9 Different types of yoga, in my own words
Here are my own brief descriptions of the different types of yoga, based on my experience with practice and teaching. You, dear reader, can easily Google “Hatha yoga” and get a specific, scientific, precise, history-backed definition, so please do that if you need. These descriptions come just from me.
1. Hatha yoga
“Middle of the road” yoga. Not too strenuous, not too gentle. Usually not heated, but the room may be warm. Traditionally in Hatha classes the Sun Salutations come at the end of class, and the poses are held for many breaths, like seven to ten. I like teaching Hatha because it gives me a lot of freedom to structure the class differently each time. This is the class I recommend if you are starting yoga but not sure which class is best.
Props: Yes. Heat: No.
2. Gentle yoga
Slower, more careful than Hatha. Good class for anyone who wants to try yoga but has an injury or arthritis, or for whatever reason is worried about hurting herself. Also a great place for beginners to start. A beautiful class that allows you to slow down and pay attention.
Props: Yes, they can really help. Heat: Never.
3. Power yoga
Another name for Ashtanga yoga. Some Power yoga classes follow the strict Ashtanga Primary Series, and others are more free-form. A physically-challenging practice that moves quickly (instead of holding poses, like in Hatha). Usually heated. Good for the Type-A person, because the level of physical challenge, plus the heat, forces you to keep your mind on what you’re doing (and thus your mind gets a break from your worries). Plan on doing a lot of Chataraungas. Plan on the “one breath, one movement” style of practice, which gets your heart rate up. Plan on advanced poses like arm balances, inversions, wheel. Plan on injuries–the danger of Power yoga lies with trying to keep up (and not modifying), and maybe moving so fast that you forget to listen to your body. This is the class where you have to let go of competition and expectations, but it is also the hardest place to do that.
Props: No, you’re moving too fast for props. Heat: YES. Music: Yes, probably loud.
4. Ashtanga Yoga
The same poses in the same order, what they call the Primary Series. Always begins with five Sun Salutation A’s, then five Sun Salutation B’s. At first I didn’t like the idea of a prescribed order of poses, but after practicing it, I discovered the benefits: Ashtanga quickly becomes muscle-memory, so you more easily move into a meditative state, because you aren’t thinking about what comes next. I stopped practicing Ashtanga, however, because it was too much forward bending, which was hard on my low back.
Props: No, because you have to do the pose “right.” Heat: No. Music: No. Ujjayi breath: Yes–that’s your music. Bandhas: YES.
5. Vinyasa Yoga
A broad category for “middle of the road” Power Yoga. Can be physically challenging or it can be Slow Flow. Vinyasa doesn’t follow a prescribed format (like Ashtanga), so it can be good for every practitioner. Some vinyasa classes move fast, others more slowly—it usually depends on the teacher.
Props: Yes. Heat: Maybe. Ujjayi breath: Yes.
6. Bikram yoga
Run away! Kidding. Sort of. Bikram classes are heated to 102 degrees. In my opinion, that extreme temperature isn’t necessary, or even good for you. Yet people love it! (They’re crazy!) Some studios call it Stationary Sequence, which is the same thing but without the Bikram licensing. Be warned, though—I’ve heard stories about strict Bikram teachers who do not allow students to leave the class (when overcome by the heat) or even to wipe off the sweat. Good for those who want to punish themselves. (Also, founder Bikram Choudhury has been sued for sexual harassment and assault, and in 11/17 he filed for bankruptcy.)
Props: No. Heat: Yes, 102 degrees. Booty shorts and bra tops: Yes, why wear clothes when you sweat so much?
7. Restorative yoga
Ah, restorative! This is the practice for when you’re feeling drained, or for when you need nurturing. This is the practice with no effort, no stretching, and no standing poses. In each pose, you’ll be fully supported by props (lots of props), so you can completely relax. Poses are held for up to five minutes. Very meditative.
Props: Yes, all of them. Heat: No. Sleeping: Possibly.
8. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is a practice that stretches the fascia, or connective tissue. When it is stretched, fascia becomes lubricated, allowing for more ease of movement. Each pose or “shape” in Yin is held for three to five minutes. Like Restorative, Yin yoga uses many props and is a meditative practice. Unlike Restorative, Yin uses gravity and body weight to gently stretch the fascia. The results are amazing. A good practice for everyone, and a great balance for more “yang” forms of exercise.
Props: Yes. Heat: No. TCM: Yes. That’s Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Yin yoga targets the meridians of the body, unblocking energy.
9. Yoga with goats
This type of class, along with other gimmicks like yoga in Times Square, or Yoga with Dogs, is just fun with yoga. Some people love doing this type of stuff. However, I would never stop worrying that the goat would pee on my mat.
Props: Yes, but in danger of getting peed on. Heat: No.