clever way to sneak in nap time, which is a major plus and a completely acceptable reason to choose this style.
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Ashtanga is almost like a yoga university. It’s made up of six set sequences of poses that work your entire body, and get more challenging as you advance levels. "You’ll be required to demonstrate proficiency with one series before moving to another series of poses,” Peterson explains. In what’s known as the Mysore style of ashtanga, students must memorize the 90-minute sequence and demonstrate it in a room of other yogis, without any guidance from the teacher (no pressure!).

The pace of each sequence is similar to what you’d find in a vinyasa class — rapid movement from one pose to the next, set to the rhythm of your breathing — so Peterson recommends this style for those who not only have a competitive edge, but want a physical challenge.
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You’ve probably seen these funky hammocks all over your Instagram feed lately, but believe it or not, this trendy form of yoga is actually a great workout. Aerial isn’t an ancient practice; it was created by retired aerial acrobat and gymnast Christopher Harrison, who found his injured wrists couldn’t handle classic yoga. And so, this combo of yoga, Pilates, and dance, all rolled into an antigravity cocoon, was born.

Aerial is perfect for yogis who want to boost strength, flexibility, and stamina, while taking it easy on their joints and spine. Or, really, for anyone who is bored with standard yoga. However, unless you have a yoga, gymnastics, or suspension background, Peterson advises seeking a beginner aerial class, and chatting with the studio before leaping into a hammock.

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