Your GUIDE TO THE MOST POPULAR yoga STYLES
In the 5,000-ish years since yoga’s inception the Indian ancient practice has shape shifted into innumerable types of yoga. Like a long running game of Chinese Whispers, the core principles and practices have been passed down through sacred texts and by word of mouth. Over time, slight twists on the original teachings have gathered momentum and cult followings, eventually spinning off in new directions.
In yoga these different strands are known as ‘lineages’. For much of yoga’s history these were sacrosanct; too revered to be interfered and meddled with. Only every once in a while would a pioneering ‘guru’ (the Sanskrit for teacher) come along and establish what would be considered a legitimate and accepted branch of yoga.
Since the introduction of Yoga to the West, however, lineages have been less strictly adhered to. This flexibility has led to the creation of new types of yoga, each one placing a different emphasis on the various physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines that make up ‘yoga’.
The traditional types of yoga too have been adapted over time, to better suit modern lifestyles and to reflect advancement in our understanding of anatomy
But with no set definition of ‘yoga’ there have been some, ahem, creative interpretations too. Among these are Beer Yoga, Dog Yoga (‘Doga’) and Rage Yoga – whereby you express raw emotions with the aim of becoming “zen as f*uck”. If you’re curious (or angry) you can even take a yoga class.
Now, how much ‘yoga’ is involved in these niche varieties is questionable – the legendary gurus are probably turning in their graves (or, perhaps, in their reincarnated guises) when another is dubious version is spawned.
While many of these would probably be better classified as novel fitness classes rather than yoga, there’s something to be said for any type of ‘yoga’, no matter how alternative, that piques interest and gets people onto their yoga mats. It might just be the thing that kickstarts a lifelong yoga journey.
Fitness fads and obscure types of yoga aside, if you’re looking for a traditional style, this guide will help you understand the basics before diving into a class.
1. Vinyasa yoga
If you’ve ever taken a ‘flow yoga’ class you’ve taken a Vinyasa yoga class. One of the most popular types of yoga in the western world, Vinyasa yoga is characterised by a series of postures linked together in a flow like state, with each movement initiated by the breath. ‘Vinyasa’ has become an umbrella term for all styles that ‘flow’ from pose to pose, like Ashtanga and Power yoga.
Vinyasa yoga is the opposite of yoga styles that adhere to a set series of postures, like Bikram. With no fixed form, and a wealth of postures available to pick and choose from, the pattern of the class is entirely down to the teacher. Practising Vinyasa can also prevent repetitive motion injuries that can occur from doing the same movements every day.
2. Hatha yoga
You might not often see ‘Hatha Yoga’ classes on yoga studio timetables, but any type of yoga that teaches physical postures is technically Hatha. This includes almost every type of yoga class taught in the West, but not other types of yoga that aren’t physical-based yoga practices, like kriya, raja, and karma yoga.
When a class is defined by a studio as ‘hatha’ you can expect a slower paced class, where students work on one pose at a time, usually with long rests between poses. This grounding style of yoga makes it both a solid bet for experienced students and a great entry point to the practice for beginners.
3. Iyengar yoga
Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, who, along with Ashtanga founder Pattabi Jois, is partly responsible for bringing the practice of modern yoga to the West. Known as the practice of precision, each posture is held for a period of time while controlling the breath.
Unlike in Vinyasa, Iyengar focuses on nailing alignment of each pose and relies on props to help students perfect their form and go deeper into poses safely. Expect to cultivate strength and stability through a solid Iyengar-based practice. It’s also great for people with injuries who need to work slowly and methodically.
4. Kundalini yoga
Kundalini often takes the title of the ‘weirdest’ type of yoga, but there’s a method to the madness of this spiritual and physical practice. Kundalini yoga teachers classes often combine a fast-moving, invigorating postures (think leaping like a frog and flipping over like a beached salmon), intense breathwork, chanting mantra, and meditation.
This is all in a bid to release the ‘kundalini’ energy in the body said to be trapped in the lower spine. With energy freely flowing through all chakras, Kundalini yoga fans report leaving classes feeling a natural high.
