Before drawing the great differences between styles of yoga it is essential to mention that yoga is not only physical. There are many other yoga practices, such as meditation, and the poses are just one component of a complex system. The yoga styles mentioned here focus exclusively on the different currents of physical yoga (asanas), in which hatha yoga has diversified and transformed. The hatha yoga is at the origin of the practice of postures (asanas) of yoga. All styles of physical yoga come from this tradition, which originally consists of a discipline composed of postures, breathing exercises, purification techniques, meditation, as well as other recommendations of yoga as a way of life.
Today, however, this concept has been simplified. Hatha yoga is commonly called only the practice of gentle postures, which hold the postures for a few seconds and in which we bring our attention to the interior.
In addition to this, it is important to clarify that most styles of yoga can be included in more than one of these large groups. Thus, there may be a spiritual style that is both dynamic or one that is soft and classic at the same time. These classifications are fluid and are in no way intended to establish strict classifications or to encompass all streams of yoga, which number in the hundreds. They are only intended to give a general idea of the wide variety of yoga forms today.
Traditions and styles of physical yoga
There are styles of yoga that are something deeper: they are traditions. These usually come from the teachings of an Indian guru, provide comprehensive training, and convey a spiritual system that generally encompasses different aspects of the four paths of yoga. Yoga practices that are based on the most authentic tradition, we generally call classical yoga. As yoga is a whole system, these can have a physical yoga component, or postures (although not always), but also have other yoga practices such as meditation or pranayama (breathing exercises). They can include devotional practices, such as chants, and can give greater prominence to other practices such as meditation or breathing techniques.
Some examples of these classical schools are Satyananda, The Art of Living, Sivananda, Iyengar, Integral Yoga, or Kundalini Yoga. There are other contemporary versions that, although they do not come directly from an Indian guru, try to follow his ethical and philosophical guidelines, such as Jivamukti or Dharma yoga, originated in the United States, but inspired by tradition.
Others are more recent and may have other, freer interpretations. Some are less mystical than styles, or what is more common: more focused on strengthening, the flexibility of the body, and conquering postures. Within these more contemporary there are dynamic and vigorous styles of yoga (such as Vinyasa, Anusara) and others that are eminently physical and demanding (Power yoga, Bikram Yoga, or Forrest Yoga). Ashtanga yoga comes from India but is a more contemporary interpretation that focuses almost exclusively on physical work. Yin yoga combines Chinese Taoist yoga with hatha yoga, holding the poses for several minutes.
One of the main differences between one physical yoga class and another is if it is based on hatha yoga, that is, it holds the postures, usually more meditative and traditional, or if it is vinyasa style. Vinyasa is not properly a tradition. This is the name given to dynamic yoga styles, composed of fluid sequences, synchronized with the breath. For example, Ashtanga yoga, Anusara, Power yoga, or Jivamukti are vinyasa. Usually, the character of the class depends on who teaches it, because it lends itself to different interpretations. Some teachers have managed to give a deep and spiritual connotation to this fluid style.
Another difference between the styles of yoga lies in the sequences. Some traditions always repeat the same sequence of postures (such as Ashtanga yoga, Sivananda, or Bikram Yoga), which has been designed by a teacher to create a complete practice. Other styles are more flexible in this sense so that the practice is designed by each teacher according to their criteria and according to the guidelines of the current to which they belong. These forms of yoga allow you to tailor your practice around a particular intention (for example, doing an energizing or meditative practice, or that emphasizes working on certain aspects of the mind or body).
Other, personalized, therapeutic forms of yoga use the wonderful healing qualities of yoga to treat specific pain and disease: these include yoga therapy, Iyengar, restorative yoga, Ayurvedic yoga, or vini yoga. Many contemporary versions have included heat, such as hot yoga or Bikram yoga. Restorative and Iyengar yoga include yoga accessories, such as bands, stands, and other accessories. Today there is aerial yoga, water yoga, laughter yoga, acro yoga, and many other forms of yoga. Some use music in their classes, candles, or incense.
What style should I choose?
That depends on each. It is advisable to start with the style that most attracts us, or depending on what we are looking for, but always with a class for a basic level or beginners. At first, we can try different teachers, styles, and traditions. We will always have some styles of yoga that we like more than others. It is relative.
However, beware of harmful forms of yoga that have dangerous practices because they are too severe and that mistreat us mentally, as can happen with some traditional schools or other contemporary ones that are dangerous because they have a frivolous interpretation of tradition and promote the competition or vanity. Remember that to be always safe and beneficial, yoga must be practiced by listening to the body, treating ourselves well, and accepting the process, without competition and comparisons, with love and awareness.
Different styles of yoga:
- Classic yoga styles
- Gentle yoga styles
- Spiritual Yoga Styles
- Therapeutic Yoga Styles
- Intense yoga styles
- Dynamic yoga styles
- Fun yoga styles
If you are interested in yoga as a philosophical and spiritual tradition, you can read more about the difference between paths, schools, traditions, practices, and traditions in this article on yoga classifications.