13 common types of yoga explained and how to find the right style for you

·11-min read
Photo credit: fizkes - Getty Images
Photo credit: fizkes - Getty Images

The myriad different types of yoga are one of the big reasons it's such a popular form of movement. From deep, slow yin yoga to yoga done in rooms 36ºC+, yoga blended with gymnastics and traditional sequenced classes like Ashtanga, there's something for everyone.

This is great for two reasons. Firstly, it allows you to shop around until you find the style that works best for you. Secondly, each type of yoga has different benefits and can work for you at different times.

As with any type of new exercise regime if you are under the care of a doctor ensure you are signed off before starting any new yoga class and if you have an injury make sure to let the teacher know so they can support you fully.

Is there a 'best' type of yoga?

Absolutely not. And, in fact, there might be several styles that suit you – again, this is one of the major benefits of yoga.

Perhaps you'd like a quicker practice in the morning to energise you for the day ahead or a slower, restorative flow before bed. Maybe you're after yoga for weight loss. Whatever the case, the best type of yoga for you will likely change depending on your mood, time of day and how many minutes you have to spare.

MYSA London founder and yoga teacher Puravi Joshi explains: "Yoga is not a one style fits all practice. There are a few styles; Ashtanga, Hatha, Yin, Rocket, Restorative. You might feel at ease in some practices more than others. It's all about finding your edge and stepping outside of your comfort zone, and allowing yourself to explore and grow physically and mentally."

Your full guide to 13 types of yoga

We asked instructors and teachers to break down each style – consider it your crib sheet for when you can't decide what type of practice you want or want to remind yourself of what to expect from each class.

1. Hatha

"Hatha is traditionally about creating balance in the autonomic nervous system by following strengthening poses with poses that are relaxing and improve flexibility," explains Dr Nitasha Buldeo, yoga instructor and founder of Organic Apoteke and I-Yogaa. "Breath also plays an important part in the practice of Hatha Yoga. Together, breath and movement create balance in body and mind."

During a class, you can expect to hold each pose for between five and 10 breaths, with a strong focus on stability and building strength. Suitable for beginners and experienced practitioners alike, you'll build the foundations of breath and body awareness needed for all other styles.

  • Good for: improving sleep, reducing stress, and enhancing mindfulness.

  • Try it when you're feeling: great opportunity to relax and calm the body and mind and improve your technique on foundation poses.

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2. Vinyasa

In its most literal sense, the word Vinyasa refers to "a flow". This can reference the flow between poses (downward dog to chaturanga to upward dog, for example) or, in a more general sense, a dynamic style of yoga where postures flow on from one another, with three to five breaths in each, explains yoga teacher, Allie Williams.

"This class is good for those who need movement for meditation and is great for learning to use the breath as a tool. Generally, this is a good class for those who want to try yoga but would like an active, dynamic class."

  • Good for: general toning, strengthening, lengthening and aligning of the body. Because it's a dynamic style, it'll also help develop cardiovascular fitness, stamina and endurance.

  • Try it when you're feeling: classes use meditation and mindfulness techniques to aid concentration and improve general mental wellbeing so is a good antidote to stress.

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3. Ashtanga

"Ashtanga synchronises breath, postures and Drishti (meaning: gaze point) to create a dynamic, flowing practice that builds internal heat," explains Jonathan Sattin, founder of triyoga. "The main difference is that the sequence is the same every time, no matter if you are practising Ashtanga in a class led by the teacher, or in a traditional self-practice setting where the teacher is there to silently guide you."

  • Good for: building strength, purifying the nervous system, and calming the mind.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: the need to move, sweat and focus.

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4. Iyengar

Before the word became synonymous with a specific strand, Iyengar referred to a person. B.K.S Iyengar was an influential teacher, famed for the introduction of multiple props, such as blocks and chairs.

The use of these props is designed to help you achieve proper technique and positioning, with an eventual goal to build enough strength in your body to get into the right position without them.

"Iyengar Yoga focuses on alignment and precision. Poses are held for longer than in Vinyasa or Ashtanga and props are often used to help," describes yoga instructor Felicity Wood.

  • Good for: learning the subtleties of postures and building safe, healthy alignment that is individual to the student.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: the need to focus and if you’re up for a challenge.

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5. Yin

"Yin involves postures and stretches that deeply lengthen muscles and fascia (connective tissue) encasing joints and all muscles, thereby helping to improve joint mobility and overall flexibility," says teacher, Caroline Lucas. "You would typically hold these poses between two and 10 minutes each, allowing ample time for deep-seated patterns of tension in the body to begin to release.

"The slow pace of Yin yoga helps to calm the nervous system and provides students with an opportunity to slow down, rest and enjoy this more meditative style."

  • Good for: Yin yoga helps you increase mobility and flexibility, as well as work deeply into the connective tissues of the body.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: Yin is an excellent form of yoga for sleep. It strengthens your relaxation response overall so even if you practice during the day, they will help you sleep at night.

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6. Restorative

Another slower style of yoga, restorative yoga is perfect for calming down, chilling out and letting your body come to a place of rest.

"Restorative yoga is a therapeutic style of yoga that uses props to support the body, encouraging deep relaxation," continues Lucas. "Using passive yoga asanas (poses), we let our nervous systems shift and relax. This helps us to relieve the effects of negative stress encountered in daily life and can be highly beneficial in times of fatigue, illness, and emotional strain.

