There are many styles of yoga, so it helps to review a list of different types to get a better understanding of the experience you might prefer. The yoga experience is different for everyone, so the type of yoga that your best friend enjoys might not be the best yoga style for you.
Combining rigorous alignment with tantric philosophy, John Friend created Anusara Yoga in 1997 to "align with the divine." Each class starts with a devotion and follows the strict principles of alignment, tempered by a spirit of playfulness and awareness of the heart connection. Friend was ousted from Anusara for improprieties, and it is now a teacher-run yoga discipline.
Established by K. Pattabhi Jois, this is a flowing form of yoga that incorporates vinyasa, or flow, between held asanas. Students move through a series of different postures, and each series increases the difficulty. It is a physically demanding yoga designed to produce sweat, cleanse the mind and body, and challenge the practitioner.
Developed in 1974 by Bikram Choudhury, this eponymous yoga is a series of 26 asanas, always executed in the same sequence, in a room heated to 80-105 degrees Fahrenheit. Class runs 90 minutes, and practitioners learn special breathing exercises as well as asana. Only Bikram-certified studios can hold classes.
Hot yoga follows the principle that a heated room warms the muscles and detoxifies the body. Hot Yoga is not Bikram, but students often practice in a studio with a temperature of more than 85 degrees.
Even though hatha yoga is the foundation of all practices, there are many interpretations of it. Some studios list hatha yoga at levels based on a student's expertise. The basic practice will focus on form (asanas), breathing (pranayama), and meditation. The more esoteric aspects will incorporate The Eight Limbs of Yoga. This is self-awareness yoga, not competition yoga.
Integral yoga is a holistic style based on the teachings of Sri Swami Satchidananda. It combines poses, breathing, seva (selfless service), chanting mantras, meditation, and self-inquiry. Integral yoga stresses pure foods and the integration of body, mind, and spirit. There are no set sequences, and yogis are encouraged to work at their own pace to perfect and deepen the poses.
B.K.S. Iyengar perfected a type of yoga that focused on key alignment for better health. Iyengar poses are held for long periods, motivated by breath, to encourage the body to expand beyond limitations. The use of props to help with perfect alignment is encouraged. The pace is slow, allowing for time to focus on balance, breathing, alignment, and connection to spirit as students build strength, flexibility, and endurance.
Sharon Gannon and David Life developed Jivamukti Yoga in 1984 as a physical, ethical, and spiritual practice based on hatha and more vigorous vinyasa. The yoga emphasizes a yogi life of animal rights, veganism, environmentalism, social activism, non-violence, meditation, music and mantra, and devotion.
Practitioners say because of this focus on core spirituality, this style is stimulating mentally, emotionally, and physically. Developed at the Kripalu Institute, a yoga retreat and teaching center in Massachusetts, this gentle yoga asks you to hold poses until you identify and release blockages. Alignment is not the goal, self-awareness is. Kripalu is an introspective and healing yoga.
Kundalini yoga awakens the coiled energy at the base of the spine, which then spirals up through the chakras purifying and energizing the body and spirit. Classes include poses, chanting, meditation, and pranayama breathing. Released energy may take the form of spontaneous movements called kriyas as the prana opens the energy centers to calm and clarity.
Known as the yoga of sleep, nidra is a powerful practice that helps students experience a different level of consciousness through meditation. Nidra is that state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. The experience is something like a lucid or awake dream; you are conscious of hovering on the edge of sleep but still conscious. Your body is completely relaxed, and you are guided by a spoken meditation. The words gradually lead you to an awareness of the calm still world that lurks just below everyday chattering and chaos.
The name says it all: it's an intense, flowing practice with a great deal of movement and strengthening postures. This is ashtanga American-style, tough non-stop fitness moves that turn a session on the mat into an aerobics and strength training exercise. You get stretching, muscle building, and breath control - almost a workout in a gym.
Restorative yoga makes use of props to support the body as it relaxes into poses over the course of several minutes. The idea is to stay in each pose long enough to encourage passive stretching. Seated forward bends, gentle supine backbends, and twists are examples of the type of poses that can be adapted to be restorative with the addition of props like blankets and bolsters.
Yes, tantra can be sensual, but tantric yoga is also about creating enlightenment. There are many levels of tantra, each of which explore the deeper meaning of self. The poses may be used to explore a more conscious connection between couples or to expand personal consciousness on both physical and spiritual levels.
Vinyasa means "flow," and there are numerous variations of the practice. The style originated with Krishnamacharya who later passed it on to Pattabhi Jois. Movement is coordinated with breath to form a dynamic sequence and the yoga. While not as calisthenic as Power yoga, it is definitely vigorous. The sun salutation sequence is a type of Vinyasa. Classes always start with a serious warm-up of multiple sun salutations. By the end of class, you're ready for intense stretching.
Yin yoga stitches your connective tissue - yoga for your joints - through long poses. Really long. You hold the poses while remaining aware of breathing and posture, working subtly to better align your body, and then remaining still. It's is a challenge for peripatetic Americans. Yin yoga will improve your ability to sit for meditation even as it releases tension in your ligaments, bones, and joints.
Try More Than One Type
Always keep an open mind regarding the different styles of yoga and be willing to try something not part of your regular practice. You might have fun with the new experience and want to freshen up your personal routine with some of the techniques you learn.