Yoga Styles De-Coded
Your guide to the most common styles of practice so you can get to the right class in confidence
Origin: Introduced in 15th-century India by Hindu sage, Yogi Swatmarama, Hatha poses-Downward-Facing Dog, Cobra, Eagle, and Wheel for example-make up most yoga sequences practiced today.
Philosophy: The goal of Hatha yoga is to bridge the body and mind with the breath in a series of physical poses-called asanas.
What to Expect: Prepare for a gentle routine that often includes Sun Salutations, balancing poses, forward bends, and back bends to work the body and focus the mind. These movements all lead up to the final relaxation-the blissful savasana-at the end of class.
Try it if…
… you want an easy-going class that will challenge without overwhelming.
Origin: One of the oldest forms of yoga, Ashtanga yoga was first recorded in ancient Indian manuscripts, but brought to life by K. Pattabhi Jois, who has been teaching it since 1948. Ashtanga (which literally translates to eight-limbed yoga) is influenced by Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a yogic guideline for a meaningful life.
Philosophy: The Ashtanga technique is concerned with linking breath and movement-also known as vinyasa. The advanced practice utilizes the dristi (the gaze) and the bandhas (internal body locks), which assist in holding the challenging poses of the sequence.
What to Expect: Think of traditional Ashtanga as the zen form of yoga. You'll flow from pose to pose with your breath-no props, no music, and no self-help lecturing-staying present in the moment. You'll earn your savasana, the final relaxation pose, with plenty of arm strengthening chaturangas, inversions, and other advanced poses.
Try it if…
… you're looking for an old-school, kick-ass practice that's rooted in tradition rather than trend.
Origin: The iconic white turban-wearing Yogi Bhajan is the modern visionary who brought this ancient form of yoga to the West in 1969. Students flock to the Kundalini Research Institute in New Mexico for certification.
Philosophy: This mysterious form of yoga is focused on breathing and chanting-and less so on movement. Controlled breathing is practiced to create spiritual transformation by releasing the powerful Kundalini energy found at the base of the spine.
What to Expect: The Kundalini experience is quite different from your typical flow class. Prepare for intense breathwork that can leave the inexperienced feeling light-headed, but stick with it to enjoy a significant increase in energy and a calm of the mind by the end of practice.
Try it if…
… you're looking more than just a yoga body and want to work out your inner yogic spirit.
Origin: B.K.S Iyengar-considered the world's greatest living yoga teacher-is the creator of Iyengar yoga, which emerged in India in 1975. Yoga's popularity in the West can be attributed to Iyengar, whose technique is the most widely practiced form of Hatha yoga.
Philosophy: A precise focus on structural alignment (often with the aid of props, such as blocks and straps) is what gives Iyengar yoga a high level of integrity, and makes it the foundation of many spin-off styles of yoga.
What to Expect: Prepare to work your legs with lots of standing and balancing poses spread throughout the sequence. Teachers are very verbal, correcting misalignment and encouraging full engagement of legs and core in each pose. You'll emerge with a new strength and confidence that goes beyond the mat.
Try it if…
… you like explicit instruction. Or if you have the blues-this therapeutic practice is said to alleviate depression, anxiety, anger, and fatigue.
Origin: Judith Lasater, a PhD of Eastern-Western psychology, physical therapist, and a founder of Yoga Journal, is the authority on this relaxing, therapeutic form of yoga, which originated in the States the 1970s.
Philosophy: The goal is to combat the physical and mental effects of everyday stress and ease common ailments such as headaches, backaches, anxiety, and insomnia with the use of restful poses and deep breathing techniques.
What to Expect: Don't come prepared for a workout-these quiet classes are all about rejuvenating the body in a group "nap-time" environment. Expect to use lots of props (bolsters, blankets blocks and straps) to relax into passive poses while the teacher guides you through your body, encouraging release.
