There are many different styles of Yoga. After reading through these brief descriptions, consider what you are looking to achieve in your yoga practice. Is it a physical workout? Or a deep stretch, a time for quiet meditation, or to fill a spiritual need? If you are fortunate enough to have a variety of yoga classes within an easy drive, consider trying a couple before feeling a need to make a choice.
Ananda yoga: This form uses a gentle, inward approach to control the body's energies, especially the "chakras".
Anusara: Founded in 1997 by John Friend, Anusara combines a strong emphasis on physical alignment with a positive philosophy derived from Tantra. The philosophy's premise is belief in the intrinsic goodness of all beings. Anusara classes are usually light-hearted and accessible to students of differing abilities. Poses are taught in a way that opens the heart, both physically and mentally, and props are often used.
Ashtanga: A more physically challenging workout, it flows from posture to posture at a fast pace, building strength, flexibility and stamina. This form of Yoga is also called "power yoga". Ashtanga practices use the same series of poses performed in the same order. This style is good for those looking for a more strenuous practice or for athletes looking to add flexibility, balance, and concentration to their workouts.
Bikram: Think of this as a hot and sweaty form of yoga, as they crank the thermostat up to a toasty temperature (95-100 degrees) to give the muscles, ligaments and tendons a good stretch. This form of yoga is also known as "hot yoga". Sweating is thought to be cleansing. Bikram is not appropriate for those with cardiovascular disease because of the strain placed on the body when vigorously exercising in the heat. This style of yoga is a set series of 26 poses.
Forrest: Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, and gaining popularity around the U.S., Forrest Yoga is the method taught by Ana Forrest. The performance of vigorous asana sequences is intended to strengthen and purify the body and release pent-up emotions and pain so that healing can begin. Expect an intense workout with an emphasis on abdominal strengthening and deep breathing.
Hatha: This is the basic form of the classic postures, the foundation for the other styles of yoga. Generally speaking, classes described as Hatha will be slow-paced and gentle. This style is a good introduction to the basic yoga poses.
Integral yoga: This style of yoga follows the teachings of Sri Swami Sachindananda. Integral is a gentle Hatha practice, and classes often also include breathing exercises, chanting, kriyas, and meditation. (Note: Kriya is a style of exercises and breathing techniques intended to purify and cleanse the body's energy channels. For instance, one kriya is to rapidly pump the stomach muscles in and out as if breathing but without taking a breath.)
Iyengar yoga: This form pays great attention to proper form and precise alignment, often using props such as blocks and straps. These yoga props compensate for inflexible areas or for injuries while allowing you to achieve the proper positioning. Due to the ability to modify poses, this form of yoga is good for those with back pain, neck pain, or during pregnancy. Poses may be held for a longer period of time versus flowing quickly from one to another.
Jivamukti yoga: This style of yoga emerged from one of New York's best-known yoga studios. Jivamukti founders David Life and Sharon Gannon take inspiration from Ashtanga yoga and emphasize chanting, meditation, and spiritual teachings.
Kripalu: This is a slower workout where poses are held for an extended period of time, with an emphasis on coordinated breathing patterns and meditation. Practices focus on looking inward and moving at your own pace.
Kundalini: The emphasis in Kundalini is on the breath in conjunction with physical movement, with the purpose of freeing energy in the lower body and allowing it to move upwards. All asana practices make use of controlling the breath. But in Kundalini, the exploration of the effects of the breath (also called prana, meaning energy) on the postures is essential. Kundalini uses rapid, repetitive movements rather than poses held for a long time, and the teacher will often lead the class in call and response chanting.
Sivananda: This style of yoga is based upon five principles: proper exercise (focusing on 12 poses in particular), proper breathing (pranayama), proper relaxation (savasana), proper diet (vegetarian), and positive thinking and meditation (dhyana).
Viniyoga: A gentle style of yoga where postures are synchronized with the breath in prescribed sequences tailored to the student's needs. This form of yoga is also good for those with back or neck problems since it is easily adapted for each person.
Vinyasa: Like Hatha, Vinyasa is a general term that is used to describe many different types of classes. This style of yoga tends to be more vigorous in which movement is matched to the breath. This style is a "flow yoga". Classes usually begin with a series of Sun Salutations to warm up the body for more intense stretching done at the end of class.
Yin: Yin is a slow-paced style of yoga with postures or asanas that are held for longer periods of time—five minutes or longer per pose is typical. Yin Yoga poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissues—the tendons, fascia, and ligaments—with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. Yin Yoga poses are also designed to improve the flow of qi, the subtle energy said in Chinese medicine to run through the meridian pathways of the body.