For many people, the word “yoga” may look like a few stretches and breathing exercises. Once you’ve become a seasoned yoga practitioner, you begin to understand that yoga is SO MUCH MORE. Yoga can become a lifestyle and a spiritual practice. What I love most about practicing yoga through a regular practice you can develop skills and the ability to stop the mind chatter and just be.

Praised for its many benefits on the mind and body, millions of people from around the world practice yoga to promote overall wellness and inner peace. If you’re new to the practice, finding a style of yoga that fits you may be confusing, especially when you can’t easily discern the differences between the disciplines.

We’ve created a list to familiarize you with 17 major yoga disciplines being taught and practiced today in modern America and around the world. While it does not cover all the different types of yoga out there, this guide will provide a quick overview on the disciplines that are offered at most yoga studios.

Yoga Discipline #1: Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is a broad term for any style of yoga where physical postures are incorporated. “Ha-” meaning sun in Sanskirt and “-tha” meaning moon equals a balanced practice when movement and surrender are combined into one single class. Almost every type of yoga taught in the West is a form of Hatha. A typical Hatha class typically means that there will be a gentle approach to performing basic yoga postures while focusing on breath. While you might not break a serious sweat in a class labeled “Hatha Yoga,” you will stretch and elongate your physical body while establishing a sense of peace and relaxation. Hatha yoga is great for beginner level practitioners as it focuses on the basics of yoga and is slower paced.

Yoga Discipline #2: Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa is a general term that is used to describe many different types of classes. Vinyasa is the Sanskrit word for “flow,” and is known for fluid movements that build up intensity. Vinyasa flows smoothly from pose to pose, creating a dance-like rhythm. The intensity of the class is similar to that of Ashtanga, except there is a level of creativity in Vinyasa classes, as no two flows are ever the same. Vinyasa tends to be a more vigorous style of yoga, with focus on breath synchronized movement, moving from one pose to the next on an inhale or an exhale. This technique is sometimes called Vinyasa Flow or just Flow, because of the smooth way that the poses connect together in a continuous fashion. Vinyasa yoga is appealing to those looking to develop a stronger mind-body connection and grow in strength and flexibility through fluid and creative movement.

May also be referred to as Vinyasa Flow or Flow Yoga.

Yoga Discipline #3: Iyengar Yoga

Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, this practice focuses on the precision of alignment in each pose, strength and flexibility. A variety of yoga props (including yoga blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, walls and bolsters) are all common in Iyengar classes to ensure the student’s form is correct. This style of yoga is fairly passive, but it provides a different type of physical and mental challenge, since you are required to hold poses for longer periods of time. Iyengar is great for people wanting to learn the basics of yoga and who have recently suffered an injury. The practice is gentle and alignment based.

Yoga Discipline #4: Ashtanga Yoga

The interpretation/translation of the Sanskrit term ashtangas eight limbs. This is in direct reference to the eight limbs of yoga, explained in the philosophy of Patanjali. Ashtanga Yoga was developed by Krishnamacharya and furthered by his student Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

Based on ancient yoga teachings, this practice was brought to the West in the 1970’s. The Ashtanga style of yoga involves a rigorous sequence of specific postures that links breath with movement. The system is based on six series of asanas, and within each series, the same poses are always performed in the same order. Ashtanga Yoga can be physically demanding as the practice focuses on constant movement from one pose to the next.

Ashtanga yoga may also be referred to as Power Yoga and the independent practice of ashtanga is Mysore style where you flow independently of others at your own pace.

Yoga Discipline #5: Anusara Yoga

Anusara Yoga was founded by John Friend in 1997 and is derived from Tantra yoga. The practice is based on the idea that through innate goodness, students seek to open their hearts through the physical and mental practice. The term Anusara means “flowing with Grace, flowing with Nature and following your heart.” The practitioner practices to awaken their true nature through an open-minded attitude, emphasis on alignment and body awareness, and perform each pose with an artistic expression of the heart, where muscular stability is balanced with inner freedom. This practice is great for those who are new to yoga and are looking for a relaxed, cheerful and upbeat vibe to get comfortable with yoga. Classes are light-hearted and accessible to students of differing abilities. Anusara yoga may also be referred to as Heart Yoga and Open Heart Yoga.

