Types Of Yoga Explore Hatha Yoga Types

More than 100 different schools of yoga exist, according to the National Yoga Association. With all of these options, it can be overwhelming for a new yogi to determine which type to practice.

Because yoga offers a broad spectrum of potential benefits–from greater strength and flexibility to better concentration, lower stress levels and a stronger mind-body connection–the first step for new practitioners is to consider the main goal of their practice. This can help pinpoint the most appropriate type of class. For example, athletes looking to work up a sweat should consider Ashtanga or Bikram yoga, while individuals wanting a more meditative experience may want to try Kundalini yoga. To help you find the perfect yoga practice for you, here is a quick, handy guide to the five most common types of yoga.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga is a vinyasa yoga, which means it combines a series of flowing yoga poses with rhythmic breathing. Developed by Indian yogi K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga yoga includes six series of yoga poses (called asanas) that become increasingly more difficult.

Ashtanga is an intense practice that aims to heat up the body in order to burn off toxins, release tension in the muscles and joints and focus the mind. This type of yoga provides a physically challenging workout; participants are led nonstop through one or more of the six series, developing strength and endurance. Ashtanga’s popularity has led to a Westernized spin-off–power yoga–which is commonly offered in health and fitness clubs.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga also aims to heat up the body, but in a more extreme way than other types of yoga. Bikram studios are heated to temperatures just above 100 degrees Fahrenheit so the body can sweat out toxins and circulate fresh blood and oxygen. Bikram was developed by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury and was brought to the United States in the early 1970s, when Choudhury was asked by the American Medical Association to demonstrate his work on yoga’s effect on chronic illness.

The same 26 postures are done in every Bikram class, providing a familiarity wherever the practitioner goes. Bikram yogis can’t get too comfortable for long, however. The heated studio leads to an intense workout that may not be appropriate for people with certain medical conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes. Consulting a physician before practicing Bikram yoga is advised.

Iyengar Yoga

An intense focus on long-held postures is the trademark of this type of yoga. Slower than both Ashtanga and Bikram, Iyengar focuses primarily on correct body alignment and the subtleties of the yoga poses. Props such as belts, chairs, blocks and blankets are used to help less flexible or injured participants obtain maximum benefit. Created by B.K.S. Iyengar in Pune, India, Iyengar yoga is a detail-oriented practice that is a good choice for beginners and experienced yogis alike. With over 2,000 certified Iyengar instructors worldwide, this form is one of the most popular types of yoga.

Kundalini Yoga

The most spiritual and esoteric of the five types of yoga, Kundalini is designed to release special energy stored in the spine and bring it upward through the body’s seven chakras. Classes include a mix of rapid yoga poses, breathing techniques, chanting and meditation. Brought to the West in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini has received attention for its association with tantric sex, which also channels spinal energy. Yogi Bhajan has noted that he shared the practice with Westerners because he believes people from all religions can harness their greater potential through its practice.

Integrative Yoga Therapy

A latecomer to the scene, Integrative Yoga Therapy was developed in 1993 in San Francisco by Joseph Le Page to help stimulate healing in patients with a variety of conditions, including heart disease, psychiatric disorders and AIDS. The practice is used in wellness settings such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and uses gentle postures, guided imagery and breathing techniques. Integrative Yoga Therapy’s main goal is to encourage practitioners to become more aware of themselves and their conditions.

Unifying the Body and Mind

Although many more types of yoga exist, these five are commonly found in Western practice and are generally included as types of hatha yoga—a style focusing on both yoga poses and breathwork. While they are distinct, the various types of yoga include much crossover. In fact, many studios that offer a hatha yoga class are likely providing a mix of two or more of the above types of yoga.

Fundamentally, all types of yoga have one common goal: to unify the body and mind. Even the word “yoga” means “to yoke, join or unite” in Sanskrit, illuminating yoga’s goal of helping its participants reach a more peaceful, purposeful life through a better understanding of their body and mind. Thus, yogis may benefit from trying several different types of yoga, to both determine what works best for them and to develop a well-rounded practice.

Resources

American Yoga Association. (n.d.). General Yoga Information. Retrieved June 18, 2011, from http://www.americanyogaassociation.org/general.html

Cook, J. (n.d.). Not all yoga is created equal. Retrieved June 18, 2011, from http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/165

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Yoga for health: An introduction. Retrieved June 18, 2011, from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm

Weil, R. (2007). Yoga health benefits, history, types, statistics, equipment, poses and postures. Retrieved June 18, 2011, from http://www.medicinenet.com/yoga/page3.htm