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Modern Yoga styles explained

There are now more than 10 different yoga types being practiced today. In this post, we are going to focus on explaining the characteristics of the most important styles that emerged in the 20th century which are the foundation of today’s most popular types and all the new hybrid combinations.

Hatha yoga

Among modern yoga styles, hatha yoga is the oldest type which dates back to the 11th century BC in India. Swami Svatmarama is considered the founder of Hatha yoga and author of “Hatha Yoga Pradipika,” – the main text of the Hatha system of yogic methodology.

Hatha yoga can be described as a combination of postures and breathing techniques known as asanas and pranayama. It is a gentle and integrative form of yoga. It focuses on static poses with conscious breathing and alignment and is usually considered a preparatory stage for higher meditation.

Recommended for

Hatha yoga classes are a good choice to start practicing yoga since they provide an easy and gradual approach to the basic yoga poses, different types of pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation. Also, a beginner can experience the more traditional aspect of yoga with the Hatha style.

Hatha Yoga class format

A Hatha class last between 60 to 90 minutes. Typically, classes begin with an initial prayer chant, followed by moderate yoga warm-up exercises leading to more physically demanding postures, breath work (pranayama), and concludes with savasana and a brief moment of meditation.

Hatha yoga includes a wide range of poses; from as simple as sitting cross-legged postures to advance balancing poses, there are 15 classical asanas mentioned in traditional hatha yoga. However, there are more poses and variations incorporated into the regular yoga class.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic style of yoga that was standardized and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois. A modern-day form of traditional yoga from India, Ashtanga refers to eight limbs or branches, of which asana (physical yoga postures) is merely one.

It consists of six series or levels of asanas practice: primary series, Intermediate series, and four advanced series. Asanas are performed in a sequence, are repetitive and one must be an expert at the preceding level before moving on to the next.

Many modern yoga styles like power yoga, Jivamukti yoga, and rocket yoga stem from the ashtanga yoga style. What makes ashtanga unique from other styles of yoga is it emphasizes linking breath with postures through flowing movements from one to another. It follows a fixed set of pose sequences every time.

Recommended for

The ashtanga yoga style is recommended for experienced practitioners who have built sufficient strength, stability, and flexibility. It is a good choice for people who aim for perfection in each yoga pose. Fitness people who enjoy cardio-style workouts usually choose the ashtanga style.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga class format

A typical ashtanga yoga class begins with an opening chant to offer gratitude to the lineage of the teachers and invoke the blessings of the sage Patanjali. Then it’s followed by five rounds of Sun Salutation A and five rounds of Sun Salutation B. The asanas that follow this warm-up are held for 5 to 8 breaths each.

Each series of Ashtanga Yoga focuses on one category of asanas – the primary series also called ‘Yoga chikitsa’ has forward bends, the secondary series emphasizes backbends, and the advanced series uses arm-support and arm-balancing poses. A dynamic Vinyasa movement is incorporated between each pose to keep the body warm.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Mysore style class format

If you’re attending a Mysore-style ashtanga yoga class, you will be practicing the asana from memory with the teacher giving you hands-on adjustments in your poses whenever needed. At the end of the class, you will chant the ashtanga closing mantra that marks the peaceful end.

Vinyasa Yoga

This style of asana (physical posture) practice focuses on breath-synchronized movements. Each posture links breath with specific body movements, creating a flowing meditation with each inhale and exhale.

This style can be very fluid and is often labeled Flow Yoga or Vinyasa Flow. Sequences may be creatively designed with no fixed sequence and a different theme for each class. The vinyasa flow emphasizes continuous movement or flows, Ujjayi breathing, and Bandhas for progressing from basic to advanced asanas.

Recommended for

It’s recommended for people who have already a decent fitness level, for example, runners or endurance athletes. Anyone who wishes to obtain a cardio and strength workout while doing yoga can go for the vinyasa style.

Vinyasa Yoga class format

A vinyasa class usually begins with a series of Sun Salutations to loosen up the body before moving on to more rigorous stretches at the conclusion. Vinyasa sessions typically include a range of postures or asanas such as twists, balancing poses, forward folds, inversions, and backbends while standing, seated, or supine.

Power Yoga

Power yoga blends Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and aerobics exercises to create a sweat-inducing workout. Some of the athletic components of power yoga and the flow between the poses are derived from Ashtanga Yoga.

This yoga style is fast-paced and vigorous, with rapid transitions from one posture to the next. You are, however, aware of the relationship between your breath and your body’s movement.

