Yoga: Which Style Best Meets Your Needs?

Yoga: Which Style Best Meets Your Needs?

Do you practice yoga (or want to practice) and find yourself confused by the seemingly countless styles? If so keep reading to understand the most common styles of yoga and the philosophies of each.

Yoga 101

While this article will teach you about many styles of yoga it’s important you first understand the essential goal of yoga. The ancient philosophy of yoga is to experience spiritual enlightenment and integration of the mind and body. This integration creates a more purposeful connection with one’s pure, essential nature. Yoga in it’s purest form is a philosophy of mind and body well-being. While there are numerous styles of yoga, each aima to achieve this state of well-being in its own unique way. Some emphasize deep breathing, others focus on meditation, and one in particular on an extremely hot room temperature, while others focus purely on pose.

Why Practice Yoga?

Typically yoga students are drawn to yoga for its stress-relieving health benefits, however by practicing yoga regularly many are finding that yoga creates a strong, flexible body and a deeper, more mindful awareness of the self as well. Who knew?! Yogis, of course. According to Beryl Bender Birch, teacher and author “Healing and balancing the physical body helps bring clarity and focus to the mind as well.” It’s no wonder yoga is increasing in popularity!

It’s true. The practice of yoga is becoming more and more popular as research continues to prove its endless health benefits – and it’s students are noticing the effects. Better yet, it is now being offered not only in yoga studios but in health clubs nationwide. Why? Simple, this ancient practice is a fantastic addition to any athlete’s workout! Yoga can help prevent injury, strengthen the spine as well as loosen and define muscles creating a sleek physique (and balanced mind). It’s all about balance friends!

Choosing A Yoga Class

Classes found in the United States today typically teach students a healthy blend of asana (postures), breathwork, and meditation to achieve the deeply desired mind-body balance.
With that said, there are many yoga styles taught around the United States. Questions to consider when trying a new class must reflect what you’re seeking to achieve, specifically are you seeking an intense workout or a way to release stress and heal through a meditative flow? Among yoga studios (and health clubs) you’ll find much diversity! Try attending classes at a few places to discover the style of yoga that benefits you the most. Below is a list of the more popular styles of yoga (in alphabetical order) to help you find your favorite.

Ananda yoga is a gentle style that emphasizes harmony of the mind and body. Movement from one pose to the next is slow and meditation is encouraged. According to Yoga Journal “Ananda yoga is for those who crave enlightenment and relaxation with their yoga workout.” Ananda yoga emphasizes spiritual growth while releasing stress and tension in the body. Students are guided through gentle poses with the intention to move energy upwards preparing the mind for meditation through controlled breathing (pranayama). Often affirmations are repeated while holding poses. This helps to deepen the benefits of each pose while simultaneously aligning the body, energy and mind. Ananda yoga was developed during the 1960s by Swami Kriyananda.

Ashtanga yoga is fast, strenuous and requires quick movement from one pose to the next in a consistent order. Ashtanga yoga is intended for those who’ve been practicing yoga for some time and are seeking a more advanced class. Practiced by yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga yoga is one of the most popular styles of yoga. It emphasizes a series of very fast-paced sequences, each increasing in difficulty! Ashtanga yoga also focuses on intense breathwork as one moves from pose to pose. Ashtanga (sometime referred to as power yoga) is particularly popular in health clubs, as a vigorous workout that increases
both strength and flexibility.

Bikram yoga is commonly known as “hot yoga”. Don’t confuse the two styles though! Hot yoga and Bikram are not one in the same. Bikram yoga is practiced in a room that is heated to approximately 105 degree Fahrenheit. The hot temperature of the room is intended to help loosen muscles while allowing the body to detox through excessive sweating. Let me repeat myself. If you’re considering taking a Bikram yoga class expect to sweat (a lot)! As I mentioned above, these yoga studios are heated to approximately 105 degrees Fahrenheit! Bikram yoga was created by Bikram Choudhury.

Hatha yoga is the original yoga and naturally, the most popular style of yoga practiced in the West. If you work out at a health club this is most likely that type of yoga that you will find yourself practicing. Same goes if you practice at a traditional studio as most instructors are initially trained in hatha yoga. These yoga classes focuses on the pose and breath. Each pose is intended to strengthen the body, creating long, lean muscles. Hatha yoga, depending on the teacher, can be an eclectic blend of many styles of yoga designed to mix up a class to suit the needs of many students, beginners and advanced. Beginner friendly!

