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A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga: 14 Yoga Disciplines Defined and Explained

Alexa Erickson
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Yoga is everywhere these days. Touted for its many benefits on the mind and body, millions of people from around the world practice it to promote inner peace and overall wellness. But if you’re new to the practice, you may find the class schedule at your gym or local yoga studio to be quite confusing. How are you supposed to know the difference between Power Yoga and Hot Yoga? If you’re new to yoga, the names alone may be a bit overwhelming!
 
Here’s a cheat sheet to help you get better acquainted with 14 major yoga disciplines being taught and practiced today. While it certainly does not cover all types of yoga out there, we hope this guide will shed some light on the disciplines that can be offered in most mainstream yoga studios.
 

Here’s your beginner’s guide to 14 major yoga disciplines:

 

1. Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is a broad term for any style of yoga where physical postures are incorporated. Almost every type of yoga taught in the West is Hatha, and when a class is referred to as this, it typically means that there will be a gentle approach to performing basic yoga postures. While you might not break a serious sweat in a class labeled “Hatha Yoga,” you will stretch and elongate your physical body while establishing a sense of peace and relaxation.
 
You’ll like practicing Hatha Yoga if: You’re a new or seasoned practitioner interested in getting acquainted with or deepening your knowledge of the yoga basics.
 

2. Anusara Yoga

A relatively new style to the yoga world, Anusara Yoga was founded by John Friend in 1997. The practice is based on the idea that of innate goodness, seeking to help students open their hearts through the physical practice. Friend says that the term Anusara means “flowing with Grace, flowing with Nature and following your heart.”
 
The practitioner seeks to awaken their true nature through an open-minded attitude, emphasis on alignment and body awareness, and perform each pose with an artistic expression of the heart, where muscular stability is balanced with inner freedom.
 
You’ll like practicing Anusara Yoga if: You are new to yoga and are looking for a relaxed, cheerful and upbeat vibe to get you comfortable with the discipline.
 

3. Iyengar Yoga

Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, this practice is all about proper alignment in each pose. A variety of yoga props (including blocks, blankets, straps, chairs and bolsters) are all common in Iyengar classes to ensure the student’s form is correct. This style of yoga is fairly passive, but it provides a different type of physical and mental challenge, since you are required to hold poses for longer periods of time.
 
You’ll like practicing Iyengar Yoga if: You want to learn and do yoga but have recently suffered an injury, or if you’re looking for a more gentle, alignment-based style.
 

4. Ashtanga Yoga

on ancient yoga teachings, this practice was brought to the West in the 1970’s. The Ashtanga style of yoga involves a rigorous sequence of specific postures that links breath with movement. The system is based on six series of asanas, and within each series, the same poses are always performed in the same order.
 
You’ll like practicing Ashtanga Yoga if: You enjoy a highly-structured vinyasa-style class that will challenge you physically and mentally.
 
Recommended read: Ashtanga Yoga 101: Everything You Need to Know
 

5. Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa is the Sanskrit word for “flow,” and that’s exactly what you’ll be doing in this style of yoga. Known for fluid movements that build up intensity, Vinyasa flows smoothly from pose to pose, creating a dance-like rhythm. The intensity of the class is similar to that of Ashtanga, except there is a level of creativity in Vinyasa classes, as no two flows are the same, allowing both the teacher and student to try new sequences all the time.
 
You’ll like practicing Vinyasa Yoga if: You’re looking to develop a stronger mind-body connection and grow in strength and flexibility through fluid movement that incorporates creativity.
 
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6. Power Yoga

Developed by Bender Birch in 1995, this style of yoga set out to give the Western world a new spin on traditional Ashtanga Yoga by taking the challenging aspect of creating heat and energy through a rigorous workout that incorporates strength and flexibility with intense flowing sequences. Studios’ approaches to Power Yoga differ across the country, so it’s important to ask about the specifics wherever you’re planning on practicing.
 
You’ll like practicing Power Yoga if: You want a more fitness-based approach to doing yoga, and are looking to increase metabolism and burn fat.
 
Recommended read: How to Modify 5 Common Power Yoga Poses
 

7. Bikram Yoga

Developed by Bikram Choudhury, this school of yoga involves a series of 26 traditional Hatha postures in an artificially heated room designed to replicate yoga’s birthplace climate, with temperatures pushing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Why the heat? It’s believed to pull toxins out of your body via sweat.
 
This style of yoga has become so popular that studios have developed their own take on the classic practice, typically deviating from Bikram’s sequence in one small way or another. You’ll often find a class called “Hot Yoga” instead of “Bikram” because of this. Regardless, you’ll sweat buckets!
 
You’ll like practicing Bikram Yoga if: You don’t mind getting seriously sweaty and like the idea of practicing the same poses each time to deepen your physical and mental wellbeing.
 
Recommended read: How to Prepare For Your First (or 100th) Hot Yoga Class
 

8. Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga is just the opposite of all the intensity we’ve discussed in other styles thus far. It’s about relaxing and soothing mind and body. Bolsters, blankets, blocks and other props are incorporated to help students passively approach poses to provide the body with ease as opposed to additional effort.
 