"By arranging the body strategically and supporting it with props, you’ll experience deep rest and healing. In each pose, you’ll get the usual benefits, multiplied many times over because of the longer time they're held for. Restorative yoga relieves stress and takes you to a quiet place that is meditative and ideal for processing emotions."

  • Good for: Restorative classes are very mellow, making them a good complement to more active practices.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: Restorative yoga is an excellent antidote to stress as your body can rest completely into a series of postures.

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7. Kundalini

If you've ever seen people emerging from a studio dressed entirely in white, they might have just finished a Kundalini class.

"Kundalini yoga combines invigorating movement, with dynamic breath work, meditation and the chanting of mantras to build vitality. During a class you’ll practise “kriyas” or detoxifying techniques, such as strong repetitive arm movements, breathwork and hand gestures to help build mental endurance and fortify the nervous system," explains triyoga's Sattin.

Originally, the traditional Kundalini teachings focused on improving the flow of energy throughout the body: "The traditional Kundalini Yoga is a powerful system of processes to stimulate neural networks across the body and brain. The chakras originate in the traditional teaching of Kundalini Yoga," explains Dr Buldeo.

  • Good for: strengthening intuition and willpower and developing a spiritual practice.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: low on physical and mental stamina.

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8. Power

"Power yoga is a broad term used to describe a dynamic practice, often incorporating arm balances and inversions, and sure to make you sweat. Power is almost always a vinyasa (flowing) style of class, with flowing movements to get your heart rate up and build strength," says Williams.

Basically, it's harder, faster and stronger than traditional Ashtanga, designed to make you sweat and build your strength.

  • Good for: building full-body strength and cardiovascular endurance.

  • Try it when you're feeling: stagnant or in need of change or when you have an abundance of energy.

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9. Rocket

Another westernised style, Rocket is characterised by following a similar pattern in each class with a variety of postures.

"The sequence is mostly the same each time. It begins with sun salutations before moving on to standing and seated postures, then inversions and arm balances. Variations and modifications will be offered throughout, and you’ll be encouraged to playfully grow at a pace that’s right for you," explains Sattin. "There is a strong focus on breath, bandha (energy lock) and Drishti (gaze point) as tools for meditation."

  • Good for: Rocket yoga improves your balance, strengthen your muscles, and increases your consciousness.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: You want to feel empowered, both physically and mentally.

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10. Bikram (Hot)

"Hot yoga is yoga practised in a hot environment. The most famous form of which is Bikram," says Sweatband instructor Ruth Stone. "Any style of Yoga can be practised in a hot environment, but most hot yoga classes feature powerful postures, vinyasas and sequences. The thinking behind it is the heat enables the body to move more freely.

"Naturally, you’ll sweat more in this type than others so keep hydrated and also have a towel for your feet which can slide on the mat."

  • Good for: preventing injuries, restoring balance and flexibility, better awareness of breath and mental endurance.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: heat can alleviate joint stiffness, increase blood circulation, boost the immune system and release endorphins.

Bikram and hot yoga classes are best experienced IRL. Look for a local studio that offers the class style – a fair few will have an introductory offer (discounted or free) that may help you decide if it's right for you. Go hydrated and re-hydrate during and after.

11. Prenatal yoga

Pregnancy yoga is wonderfully very doable. However, if you have any doubts, worries or concerns please communicate them with your maternity team, midwife or doctor. They'll be able to help you flow in the safest way possible. If you've been given the all-clear, you're good to go.

Meditation and yoga therapist Deepa Sapra explains more about this type of yoga:

"Prenatal yoga focuses on poses that are suitable for pregnant women. A typical prenatal yoga class might involve, breathwork and poses. Attendees are encouraged to focus on their breath. A common breathing technique taught in prenatal yoga classes is the golden thread breath to help with labour."

"In a prenatal yoga class expect gentle movement using a variety of yoga poses which helps move different areas of the body to encourage a healthy circulation. Props such as blankets, cushions and belts might be used to provide support and comfort."

  • Prenatal yoga can: Decrease lower back pain, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath.

  • Improve sleep: Reduce stress and anxiety and can increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth.

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12. Acro

Often demonstrated by the experts, this is a visually impressive style that uses partner work to achieve elevated poses. Not one for beginners, it's a fun option for intermediate and advanced yogis.

"Acro yoga uses yoga and gymnastic training to enable participants to achieve some incredible physical feats," explains Stone. "The classes often require you to work with a partner so if you’re shy, bring a buddy along. As well as building strength they’re great trust-building classes too, so can initially take you out of your comfort zone. Not for the faint-hearted."

  • Good for: blending gymnastic skills with yoga.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: like you want to work with a partner.

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13. Aerial

"Aerial yoga involves using suspended hammocks (often slings) to place the body in postures that may not otherwise be possible. From there the hammock newcomers can easily achieve headstands, handstands and shoulder stands," says Stone.

"It's a fun class to do and opens the door to the benefits of inversions (upside-down postures) to all. Inversions are great for decompressing the spine, oxygenating the brain and redistributing fluid in the face (which can be anti-ageing). The best bit is the relaxation – where you nuzzle inside the hammock and feel like you’ve returned to the womb."

  • Good for: beginners who want to work on inversions.

  • Try it when you’re feeling: the need to shift your perspective and try something new.

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