The health benefits of yoga are numerous, from physical ones like improving flexibility, balance and strength (per Johns Hopkins Medicine) to mental health benefits. Harvard Medical School notes that practicing yoga can reduce anxiety and depression and improve brain function and mood. But once you've decided to start a yoga practice, you might feel overwhelmed by all the styles there are to choose from. 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 12 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.
12 Types of Yoga Explained: How to Find the Right Style for You
From hatha to ashtanga and everything in between
12 Yoga Styles Explained
1. Vinyasa Yoga
- Best For: Gym rats, since vinyasa is a dynamic practice that'll get your heart pumping.
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.
2. Hatha Yoga
- Best For: Beginners, who can learn basic poses in a gentle environment.
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.
3. Iyengar Yoga
- Best For: Perfectionists, who will delight in Iyengar's detail-oriented nature.
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.
4. Kundalini Yoga
- Best For: Spiritual types looking to focus on the mind-body connection.
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.
5. Ashtanga Yoga
- Best For: Experienced yogis looking to get a good sweat.
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.
6. Bikram Yoga
- Best For: Anyone who loves the heat and isn't afraid of a steamy room.
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.
7. Yin Yoga
- Best For: Meditation lovers who want to soothe their muscles.
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.
8. Restorative Yoga
- Best For: Overstimulated folks who need to relax and take a moment to breathe and calm their bodies and minds.
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.
9. Prenatal Yoga
- Best For: Anyone who's pregnant and whose pelvis and lower back could use a little TLC.
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.)
10. Anusara Yoga
- Best For: Anyone looking to be inspired by this school's heart themes.
Anusara yoga was founded in 1997 as a successor of a modern school of hatha yoga and has had its fair share of scandals. First, a bit about the school: The Sanskrit word Anusara can translate to 'flowing with grace,' 'listening to your heart' or 'following your bliss.' In Anusara yoga, it's translated as 'opening to grace, aligning with the divine.' Each class starts with an inspirational heart theme, and the practice is quite focused on alignment. In February 2012, an anonymous author published online accusations against Anusara founder John Friend, which included illegally suspending employee pension funds, leading a Wiccan coven and more. Anusara still exists today, but there are few mentions of Friend's name on the school's website.
11. Jivamukti Yoga
- Best For: Anyone who feels strongly about social causes and wants their yoga studio to align with those values.
A proprietary style of yoga created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984, Jivamukti yoga combines a vigorous, vinyasa-based physical style with adherence to five central tenets: shastra (scripture), bhakti (devotion), ahimsā (nonviolence), nāda (music) and dhyana (meditation). It also emphasizes animal rights, veganism, environmentalism and social activism. There are main centers in the U.S., Germany, Spain, Norway, Australia, Russia and Mexico, and affiliate centers in several other countries
12. Aerial Yoga
- Best For: Thrill seekers who aren't afraid to try something a little outside the box.
This is not your typical, floor-centric flow. Aerial yoga combines traditional asana (poses) and yoga philosophies with aerial arts, using tools like silk fabrics or ropes hung from above. Developed in the early 2000s, aerial yoga can improve flexibility, stability and balance, among other benefits. And don't worry if hanging upside down mid-air freaks you out: There are aerial yoga classes and teachers that are beginning to use aerial silks much more therapeutically.
Frequently Asked Yoga Style Questions
1. Which Style of Yoga Is the Hardest?
If you've never tried any type of yoga, you might think it's all about gentle stretching and relaxing. While certain styles of yoga are calmer (see below), others can be extremely intense. While there's not a single style that's known as the hardest, in general, the styles thought to be most challenging are ashtanga, Bikram and power vinyasa. Ashtanga is a faster-paced practice that doesn't typically incorporate the use of props; Bikram is practiced in a heated room for an extra challenge; and Vinyasa is usually quite fast-paced.
2. What Type of Yoga Is Calmest?
Again, it's hard to nail down one style of yoga as being the calmest, but if you're looking for a lower-key class, hatha is likely your best bet—and a great jumping off point for those new to practice (more on that in a second),
3. What Type of Yoga Is Best for Beginners?
Seeing as it's one of the calmest and gentlest styles, hatha yoga is typically recommended for beginners. In a hatha class, a teacher will walk you through the foundational poses in a way that's easy to follow along with and not too overwhelming, striking a nice balance between body and mind.