Q “What are the different types of yoga and what makes each of them unique?” -Anonymous
A There are many different types of yoga and many variations within these types. I don’t think that I could list every variation and what makes each unique, in fact, I’m sure I don’t even know every variation that exists, but I can tell you about some of the more common types.
Most often you will hear people refer to Hatha yoga. This is a very general term that refers to the physical practice of yoga or asana.
Vinyasa is a type of yoga in which the movements are synchronized to the breath. In this type of class the movements will flow together from one posture to another, you may also see it listed as a “Flow” class. No matter what level, in this type of class you will likely be moving most of the time.
Ashtanga yoga is Sanskrit for “The Eight Limbs of Yoga.” This is a style that uses four main concepts that, with practice, are believed will help the student achieve all eight limbs of yoga. These concepts include Ujjayi (victorious) Breath, Bandhas – the internal energy “locks” that control the flow of prana (life-force; breath), Vinyasa, and Drishti, which is a point of gaze or focus. Ashtanga teaches vinyasa in a progressive sequence of postures broken down into 3 parts Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced. The foundation of the entire series is Surya Namaskara (sun salutations) a sequence of movements that are the basis for any Ashtanga practice. As with any vinyasa class, there will be movement throughout and this constant movement will build heat within the body and you will likely work up a sweat.
Bikram yoga is a sequence of 26 specific postures performed in a room heated to 105°F with 40& humidity. The 26 poses are said to work every part of the body and give every part of the body everything that is needed to maintain health and proper function. Hot yoga is a variation on this type of yoga, where asana is performed in a heated room but often at a lower temperature (80′s or 90′s) and, from my experience, they are not performing the 26 poses of Birkram. If you are planning to take a hot yoga class, make sure that you drink plenty of water in the days leading up to the class and after class and bring a towel.
Yin yoga is a type of yoga designed to work the deep connective tissues and joints (yin tissues) of the body. According to yinyoga.com this type of yoga will allow “new depths in postures, deeper ranges of motion, or and increased flow of energy…” This is a slower paced yoga where poses are held for five minutes at a time. Because the postures are held so long, there are obviously not as many postures performed within a practice session. Also, because the target is the deep “yin” areas of the body, there are not as many postures to practice overall in the yin style. This type of class can be deeply relaxing, opening, and challenging.
Some other popular styles that you might like to look into include Power yoga, Restorative Yoga, and Anusara yoga.
The styles I have mentioned above are only a drop the vast ocean of available types and methods of yoga. In addition, there is huge variation among teachers which is determined by their level of education as well as their personal styles of teaching and communicating; i.e., a class with a teacher who is certified and has trained for many months or years can vary greatly from one with a teacher who has only taken a few workshops.
If you are trying to decide what type of class to take, the best advice I can give is try a few different classes or videos in the varying methods. If you are looking into classes, check out websites or call places in your area. A lot of studios offer community classes at a discount or by donation. If you are looking at videos, check out your local library or online for free options.
A word of caution when finding information online, for as many good sources that are out there, there are at least as many poor ones. With any video, photos, or even in a class, use your common sense and listen to your body (if something is painful, don’t do it) and ask questions! Don’t assume that because someone is a yoga teacher that that they know everything or are always right. There are so many varieties out there because the same thing is not always right for each of us. The best way to find what is right for you is to try it out!