Want to try this style? Seattle Studios offering this practice are: Seattle Yoga Arts

Yoga Discipline #6: Power Yoga

Bender Birch developed this technique in 1995. Power Yoga set out to give the Western world a new spin on traditional Ashtanga Yoga by utilizing the challenging aspect of creating heat and energy through a rigorous movement that incorporates strength and flexibility using intense flowing sequences. Studios’ approaches to Power Yoga differ across the country, so it’s important to ask about the specifics before jumping onto the mat. Popular Power Yoga teacher includes Baron Baptiste who created Baptiste Yoga. Practice Power Yoga if you are looking to increase metabolism and burn fat.

Yoga Discipline #7: Hot26/Bikram Yoga

Developed by Bikram Choudhury in the early 1670s, this style of yoga involves a 26 Hatha posture series that is practiced in 105 degree Fahrenheit heat in which Bikram states, is meant to mimic the climate of India. The artificially heated room allows toxins to be released, promotes more flexibility, and prevention of injuries. This style of yoga became so popular that certain studios have taken the practice and modified it, typically deviating from Bikram’s sequence in one small way or another. You’ll often find these classes called “Hot Yoga” instead of “Bikram” because of this. Bring a towel and water to this practice because you’ll be soaked afterwards.

Yoga Discipline #8: Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga is the opposite of all the aforementioned vigorous yoga styles. It’s about relaxing and soothing mind and body in restful still positions. The focus of the practice is to restore the central nervous system and the internal systems of the body. Bolsters, blankets, blocks and other props are incorporated to help students passively approach poses and provide the body with ease as opposed to additional effort. Restorative Yoga is a soothing and nurturing practice that promotes the effects of conscious relaxation. It can also be referred to as gentle yoga. You are looking to calm down and relieve tension from sitting at your desk or being on your feet all day while increasing flexibility by holding poses for several minutes at a time.

Yoga Discipline #9: Kundalini Yoga

The interpretation/translation of the Sanskrit term kundalini means that which is coiled in reference to energy coiled at the bottom of the spine which can be released through Kundalini practice. The practice concentrates on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward through the seven chakras. In addition to postures, a typical class will also include chanting, meditation, and dynamic breathing exercises. Kundalini Yoga uses rapid, repetitive movements rather than holding poses for a long time. The teacher will often lead the class in call and response chanting. Yogi Bhajan brought Kundalini Yoga to the West in 1969. Teachers and practitioners are encouraged to wear white in class. Oftentimes you will see someone wearing a white turban in class. “We ask you to wear white so that you will reflect what is outside and go within yourself – that’s what white clothes can do for you,” advises Yogi Bhajan. The practice is very popular in Los Angeles and New York City.

Yoga Discipline #10: Ananda Yoga

In the 1960’s, Swami Kriyananda created Ananda as style of yoga after returning to California following a grueling yoga training from Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi). In Ananda Yoga, a key component of the practice is the use of affirmations while holding a pose. Specific energization exercises are also used to increase the flow of life-force to strengthen the body. In a class, instructors guide their students through a series of gentle Hatha poses with a focus on proper alignment, ease through transitions, and breathing exercises. With the idea of self-awareness in mind, this style of yoga seeks to move energy upward to the brain, preparing the body for meditation.

Yoga Discipline #11: Forrest Yoga

Forrest Yoga is a modern yoga style based on Hatha yoga. In 1982 it was created by and named after Ana T. Forrest, an American yogini. The practice is founded on four pillars: Breath, Strength, Integrity and Spirit that serve to guide the student toward transforming the intensely physical and internally-focused practice off the mat and into daily life. In this practice, the practitioner would hold postures for a long time, emphasize core work and a standing series could go for as long as 20 poses on each side. Ana modified poses and created new ones to address today’s physical ailments.