Recommended for

The power yoga style is most suitable for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It may not be a good choice for beginners to start with power yoga. However, if you have a good level of fitness and want to practice something intense and holistic instead of going to the gym, power yoga could be a good option to begin your yoga practice.

Power Yoga class format

A warm-up will be performed before you begin practicing the power yoga poses. The poses can span from standing to forward bends, balancing, and advanced poses because there is no defined sequence. The final pose, Savasana, should be held for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the body to relax.

A power yoga class usually lasts 45-60 minutes, but it can last up to 90 minutes for skilled practitioners. The instructor is free to make changes to the structure based on their practitioners’ skills. Often, power yoga classes are heated, just like hot yoga, with fast-paced workout music playing in the background.

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar yoga is a gentle form of hatha yoga that focuses on body alignment and precise techniques. It is named after and developed by B. K. S. Iyengar in the 1970s.

This yoga type focuses on getting the body into the optimum alignment with the help of props like yoga blankets, blocks and straps being used to help students achieve the appropriate posture. Instead of going swiftly from one pose to the next (like in vinyasa style), Iyengar yoga focuses on holding poses for extended periods.

Recommended for

Iyengar yoga style is recommended for anyone looking for a gentle yoga style who wants precision in yoga poses. It is ideal for beginners and elders, people who are suffering from back or neck pains, and people who are recuperating from injuries.

Iyengar Yoga class format

The class will often begin with a few moments of silence to prepare for the yoga. Following that, certain basic postures, often standing, are performed to mobilize, open, and energize the body. Props like straps, blankets, blocks, chairs, and wall ropes are frequently utilized to perform asanas while ensuring perfect body alignment.

Inversions such as shoulder stand, handstand, forearm stand, and headstand are taught more frequently in Iyengar classes, particularly at the intermediate and advanced levels.

Sivananda yoga

Sivananda Yoga style was created and popularized by Swami Vishnudevananda, a student of Swami Sivananda. The teachings of Sivananda yoga connect the practice with the raja yoga of the sage Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita in addition to providing a comprehensive hatha yoga experience.

In Sivananda yoga, the ancient wisdom of Yoga is synthesized into 5 basic principles according to modern people’s needs. These are called the Five Points of Yoga:

1. Proper Exercise (Asana)
2. Proper Breathing (Pranayama)
3. Proper Relaxation (Savasana)
4. Proper Diet (Vegetarian)
5. Positive Thinking (Vedanta) & Meditation (Dhyana)

Recommended for

Sivananda yoga is good for beginners as it focuses on mastering the 12 basic asanas first. It’s also the right choice for seniors because it provides gentle stretching to muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons. It helps maintain seniors’ joint mobility. With a combination of pranayama, meditation, and a healthy diet, one can focus on overall well-being.

Sivananda Yoga class format

A 90-minute Sivananda yoga class consists of a complete set of asanas and pranayamas that are always practiced in a specific order. There are 12 basic asanas in Sivananda yoga that are generally performed in the class. A typical class begins with breathing exercises (Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma), followed by a few rounds of the Sun Salutation, along with the opening and closing prayers. This is followed by the Twelve Basic Poses, with Savasana being the final resting pose.

Other Popular Yoga styles

Yin Yoga

A Yin Yoga practice typically includes a series of long-held, passive floor poses that mainly target the lower part of the body – the hips, pelvis, inner thighs, lower spine. These areas are especially rich in connective tissues. The poses may be held for up to five minutes (or even longer) to release and break up fascia.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Yoga, sometimes considered Hot Yoga, is a system of yoga designed and trademarked by Bikram Choudhury. The poses are taken from traditional hatha yoga techniques and were introduced to the West during the 1970s. Every Bikram Yoga Beginning Series classes are 90 minutes and consists of the same series of 26 postures, including two breathing exercises. Postures are practiced in a heated room.

Restorative Yoga

A calming and centering type of yoga to soothe the nervous system, increase immunity and create deep relaxation. A restorative practice will typically use blankets, bolster, cushions or props to set up a comfortable pose that helps the practitioner release tension and feel at ease. No experience is necessary to join this type of class.

Kundalini yoga

Kundalini yoga is a type of yoga that combines the movement of repetitive poses, specific kriyas, breath (pranayama), meditation, and chanting. The aim of this yoga style is to raise the kundalini shakti which is believed to lie coiled at the base of the spine.


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