Mark Kilham explains 10 different types of yoga
Yoga is the oldest form of exercise documented, originating more than 5,000 years ago in what is now called India. The word “yoga” means union; to yoke or rejoin as one. This union refers to individual consciousness returning to divine or universal consciousness. It is translated from Sanskrit, originally being mainly focused on mental and/or spiritual health. It has since evolved into many different forms, a lot of which are physical or a combination of body, mind & spirit.
Yoga has gained increasing popularity in the West, with people realizing the incredible benefits it has for one’s health. From releasing stress, to improving strength and flexibility, there is a style of yoga that targets every part of your being. Below is a brief explanation of 10 major types of yoga.
Hatha yoga is the collective term for all yoga that involves physical movement, including Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin and more. This is distinguishable from other types like Kriya, Raja, or Jnana, which are more internally focused. Hatha yoga typically combines asanas (postures) with pranayama (breathing techniques) to achieve a relaxed state of both body and mind, prepared for meditation.
Meaning the “Eight Limb Path”, Ashtanga yoga is a sequence of quite demanding physical postures. Synchronizing breath with movement, it can be described as the modern-day version of traditional Indian yoga. Created by K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century, the classes we originally not lead by anyone; the series of asanas were memorized and practiced at own pace, with the teacher’s role to assist individuals when necessary. This happened in Mysore, India, where he also eventually started leading classes later in his life.
The Vinyasa yoga flow stems from Ashtanga, the main difference being the order of postures – Vinyasa style doesn’t have a fixed sequence to follow. Both can be classified as Power yoga.
Known for being equally as spiritual as physical, Kundalini yoga involves the seven energy centers, or chakras, that runs up one’s spine. Using practices including meditation, mantras, chanting and yoga, the trapped life energy can be released. These classes consist of fast-paced postures and breath exercises, balanced with resting periods where the focus is turned internal, to become aware and observe the subtle sensations and changes in the body.
Derived from Ashtanga in the 1980’s, Vinyasa yoga is another one of the athletic types of yoga. The focus lies on aligning the breath with fast paced movements, to get the heart rate up for a good workout. Also referred to as flow yoga, when practiced, the aim is to move seamlessly through multiple different postures. Vinyasa yoga classes can vary greatly, depending on the teacher.
Bikram yoga, also known as Hot yoga, is typically practiced in a room of 35°-42°C and 40 percent humidity. It was created by Bikram Choudhury and consists of a fixed set of 26 postures, done twice, and 2 breathing techniques. These 90-minute classes are meant to be challenging – both physically and mentally – but it is extremely good for detoxification and oxygenating one’s blood.
Named after its creator, B.K.S. Iyengar, this type of yoga is all about aligning and correcting the body. It focuses on precision – poses are held for a long time, adjusting where necessary to eventually get deeper into the stretches. It is common in Iyengar classes to make use of props (blocks, blankets and more) to provide safe assistance while progressing through the poses, especially while targeting injuries.
Yin yoga is a slower style of yoga that focuses on releasing the deep connective tissue between muscles, through holding poses for a longer period. Anywhere from 45 seconds to 2 minutes is normal, but some yogis will hold asanas for up to 5 minutes or longer. The postures are not forceful; it makes use of gravity by placing the body in difficult positions to gain flexibility over time. The slow-paced postures are often combined with meditation; therefore, it is also a combination of the spiritual and physical. Yin yoga was found in the late 1970’s by Taoist yoga teacher, Paulie Zink.
Jivamukti yoga was invented by Sharon Ganon and David Life, in 1984 in New York. The five principles are shastra (scripture), bhakti (devotion), ahimsa (kindness), nada (music), and dhyana (meditation). It involves Sanskrit chanting, pranayama and asanas and is seen as a path to spiritual enlightenment. Jivamukti yoga is more than physical exercise in many ways – it is a way of living life with compassion for all sentient beings.
In this version of Hatha yoga, with postures like those in the Vinyasa flow, the focus is placed on the heart-body-mind connection and opening oneself up to what is. Anusara is a younger style of yoga, created by John Friend in 1997, and means “flowing with grace”, “flowing with nature” and “following you heart”. The practice stems from a non-dual Tantric philosophy, that all beings are inherently good and can be described as a joyful celebration of life.
Another type of spiritual yoga practice is Kripalu yoga. It aims to increase self-awareness and health through meditation, self-reflection and breathing techniques. The postures are gentle, and one is encouraged to listen to the body and adjust it accordingly. It can be used as a transformative tool, enabling growth through balancing the body, mind and energy.
More unusual styles of yoga
Dog yoga: Also known as Doga, the idea here is to strengthen the already loving bond between pet and owner, through stretching, massaging and even meditation.
Goat yoga: Even more bizarre than dog yoga, this one is where people do yoga in the presence of goats, sometimes right there in the barn. They are said to lift one’s spirit and diminish sadness and grief.
Naked yoga: Otherwise known as nagna yoga or vivastra yoga, this style is definitely for the body confident. Accepting the body as it is, imperfections and all, is one of the main goals.
Beer yoga: Certainly a unique one, beer yoga, or BierYoga, was developed in Germany in 2014. It enables people to have a pint of their favourite brew and practice yoga at the same time.
Anti-gravity/Aerial yoga: This style of yoga was created by aerial performer, former gymnast and Broadway choreographer, Christopher Harrison. It combines traditional yoga with Pilates, aerial acrobatics and calisthenics, using hammocks.
Cannabis/Ganja yoga: Created in Colorado in 2009, here people smoke cannabis while practicing conscious relaxation and focusing on pain relief and spiritual awakening. Though inevitably slower than most other classes, founder Dee Dussault describes it as the following: “Cannabis enhances yoga the same way it enhances a concert or a sunset. The two things individually are great, but combined they’re alchemic.”
Ancient as it is, yoga keeps developing and evolving into many different forms. There are endless benefits to the practice, from increasing flexibility, mobility and strength, to detoxification, pain relief, self-realization and inner peace. With the variety only getting greater, there is a type of yoga out there that suits anyone’s individual needs.