Yoga Discipline #12: Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a gentle, therapeutic style of yoga that is focused on the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Since the connective tissue respond best to gentle stress over a long period of time, Yin postures are held for longer periods.

Founded in the 1970’s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher Master Paulie Zink, Yin Yoga has generated popularity as a great complement to other forms of yoga, allowing you to advance your asana practice by slowing down and getting deep into postures to increase flexibility and mobility.

Based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature, yin is unmoving, whereas yang is constantly changing. Yin Yoga concentrates on the relatively stiff connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia), while yang targets the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood. You are looking to balance out all that yang and supplement your physical practice by slowing down, taking a breath, stretching and recharging.

Yoga Discipline #13: Kripalu Yoga

Kripalu Yoga involves inner focus, meditation, standard yoga poses, breathwork, relaxation and an emphasis on developing a quiet mind. The practice was founded by Amrit Desai in the 1980’s, who named it after his teacher in India, Sri Kripalvananda. Kripalu practices “following the flow” of prana, compassionate self-acceptance, observing the mind without placing judgement, and allowing the inner teachings to transfer into daily life.

The practice focuses on “press points” that are attuned to your body and allow you to, over time, get into and express yourself in poses that best suit your body as opposed to abiding by proper alignment. You prefer a gentle physical practice that allows you to explore your body and discover what it needs to thrive while also harmonizing your mind and spirit with the body.

Yoga Discipline #14: Pre-natal/Post-natal Yoga

Pre-natal Yoga is specifically for expecting mothers. Pre-natal Yoga helps mothers prepare for the birthing process by teaching techniques to help keep stress levels down, postures to help relieve physical pains associated with pregnancy, and how to become more aware of your baby and all the changes that happen in the body and mind when pregnant. Post-natal yoga is great for mothers who have healing. The teacher will go through techniques to help ease pain while allowing the mother to continue being active during the healing process. This style of yoga will vary depending on the teacher’s experience and training.

Bonding with other expecting yoga mothers can also provide a support group for women going through a similar experience.

Yoga Discipline #15: Jivamukti Yoga

Jivamukti Yoga can be a physically vigorous style of yoga; however along with asana (physical poses) emphasis is also placed on the educational aspect of the practice through the study of yogic philosophies.
Jivamukti means “liberation while living” and is derived from the Sanskrit term “Jivanmuktih” which means a “state of enlightenment or God realization.” Jivamukti is a physical, ethical, and spiritual practice, combining a vigorous hatha yoga, vinyasa-based physical style with adherence to five central tenets: shastra (scripture), bhakti (devotion), ahimsa (nonviolence, non-harming), nāda (music), and dhyana (meditation). Jivamukti was created by David Life and and Sharon Gannon.

Yoga Discipline #16: Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is an ancient form of meditation that is focused on reaching the deepest levels of relaxation while still remaining fully aware. Yoga Nidra is Sanskirt for “yogic sleep,” and is a five-stage process that involves relaxing the body and mind, beginning with a body scan to engage your physicality and setting a positive intention to provide purpose for the session. Yoga Nidra involves meditation on the breath, the balancing of emotional states, visualization, and self-healing. During the practice, awareness shifts through the entire body as we move through different stages of consciousness: the waking state, dream state and deep, dreamless sleep. Oftentimes the room may be dimly lit or dark with a few candles lighting the room to promote relaxation and calmness of the mind.

Yoga Discipline #17: Partner Yoga

Partner Yoga is practiced with a partner, and focuses on integrating your practice through physical contact. Partner Yoga can help develop your communication skills, your ability to be honest, and your capacity to observe and understand body language. Some forms of partner yoga include Acro-yoga, yoga for fertility and couples yoga. This style of yoga will also vary depending on the teacher’s experience and training.

There are a variety of yoga disciplines to choose from, and all provide the practitioner with mind/body wellness. Choosing which one is right for you truly depends on the goals you have in mind. Sometimes, it requires trying out several different styles of yoga to find the discipline that most resonates with you.