Yoga Basics, Part 6: Styles of Yoga

There are many styles of yoga, some more modern than others, and some which are combinations or derivatives of more traditional styles.

For our purposes here, we will describe the five main styles you are likely to encounter in a yoga studio near you!

This way, when you sign up for a class, you will have a better idea of what to expect and if it’s for you! 😊

1. Hatha Yoga

Hatha is referred to as “physical-based” yoga because it is more grounded in physical practice (as opposed to other types of yoga that are grounded in more abstract concepts such as spirituality, self-discipline, or even energizing techniques).

It is also a more generalized style of yoga which makes it great for beginners:

  • Provides an introduction to the most basic asanas (yoga postures, or poses)
  • Practised at a slower pace
  • Provides some focus on meditation, breathwork, and relaxation

 In fact, most Western classes are hatha-based.

Milton physio showing tree pose as part of classic hatha yoga practice for an educational blog
Tree Pose is one of the classic Hatha poses

Therefore, best for beginners and those who prefer a more relaxing practice!

2. Vinyasa Yoga

Translated from Sanskrit, Vinyasa means “to place in a special way”, as in the arrangement of steps, or the flow from one asana to the next. This flow sequence is coordinated by the breath, from an inhale to an exhale.

Vinyasa Flow practice is more intensive than Hatha:

  • More challenging poses, focusing on strengthening all parts of the body
  • Poses and sequences are variable, depending on the creativity of the teacher
  • Classes can have different themes, and so, no Vinyasa class is the same!
Burlington Physio demonstrating a step by step vinyasa chaturanga flow sequence for an educational blogpost on different styles of yoga
A typical Vinyasa Flow from Chaturanga to Down Dog

Therefore, great for those seeking a challenge, faster-pace, more variability, and wish to focus on strength!

3. Bikram Yoga

Developed by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, Bikram Yoga is a very specific practice that takes its poses from traditional hatha techniques:

  • Always 90 minute sessions
  • Always the same sequence of 26 poses
  • Always two breathing exercises
  • In a heated room of about 40C (or 105F)
  • In a carpeted room, with mirrors, and brighter lights

Bikram Yoga is meant to be more intensive:

  • Focuses on strength, flexibility, and aerobic practice
  • Does not usually adjust for the practitioner
Mississauga physio showing an eagle yoga pose, typically practised in hot yoga, and always part of bikram yoga, in an educational blog
Eagle Pose, one of the 26 asanas in Bikram Yoga

So, are Bikram and Hot Yoga the same thing?

Short answer, not quite.

Hot Yoga, is a derivative of Bikram Yoga, and as the name implies, it is also practised in a heated room:

  • Poses and sequences vary from the original Bikram Yoga to avoid trademark disputes and the controversies surrounding the founder
  • In a heated room of about 26-37C (or 80-100F)
  • Often in a dim, candlelit room with music playing
  • Adjusts for the practitioner’s needs

The heated room has several benefits:

  • Sweating a lot more, which is suggested to be good for both detoxification and calorie loss
  • Increased heart rate increases the aerobic challenge
  • The warmth loosens up the muscles and tissues, and is more comfortable for joint pain
stock photo of thermometer showing nearly 40 degrees Celsius, indicating how how hot yoga typically is
Hot Yoga is usually practised at above 30C

For either one, make sure you bring water and a towel!!!

Therefore, best for those who like the heat and prefer to break a sweat during their workout!

4. Restorative Yoga

Introduced in Part 5 of our Yoga Basics Series, Restorative Yoga as the name suggests, is meant to restore or rejuvenate:

  • Focuses on winding down after a long day, relaxing the mind, and calming the nervous system
  • Minimal number of poses during a class, usually 5-6
  • Poses can be modified to be easier and more relaxing
  • Supports such as blankets, bolsters, and yoga blocks are used so you can relax further
  • Resting in each position comfortably for approximately 5-10 minutes
  • No yoga experience needed
burlington physio showing a supported child's pose in an educational blog about restorative yoga
Supported Child’s Pose in Restorative Yoga

Therefore, great for anyone who is looking to reduce anxiety and improve their sleep quality, or for anyone recovering from an injury or illness!

5. Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga was established in the late 1980s, based on the ancient Taoist concepts of “yin” and “yang”. The idea being that we often need to complement the Yang in our lives with a bit more Yin.

Yang represents more the masculine, active, fast-paced, and energetic aspects of our lives. On the other hand, Yin represents more feminine, passive, slow-paced, and calm energy.

There is a misconception that Yin and Restorative Yoga are the same thing. While both:

  • focus on passive positions (rather than the “Yang” poses of the more active Yoga styles)
  • are slow-paced
  • appropriate for any level of experience
  • calm the mind and nervous system
  • cultivate an aspect of meditation by increasing inner awareness and focusing on the breath

Yin Yoga specifically:

  • Works to release the deep connective tissues with challenging and slightly uncomfortable prolonged stretch positions (whereas Restorative poses are entirely about comfort and relaxation)
  • Increases and maintains flexibility by helping release the fascia
  • Lubricates the joints by improving circulation
  • The poses work into the meridians (or energy flows) of the body as per traditional Chinese Medicine
  • May or may not use supports during class, depending on the teacher
Oakville physio demonstrating a butterfly pose stretch in yin yoga for an educational blog
Butterfly Pose in Yin Yoga

Therefore, great for anyone looking to improve flexibility, or balance out an already strong Yang practice, such as Vinyasa!

Bonus: Prenatal Yoga

Prenatal Yoga is adapted for pregnancy to avoid poses that would otherwise stress the joints. As long as your doctor has cleared you for physical activity during pregnancy, Prenatal Yoga is a great activity for expectant moms:

  • Usually focuses on pelvic floor and breathing exercises, meant to prepare for labour and delivery
  • Uses props (e.g. bolsters, blankets, wedges, yoga blocks)
  • The focus is more on stability rather than flexibility, as pregnancy hormones already loosen your ligaments, which can sometimes lead to joint pain
  • Gentle and relaxing, it may also help lower your blood pressure and stress, as well as help stabilize emotional ups and downs  

Ask your yoga teacher for modifications as you go through the changes of the different trimesters and your center of gravity continues to shift.

For example, you may need to take more breaks as you feel more tired during the first trimester. Focusing on Cat-Cow rather than Downward Facing Dog may be helpful when experiencing morning sickness.

As you get your energy back in the second trimester, it might be best to focus on strengthening.

Relaxation and breathing techniques might be more beneficial as you near the end of your pregnancy.

Pregnant woman on an exercise ball, prenatal exercise and therapy

If you are struggling with your Yoga practice, or recovering from an injury that is affecting your ability to engage in Yoga, we offer one-on-one Therapeutic Yoga sessions! Contact us for more information to find out how both our Physiotherapists and/or our Yoga Therapist can help!