You might have a solid strength and cardio program, you might pay attention to your diet and eat clean, but do you take time to work on your mobility or balance?
Mobility (flexibility) training and balance are important aspects of fitness that are often under-appreciated and neglected. As we age, we lose both flexibility and balance.1 Improving your mobility can have significant benefits for your posture, lifting form, and strength, all while reducing injuries.
One of the best ways to improve your mobility, core strength, and balance is Yoga.2 Because there are a number of different types of yoga, it helps to know a little bit about each before deciding what type of yoga 3 works best for you and your training program.
Types of Yoga #1 – Hatha Yoga
In Sanskrit, “Hatha” means force. It describes the physical practice of yoga, so all other types of yoga fall under the category of Hatha.4
If you see Hatha Yoga on a class schedule, it means you’ll find a slower-paced class with little-to-no “flow” between poses. It’s a gentle class that’s perfect for beginners or the after-work yogi looking to wind-down. Here, you’ll learn basic postures, breath work, relaxation techniques, and meditation.
Types of Yoga #2 – Vinyasa
This style of yoga links movement with the breath, creating flowing postures that smoothly transition from one to the next. In Sanskrit, the word “vinyasa” means “connection.” Each movement connects with either an inhale or an exhale. You can expect to move through a few sun salutations, warrior poses, balancing poses, back bends, and seated stretches. Each class ends in savasana, which is the final relaxation pose.
There is no strict format or sequence of poses in a vinyasa class, allowing for more creativity on the part of the teacher. Some classes are more spiritual, incorporating breath work, chanting and meditation, while others are more athletically-oriented. It depends on the instructor, so if one class doesn’t suit you, try a different instructor.
Depending on the level, Vinyasa yoga can be gentle or rigorous. If you’re a beginner, look for a gentle flow or a level 1 class. Learn the basics before moving on to more advanced classes (level 2 or higher).
Types of Yoga #3 – Iyengar
Iyengar is an alignment-based style of yoga. These classes don’t flow like vinyasa classes. Poses are held longer, as you breath into a pose to find more expansion. Instructors use of a variety of props, such as blocks, straps, and blankets, to make sure you find the correct posture in each pose. Iyengar is a great style of yoga for individuals who appreciate detailed instruction, or for those with injuries and who need a class that can accommodate their limitations. Practicing Iyengar will help build strength, mobility, and stability.5
Types of Yoga #4 – Bikram
Bikram yoga is best known for hot rooms and sweat dripping postures. This style of vinyasa yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhury and is comprised of 26 postures performed in strict sequential order. Bikram chose these specific postures because he believes they systematically challenge the entire body—the organs, veins, ligaments, and muscles.67
Types of Yoga #5 – Ashtanga (aka Power Yoga)
Developed by K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga yoga is considered a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. It’s also known as “Power” yoga. Like vinyasa, movement and breath are linked. However, in Ashtanga, the movements are predefined. You move through four phases—an opening phase, one of six “series”, backbending, and inversions. There is an element of progression in Ashtanga: if you’re a beginner to the practice, you’ll start with the Primary series. When you’ve mastered that series, you will graduate to a more difficult series and so on. Advancing through the poses can take years or decades; however, the focus of the practice is not on advancement to more difficult levels, rather, it is to maintain internal focus.8
If you enjoy a more structured, powerful practice that focuses on mastery of poses and progression to more advanced levels, this could be a great style of yoga for you.
Types of Yoga #6 – Jivamukti
More than just a movement practice, Sharon Gannon and David Life developed the practice as a lifestyle. It is a physical, spiritual, and ethical practice that emphasizes animal rights, environmentalism, and veganism. There are five central tenets to the Jivamukti: shastra (scripture), bhakti (devotion), ahimsa (non-harming), nada (music), and dhyana (meditation).9
A typical class starts with a life lesson or intention, chanting, and breath awareness. It moves on to flowing vinyasa sequences and ends with relaxation & meditation. If you’re looking for a style of yoga that offers spiritual and meditative elements as well as physical benefits, Jivamukti could be perfect.
Types of Yoga #7 – Kundalini
Grounded in the Chakra system, Kundalini focuses on the breath (pranayama) and core work. Kundalini strives to develop the mind, awareness, and consciousness. Each pose is associated with a different breathing technique that is believed to intensify the effects of the posture.10
Kundalini is much more spiritual and meditative than other styles of yoga. It emphasizes breathing, chanting, meditation, and hand gestures (mudras). Although this class often involves more sitting than other styles, it is still physically demanding. This class offer both physical and mental challenges, as well as spiritual and meditative elements.
Types of Yoga #8 – Yin (aka Restorative)
This is a slow-paced style of yoga developed by Paulie Zink, a martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher. Here, the poses are held for longer periods of time, about 5 minutes per pose. Holding a pose for this length of time is believed to put stress on the connective tissue, enhancing circulation and increasing flexibility. This style is believed to improve the flow of qi (life energy) and was created to complement more rigorous forms of activity.11
As this practice is slower-paced, it makes use of a lot of props and is usually performed in a room heated to 80-90F. The heat enables the muscles to expand, becoming more elastic, which is important when holding poses for 3-5 minutes. Holding poses for longer periods of time challenges patience and the mind, bringing attention to the breath in a meditative way.
You won’t find much flowing movement here, so Yin is great for individuals interested in a deeper stretch and a more relaxing class.
I hope this overview of the principles & basic practice of these different types of yoga help you decide which is the best for you to practice, or for those who practice certain types already, it inspires you to give a few more a try.