Iyengar yoga strictly emphasizes proper posture, alignment, and symmetry of one’s body. This is a wonderful place to start if you’ve never practiced yoga. You will undoubtedly learn proper form. Iyengar yoga also includes many props such as straps, blocks, balls, blankets, and even walls to align the body properly while moving into poses. Due to the focus on form, Iyengar yoga poses are practiced very slowly and purposefully. B.K.S. Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar yoga, is regarded as one of the most influential yogis. In his lifetime he encouraged students worldwide to focus intensely on deepening their experience in each specific pose. Iyengar yoga poses are held much longer (you’ll feel the burn) and students are instructed to be very mindful of muscular and skeletal alignment. Props are used to attain proper form and to give students the freedom to move deeper and more comfortably into each pose (breathwork is encouraged). You’ll leave this class feeling educated and supported by the guidance of extremely well-taught teachers.

Jivamukti yoga was created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in the 1980’s with the goal of incorporating meditation and chanting into yoga classes. Jivamukti yoga is also physically challenging! If you’re seeking an intense yoga class that is deeply meditative give Jivamukti a try. This style of yoga combines Ashtanga yoga with ancient spiritual teachings, chanting, meditation, readings, music, and affirmations. A Jivamkti Yoga Center is located in New York City, where thousands of people visit weekly to practice and learn this incredibly transformational style of yoga.

Kripalu yoga was introduced by Amrit Desai in the 1970’s while studying under the Indian guru Kripaluvananda. This style incorporates a willful practice (focusing on alignment, breath, and mindful consciousness), willful surrender (conscious holding of postures to beyond a level of tolerance which deepens concentration and focus of internal thoughts and emotions), and meditation in motion (release of the body’s internal tension and trust in the body to perform each pose needed to enter deep meditation). The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is located in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. Sign up for a class or long weekend workshop at Kripalu and leave feeling fully revitalized and void of all stress!

If you’re seeking a style of yoga that focuses on breathwork Kundalini is for you. Kundalini yoga emphasizes breathing in time with quick poses. Kundalini yoga also involves chanting, singing and mantra meditations. This style of yoga stems from a tantra yoga philosophy. Decades ago Kundalini yoga was kept secret, practiced only by select few! Then, in the late 1960’s Yogi Bhajan brought it to the West believing it was the birthright of all to gain understanding of their life potential through Kundalini yoga. In these classes students focus on awakening the energy at the base of their spine drawing it upwards through each of the seven chakras.

Sivananda yoga aims to enlighten the student in answering the question “Who am I?” Sivananda yoga is the philosophy of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh who brought this style of yoga to the West in the 1950’s. Sivananda yoga teaches to “serve, love, give, purify, meditate, and realize’. This style of yoga teaches five principles: proper exercise (asana), proper breathing (pranayama), proper relaxation (savasana), proper diet (vegetarian), positive thinking (vedanta), and proper meditation (dhyana). Also, the practice focuses on 12 postures to increase strength and flexibility. Chanting, breathwork, and meditation are used to release stress and blocked energy. If you’re seeking enlightenment this may be a smart place to start.

Svaroopa yoga teaches different ways of achieving traditional poses. It emphasizes opening the spine through asana, anatomy, and yoga philosophy with a deep focus on one’s inner experience, called svaroopa. This style of yoga promotes consciousness, healing, and transformation. Svaroopa was created by Rama Berch, whom founded the Master Yoga Academy in La Jolla, California. This style of yoga has been thought to increase consciousness through practice. Svaroopa class is a perfect starting place for those seeking to advance their current practice.

Another style of yoga that is fantastic for beginners is Vinyasa yoga, one of the most popular choices in the United States. Vinyasa yoga combines quick movements with mindful, controlled breathing and a unique variety of poses. Vinyasa is fantastic for those seeking a cardiovascular workout! No class will ever be alike – Vinyasa yoga is forever changing and evolving. This style of yoga is rhythmic and flowing, undoubtedly an intense mind and body workout!

Hopefully this has cleared up any confusion! Just remember, whichever style of yoga you choose, you’ll reap the benefits. It’s all about making the time to get to your mat, once you’re there you won’t regret it. Chances are you may just want to stay for another class!

Jaylene Geisler

Jaylene Geisler is a certified yoga instructor and freelance writer with a passion for fitness and nutrition. She has been blogging professionally for nearly 10 years and is currently writing her first book. Jaylene became a yoga instructor after decades of playing sports. She now teaches athletes how to use yoga to prevent injuries and to improve their concentration on and off the field. In college Jaylene earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and thus aims to further the emerging field of Psychoneuroimmunology by contributing her knowledge of the countless benefits of yoga and meditation to current and future medical research. In her free time she loves to travel and stay active!