5. Ashtanga yoga
If you love routine and love to test your physical limits, Ashtanga might just be for you. Originally developed by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India, Ashtanga is a challenging 90-minute set sequence of postures linked together. Vinyasa yoga stems from Ashtanga’s flowing style, linking breath to movement.
If you attend a ‘Mysore-led’ Ashtanga class it’s expected that you know the series without guidance from a teacher. Instead you’ll gather with other devotees to practice together, everyone at their own pace until all postures are completed.
If you fancy giving Ashtanga yoga a whirl, without going through every posture in the physically demanding sequence, Reformation teacher Neasa McHugh‘s Vinyasa style classes often weave in inspiration from her Ashtanga yoga training.
6. Bikram yoga
Bikram yoga has gained a tainted reputation thanks to founder Bikram Choudhury. The infamous ‘bad boy of yoga’ faced sexual assault and harassment lawsuits in the U.S. and fled to Mexico in 2017. Netflix even produced a documentary that charts his rise and fall: Bikram: Yoga, Guru, Predator – the less than favourable title says it all…
Scandal aside, Bikram yoga is a series of 26 basic postures, each one performed twice in a sauna-like room – typically set to 40 degrees Celsius and 40% humidity. Many yoga studios today still take inspiration from Bikram, hosting vinyasa style classes in a heated rooms under the guise of ‘hot yoga.’
7. Yin yoga
Yin yoga was developed in the 1970’s by martial arts expert and yoga teacher Paulie Zink, who put his own spin on Taoist yoga which originated in China. True to the Taoist ehtos, maintaining harmony with the rhythm and flow of nature is still at the heart of Yin yoga. Expect a slow-paced, meditative, style of yoga with seated postures that are held for from 45 seconds to 2 minutes.
Yin is equally beneficial for beginners and advanced practitioners. In fact, if you love strong, ‘yang’ type practice you should definitely make room in your schedule to balance our body and mind with Yin Yoga. At Reformation, keep an eye out on the timetable for Kitty O’Brien’s Yin yoga classes – they are legendary.
8. Restorative yoga
Does lying on the ground, surrounded by cosy blankets and cushions, being guided softly into relaxing poses and a meditative state sound like your idea of a good time? Then clear your dairy for the evening and book into a Restorative yoga class.
Restorative yoga is a type of yoga that encourages deep physical, mental, and emotional relaxation, helping regulate the stress response and re-balance the nervous system. Appropriate for all levels, you’ll spend more time in fewer postures throughout the class, with an emphasis on deep breathing and meditation.
Much like Iyengar, use of props like blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows is encouraged – and being a short distance from your bed to retreat to immediately after is recommended.
9. Jivamukti yoga
Founded in 1984, Jivamukti yoga is physical, ethical and spiritual practice that emphasises the path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings. Jivamukti combines a number of elements including vigorous hatha yoga, meditation, environmentalism and vegetarianism.
Jivamukti is also credited with making yoga more widely known (and “injecting yoga with a healthy dose of New York chutzpah,” according to Vanity Fair) and for raising the bar for yoga teacher training standards.
Reformation founder and lead yoga teacher Lee Tracey trained in Jivamukti under founders Sharon Gannon and David Life, and the practice still guides her teaching today. Regular Reformation teacher Aine too is a 300-Hour certified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher.
10. Pregnancy yoga
Pregnancy or prenatal yoga takes from various types of yoga and carefully adapts the practice for expecting women. Use of props for example is common to modify the poses and ensure stability.
It’s suitable for women after the first trimester, unless they already have a strong yoga practice, and while some physical activities are considered off limits for pregnant women, prenatal yoga is hugely beneficial. This is thanks to the emphasis on strengthening the pelvic floor work, breathing, and bonding with the growing baby – factors that can also help mothers prepare for the birth itself.
At Reformation ‘moms to be’ are in the very best of hands with Lucy Bloom. Lucy uses her wealth of experience in women’s and pregnancy yoga to create a safe space and practice to support the immense physical and emotional changes that women go through.