You’ll like practicing Restorative Yoga if: You are looking to calm down and relieve tension from sitting at your desk or being on your feet all day while increasing flexibility by holding poses for several minutes at a time.
 

9. Kundalini Yoga

Back in 1969, Yogi Bhajan brought Kundalini Yoga to the West. The practice includes postures, dynamic breathing techniques, and chanting and meditating on mantras like “Sat Nam,” which means “I am truth.” This style of yoga is all about awakening the energy that lives at the base of the spine and drawing it upward through each of the seven chakras.
 
Teachers and practitioners are encouraged to wear white in class. “We ask you to wear white so that you will reflect what is outside and go within yourself – that’s what white clothes can do for you,” Yogi Bhajan once said.
 
You’ll like practicing Kundalini Yoga if: You prefer a less strenuous and physically demanding practice compared to other fast-paced styles, and enjoy achieving concentration and a sense of focus while increasing your flexibility.
 
Recommended read: An Introduction to Kundalini Yoga
 

10. Ananda Yoga

In the 1960’s, Swami Kriyananda created Ananda as style of yoga after returning to California following a grueling yoga training from Paramahansa Yogananda. A key component of the practice is the use of silent affirmations while holding a pose. In a class, instructors guide their students through a series of gentle Hatha poses with a focus on proper alignment, ease through transitions, and breathing exercises. With the idea of self-awareness in mind, this style of yoga seeks to move energy upward to the brain, preparing the body for meditation.
 
You’ll like practicing Ananda Yoga if: You like to spiritually enhance your flow and empower your poses with mindfulness and affirmations.
 

11. Forrest Yoga

In 1982, Ana T. Forrest, an American yogini, created this modern yoga style based on Hatha yoga to work through her own healing. She modified poses and created new ones to address today’s physical ailments.
 
The practice is founded on four pillars: Breath, Strength, Integrity and Spirit that serve to guide the student toward transforming the intensely physical and internally-focused practice off the mat and into daily life. According to Forrest herself, “Forrest Yoga is based in the rich practice of yoga from the East, but applied for the Western lifestyle.”
 
You’ll like practicing Forrest Yoga if: You think of yoga as a lifestyle for bettering your mind, body and spirit, and enjoy challenging poses that increase your strength and flexibility while deepening your pranayama practice.
 

 

12. Yin

Founded in the 1970’s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink, Yin Yoga has generated popularity as a great complement to other forms of yoga, allowing you to advance your asana practice by slowing down and getting deep into postures to increase flexibility.
 
Based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature, yin is unmoving, whereas yang is constantly changing. Yin Yoga concentrates on the relatively stiff connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia), while yang targets the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood.
 
You’ll like practicing Yin Yoga if: You are looking to balance out all that yang and supplement your physical practice by slowing down, taking a breath, stretching and recharging.
 
Recommended read: 5 Yin Yoga Poses for Beginner Yogis
 

13. Kripalu

Kripalu Yoga involves inner focus, meditation, standard yoga poses, breathwork, relaxation and an emphasis on developing a quiet mind. The practice was founded by Amrit Desai in the 1980’s, who named it after his teacher in India, Sri Kripalvananda. Kripalu practices “following the flow” of prana, compassionate self-acceptance, observing the mind without placing judgement, and allowing the inner teachings to transfer into daily life.
 
The practice focuses on “press points” that are attuned to your body and allow you to, over time, get into and express yourself in poses that best suit your body as opposed to abiding by proper alignment .
 
You’ll like practicing Kripalu Yoga if: You prefer a gentle physical practice that allows you to explore your body and discover what it needs to thrive while also harmonizing your mind and spirit with the body.
 

14. Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra translates to “yogic sleep,” and is a five-stage process that involves relaxing the body and mind, beginning with a body scan to engage your physicality and setting a positive intention to provide purpose for the session. Yoga Nidra involves meditation on the breath, the balancing of emotional states, visualization, and self-healing. During the practice, awareness shifts through the entire body as we move through different stages of consciousness: the waking state, dream state and deep, dreamless sleep.
 
You’ll like practicing Yoga Nidra if: You are looking for deep restoration to your body and mind, with a lasting impact on your overall wellbeing.
 
 
There are a variety of yoga disciplines to choose from, and all provide the practitioner with mind/body wellness. Choosing which one is right for you truly depends on the goals you have in mind. Sometimes, it requires trying out several different styles of yoga to find the discipline that most resonates with you.
 
Still unsure? Take this yoga quiz to find out!
 
Based on what you’ve learned, what’s your ideal yoga discipline that you’d like to try or continue practicing? Please share in the comments below!
 

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Alexa Erickson

Inspired by balance, Alexa finds that her true inner peace comes from executing a well-rounded lifestyle. An avid yogi, hiker, beach bum, music and art enthusiast, salad aficionado, adventure seeker, animal lover, and professional writer, she is an active individual who loves to express herself through the power of words.

alexaerickson.contently.com

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