styles of yoga

It is interesting to see many different ways that yoga is being practiced. With instructors trained from various lineages, and multitude of classes to choose from, it can be confusing.

When you see the class listings you ask a friend who has been taking the class: if the instructor is holding poses longer or is creating a pose sequence that moves in a vinyasa flow. You may be wondering if the poses are going to challenge you and make you sweat or if the poses are going to be gentle based on who the instructor is – even though the class is listed as intermediate.

Essentially you are directly enquring about the way in which asanas, postures are taught. You are not enquring if the instructor is teaching yoga philosophy in the classroom so that you, the student can take the practice off the mat and into your daily life. Is it then safe to assume that the majority of yoga practitioners are equating style solely to the way asanas are taught?

Most popular styles of yoga are listed below.

Classical Ashtanga Or Classical Yoga 

  • Original form of Yoga that focuses on both inner (Antaranga) and outer (Bahiranga) practices for the body, mind and spirit.
  • Follows the 8 Fold Path – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dhaarna, Dhyana, Samadhi as described in the Yoga Sutras by Pathanjali;  
  • Also referred to as Raja Yoga (used interchangeably as type and style), Classical Yoga or Original Ashtanga (8-Fold) Yoga 


  • Popularized by Swami Vivekananda as Raja yoga, and by Swami Niranjananda Saraswati of Bihar school of Yoga, Munger, India
  • However, Shri Yogendraji (1897-1989) was responsible for simplifying Classical Ashtanga Yoga and bringing yoga to the common householder and pioneering yoga therapy (Chikitsa).
  • He founded The Yoga Institute in 1918 at the residence of Dadabhai Naorji at Versova beach, Mumbai; current location-Santa Cruz, Mumbai since 1948.
  • A sister facility, Yogalife Institute is located in Devon PA, run by Dr. Robert Butera.


  • Popular method of Hata yoga involving synchronization of the breath (pranayama) with a progressive series of asanas and bandas, yogic locks—a process producing intense internal heat and sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs.
  • Also referred to as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and frequently Power or Vigorous yoga.
  • Taught as: Primary Series, Intermediate Series and Advanced Series – in a vinyasa flow style.


  • Taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), in Mysore, India.
  • Pattabhi Jois began yoga at the age of 12, was a student of T.Krishnamacharya, a renowned yoga master.
  • Established an Ashtanga Yoga Institute, Mysore in 1948.


  • Form of Hata Yoga – emphasis on detail, precision and alignment of asana
  • Makes use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas. The props enable students to perform the poses correctly, minimizing the risk of injury, making the postures accessible to both young and old.
  • Based on the traditional Eight Limbs of Yoga by Pathanjali in the Yoga Sutras


  • Founder: B.K.S Iyengar (1918-2014)
  • Established Iyengar Yoga in Pune, India
  • Was invited to the US in 1956, gained popularity after the publication of the book, Light on Yoga


  • Form of Hata Yoga that focuses on standard yoga poses, breath-work, meditation, “development of a quiet mind”, and relaxation
  • Also follow the YogaSutra text for their philosophical study


  • Amrit Desai, a native of Halol, India, met his guru Swami Kripalvananda (1913-1981), after whom the Kripalu style is named.
  • In 1965, Amrit Desai, founded the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania, later in 1972 made it official by naming it Kripalu, after his guru.
  • The current Kripalu ashram is in Stockbridge MA – acquired in 1983.


  • Viniyoga (not Vinyasa = sequencing) is about adaptation.
  • Viniyoga teachers are highly trained and tend to be experts in anatomy and yoga therapy (chikitsa)


  • Viniyoga is the legacy of the great guru T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), Mysore, India), whose prominent students include Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar
  • Krishnamacharya’s son T.K.V. Desikachar carries on the guru’s legacy as the world’s foremost Viniyoga authority.
  • Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, is the most prominent American proponent of Desikachar’s method.


