Pick Your Yoga Practice: Strenuous, Serene and Everything In-between

Yoga’s wide-array of health benefits are backed by science — it can relieve stress, promote relaxation, elevate self-esteem, improve cardiovascular health and alleviate back pain.

But while yoga’s appeal is obvious, staring down a yoga class schedule with words like “Ashtanga” to “Kundalini” for the first time can be intimidating. So, how can you decide which type of yoga is right for you?

To help you choose, below is a breakdown of the core characteristics associated with today’s most popular types of yoga.

Vinyasa Yoga

Difficulty Level: Hard

Women performing Vinyasa yoga pose
Vinyasa yoga is all about fluid, sequenced motions that can be performed in one breath. Most classes involve a smooth beginning and then transition from one pose to another in coordination with your breath, which becomes more challenging as the pace picks up. It concludes with some slower movements and a rest (a.k.a. “savasana”) at the end of class.

For those looking for a challenge, Vinyasa yoga can be physically demanding with various poses that require dynamic movements and bodyweight resistance. Some teachers will even mix additional strength-building moves, like crunches, into their classes.

Vinyasa classes are commonly featured on class schedules at studios and gyms worldwide. If you’ve taken a yoga class but don’t remember what type, chances are it was probably Vinyasa.

Ashtanga Yoga

Difficulty Level: Hard

Women performing Ashtanga yoga pose
In the world of yoga, Ashtanga is the OG. Developed and popularized by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, an Indian yoga teacher and Sanskrit scholar, it’s known to be one of the longest-practiced forms of yoga, and the first brought out West.

A typical Ashtanga yoga class consists of a challenging blend of flows and isometric holds designed to help alleviate lower back pain, improve circulation and calm the mind.[1][2][3]

Ashtanga yoga classes typically begin with sun salutations, then move into a sequence of standing and floor poses. The benefit of returning to the same posture sequence is that you can feel your body change and progress over time.

While it’s not necessarily recommended for beginners due to it’s challenging nature, Ashtanga could be a good fit for someone looking for a highly structured, athletic practice without anything too unorthodox.

Iyengar Yoga

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Women performing Iyengar yoga pose
K. S. Iyengar, one of the world’s foremost yoga teachers, developed Iyengar yoga in the 1970s. It emphasizes breath control, precise movements and proper anatomical alignment. Postures are held for long periods as you make minor adjustments until you achieve picture-perfect alignment. Blocks, straps, bolsters, chairs or even rope walls are commonly used, allowing you to safely get deeper into postures so every detail can be identified and addressed.

Iyengar yoga helps give you a deeper awareness of your body and its movements while also building strength, stability and flexibility. It’s a slower yoga practice that also has been shown to offer therapeutic benefits. For that reason, it’s an ideal fit for anyone who is injury-prone or looking to improve their body mechanics and posture.

Yin Yoga

Difficulty Level: Easy

Women laying in Yin yoga pose
Yin yoga was founded in the 1970s by Paulie Zink, a martial arts champion who saw it as an ideal complement to combat sports training.

Yin yoga is a passive practice that consists of seated and supine poses. Its primary focus is on areas of the body rich in connective tissue, such as the pelvis, hips, lower back and thighs. Each pose is held for 5 to 7 minutes for maximum zen. It’s safe for all ages and skill levels and is easily adaptable for those with injury limitations.

Kundalini Yoga

Difficulty Level: Easy

Kundalini yoga student breathing deeply
Kundalini yoga is for those looking to tap into their spiritual side. It’s about awakening and releasing energy through quick repetitive movements, meditation, breathwork and chanting.

Kundalini classes typically start with an opening chant, a spine warmup, a kriya (a specific series of poses paired with breathwork and chanting) and a closing meditation. Kundalini classes place an increased emphasis on the spiritual side of yoga. While its physical benefits aren’t as pronounced as some other practices, it promotes positive energy, spirituality, compassion and community.

For anyone seeking spiritual enlightenment with a sprinkle of physical fitness benefits, Kundalini may be the style of yoga for you.

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With so many different yoga practices to choose from, the physical and spiritual benefits are seemingly endless. Sometimes you may want the challenges of a heavy Vinyasa flow, while other times, you may want to meditate in silence. But no matter your mood, there’s always a class to match it.

Sources:

[1] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
[3] https://link.springer.com

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written by

Emma Cunningham

Emma Cunningham

Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist

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