Hatha? Ashtanga? Here’s Every Type of Yoga, Explained

Picking out the perfect pair of workout leggings is hard enough, let alone trying to decipher the difference between ashtanga and vinyasa. We’ve got you covered. Here, we break down nine of the most popular types of yoga. Read up now so that you can get your om on with confidence. (Because stepping into a bikram class when you thought you were doing a restorative session is the opposite of relaxing.) Namaste.

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Using a sequence of postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (dyana), hatha yoga is designed to align the body and relax the mind. If that sounds a lot like every yoga class you’ve ever taken, that’s because hatha is an all-encompassing term that refers to many types of modern yoga. (Confusing, we know.) But if you see a hatha class on your studio’s schedule, expect a gentle session with basic yoga poses and breathing exercises.

A fast-paced and challenging yoga that follows six levels of sequences that increase in difficulty—the final series (Sthira Bhaga) is meant for very advanced students only (think tricky backbends and arm balances). Ashtanga is similar to vinyasa (in both practices every movement is linked by the breath) except that the same poses are always practiced in the same order. Got a friend who doesn't think yoga can be a serious workout? Take her to this physically demanding class. She'll be sweating her butt off.

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For people who get bored easily and hate routine, try this fluid practice. In vinyasa, teachers are free to incorporate different elements of yoga and lead students to smoothly transition from one pose to the next, often with music in the background. It's similar in intensity to Ashtanga, but the difference is that no two vinyasa classes are the same.

If getting sweaty is your thing, then Bikram is for you. Work your way through 26 poses in 105 degrees heat and 40 percent humidity. Classes last 90 minutes and proponents say the heat helps flush out toxins from the body and allows for more flexible movement. Top tip: Don’t forget to hydrate.

An intense and spiritual yoga featuring repetitive postures (kriyas), breathing techniques (like alternate nostril breathing), chanting, singing and meditation. Kundalini yogis traditionally wear white and practice in order to awaken the serpent energy (kundalini) in the body, thereby leading to a greater state of happiness, health and awareness.

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Meticulous types will enjoy Iyengar’s attention to correct alignment, which is achieved through the use of props such as blocks, blankets, belts and bolsters. Nicknamed “furniture yoga,” this practice is appropriate for all levels and ages, and focuses on deliberate movements and proper postures.

The goal here is to relax the body and mind. Sounds nice, right? Oh, it is. Derived from Iyengar yoga, props are also used here (like pillows, chairs and blankets) with passive poses that are typically held for five minutes or more. We wouldn’t go so far as to call it nap time for grown-ups, but it’s pretty damn close.

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Tailored toward expectant mothers, prenatal yoga can be a great way to stretch and strengthen muscles in order to support a growing belly. Practitioners will guide pregnant women through a series of safe poses and breathing techniques, often with a focus on the pelvic floor, feet and lower back. (It’s also a fun way to meet other moms.)

Also known as Taoist yoga, this meditative practice is meant to complement faster-moving styles like Ashtanga. Yin yoga poses are passive and held for several minutes, with a focus on accessing deep tissue (like fascia) and the joint areas. Think of this as a nice way to stretch out any sore muscles after an intense gym session.

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Alexia Dellner

Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...
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