  • Integral Yoga vision is  “…a flexible combination of specific methods to develop every aspect of the individual: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. It is a scientific system which integrates the various branches of Yoga in order to bring about a complete and harmonious development of the individual.”


  • Founder – Swami Satchitananda (1914-2002), disciple of Swami Shivananda (1887-1963) of Rishikesh, India
  • Swami Satchidananda gained attention as the opening speaker at the Woodstock music and arts festival in 1969
  • He was the founder of the Integral Yoga Institute and Ashram in Yogaville in VA.
  • In 1986 opened the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) at Yogaville Ashram in Buckingham, VA.


  • Sivananda Yoga, follows the teachings of Swami Sivananda, is a form of Hata yoga in which the training focuses on preserving the health and wellness.
  • Training revolves around frequent relaxation and emphasizes yogic breathing.
  • The system philosophies are summarized in 5 principles.

Five points of Yoga

  • Proper exercise: Asanas
  • Proper breathing: Pranayama
  • Proper relaxation: Shavasana
  • Proper diet: Vegetarian. A yogic diet is encouraged, promoting sattvic, pure diet, limiting rajasic, activating and tamasic, dull foods
  • Positive Philosophy and Meditation: Darshana and Dhyana


  • Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati (December 31, 1927 — November 9, 1993) was the founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers
  • A disciple of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India
  • He established the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Course, one of the first yoga teacher training programs in the West.


  • Hata Yoga class – 90 minutes
  • Consist of the same series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises
  • Practiced in a room heated to 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) with a humidity of 40%
  • Certain health safety concerns have been documented.


  • Bikram Choudhury synthesized the practices from traditional Hata yoga techniques and popularized it in the early 1970s.


  • Sahaja Yoga is a style of meditation. It is the state of self-realization produced by Kundalini awakening and is accompanied by the experience of thoughtless awareness or mental silence.
  • The belief is that the kundalini is born within us and can be awakened spontaneously.
  • The word ‘Sahaja‘ in Sanskrit: saha meaning ‘with’ and ja meaning ‘born’.
  • In 2000 the term ‘Sahaja Yoga‘ was trademarked in the United States by Vishwa Nirmala Dharma.


  • Nirmala Srivastava (March 21, 1923 – February 23, 2011), also known as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, was the founder of Sahaja Yoga.
  • She claimed to have been born in a fully realized state and spent her life working for peace by developing and promoting a simple meditation technique which for self-realization.
  • Shri Mataji never charged for her instruction in Sahaja Yoga.
  • Still taught for free in over 140 countries.


  • Form of Hata Yoga, sub-form of Iyengar Yoga
  • Anusara Yoga emphasizes a set of Universal Principles of Alignment which underlie all of the asanas and also connects to philosophical aspects of the practice.


  • Started by American yoga teacher, John Friend in 1997.
  • Friend derived his style from the Iyengar style of yoga and reintroduced elements of Hindu spirituality creating a wholesome approach to yoga.


No one style is wrong or superior to another. While choices are a wonderful, there is wisdom in sticking with one style of yoga that resonates with you in order to go deeper into the practice.

Teacher training programs allude to yoga philosophy and the 8-fold path – some more  – while others may skim the surface. It is left to us to delve deeper and apply the philosophy: first in our own practice and then in our teaching.

When we actually ‘find’ our teacher our evolution is both physical and spiritual. With spiritual evolution, it’s no longer about finding the style that is ‘right’ or ‘better’. It is simply that in finding our guide we’ve also discovered the style that resonates with our ‘true’selves.

The novelty of each class then is in the unfolding of the inner self – which is not solely dependent on the asana flow led by the outer teacher. Slowly, we become willing to observe our practice morph over time while we still occasionally take different classes. Our practice will become our own as we become diciplined in our personal yoga.


2 thoughts on “styles of yoga

  1. Amma

    Sounds complicated to an ordinary person like me. But very informative. I am glad you have collected so much information and presented it in a very organisd way,which is useful to lots of people, Keep it up!


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