Try it if…
… you love the last ten minutes of a yoga class-savasana. The entire hour-long restorative class requires nothing but letting go.
Origin: In 1973, Choudhury Bikram brought this form of "hot yoga" to the United States, quickly attracting celebrities and hoards of devotees to create a multi-million dollar worldwide franchise.
Philosophy: More like boot camp than mediation hour, the goal of this vigorous form of yoga, according to Bikram, is simply to give organs, veins, muscles, and ligaments "everything they need for optimum health and maximized function."
What to Expect: Skip the yoga leggings and opt for shorts and a sports bra. The room is heated to 105 degrees to help you stretch deeper and release more toxins through a systematic routine of 26 set poses repeated throughout the strenuous 90-minute class.
Try it if…
… you've ever said yoga is "too easy."
Origin: This modern, intellectual style of yoga emerged from David Life and Sharon Gannon's well-known New York City studio in 1984.
Philosophy: "Unapologetically spiritual," Jivamukti was created to bring the depth of Eastern yogic philosophy to the everyday life of Westerns. Celebrating a non-violent lifestyle and the limitless potential of the individual is at the heart of this practice, which literally translates to liberation while living.
What to Expect: Enter the incense-filled studio, notice the framed photos of the rich Jivamukti guru lineage, and prepare for a fast-moving class set to a wide-range of music from the Beatles to Moby. Classes typically include Sanskrit chanting, meditation, breath work, and a spiritual theme woven throughout the 90-minute practice.
Try it if...
...you're looking to add more om to your down-dogs. Or, if you just hope to catch a glimpse of devoted students Russell Simmons,Sting, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Christy Turlington practicing next to you.
Origin: This ancient form of yoga is rooted in China, but has recently been modernized by Paul Grilley, the California-based yogi who is now synonymous with Yin yoga.
Philosophy: A slower, more introspective form of yoga, Yin focuses on deepening postures, stretching the connective tissues, and working to create greater flexibility.
What to Expect: Prepare to acquaint yourself with the hips, pelvis, and lower spine-and their level of tightness. You'll feel challenged to remain relaxed and focused in the large spaces of time you are held in the poses-sometimes up to ten minutes.
Try it If…
… you want to deepen your flexibility and target tight hamstrings, hips and back.
Baptiste Power Yoga
Origin: Inspired by the more fast-paced forms of yoga (Ashtanga, Iyengar and Bikram), bandana-wearing Baron Baptiste, a San Francisco native, created his own form yoga-loved by celebrities and professional athletes-in the early 1990s.
Philosophy: According to the founder, Baptiste Power Yoga is all about adaptation. Students are challenged to adjust to a series of Hatha-based poses that steadily, over time, build heat, transform the body, and create stronger muscles and alleviate tension.
What to Expect: No statues of Ganesha in this studio-Baptiste Power Yoga is more like your favorite gym class. Be prepared to sweat, sigh, and kick it up a notch higher than you ever thought you could.
Try it if…
… you call your yoga teacher an "instructor"-not a "guru."
Origin: Founded in 1997 by John Friend, Anusara is one of the fastest-growing forms of yoga with over 1,000 certified teachers and hundreds of thousands of devoted students around the world-inspiring Friend's nickname, the "Yoga Mogul."
Philosophy: Anusara focuses heavily on alignment-and what Friend calls the energy loops, which help students connect with their bodies and fine-tune their form. Strongly rooted in positive thinking and spirituality, Friend considered heart-centered Anusara to be the "yoga of yes."
What to Expect: Students leave feeling warm and fuzzy with a heat-producing exercise and uplifting mini-sermons of Anusara classes. Expect to practice with lots of Lululemon-wearing, Starbucks-sipping students enjoying motivational tidbits and attention to alignment in their every asana.
Try it if…
… you long to "find yourself" like Julia Roberts did in Eat, Pray, Love. The leader of the Ganeshpuri ashram depicted in the blockbuster movie is Friend's former guru.