Brief Guide to Yoga Styles

What is Yoga?

The term Yoga comes from the sanskrit work "YUJ" which means to bind, join, or unite. YUJ also means Yoke which provides a structure for binding, joining, or creating union. Yoga therefore can take on many forms such as Bhakti yoga or the yoga of devotion. Karma yoga the yoga of right action and service. Or Jnana Yoga the yoga of mental discipline as taught by J. Krishnamurti.The form of yoga that is most well-known in the west is Hatha Yoga which is the yoga that utilizes postures or asanas as its primary vehicle. Generally speaking, the term Hatha is the combination of two sanskrit words: Ha which means Sun and Tha which means Moon. Sun and Moon representing the polar energies of the cosmos as embodied in physical manifestation. Any form of yoga that utilizes posture (asana) as its primary vehicle is a form of HATHA Yoga. What follows is a listing of some of the more popular forms of hatha yoga.

Which style is right for you?

Mara Carrico offers these suggestions in your search for a class or teacher:

  1. Consider your own needs and limitations as you go through the selection process.
  2. Consider your present physical condition and think about what you want to get out of the class.
  3. Ask the teacher about his or her training and credentials. Teacher training varies widely in depth and scope.
  4. Let the teacher know what your're looking for and get advice on which classes you should take.
  5. Take classes in differnet styles until you find one that appeals to you most.
  6. After taking a class, note your reponse; Did you have a rapport with the teacher? How did you feel before and after class? Was the intensity of the class about right?
  7. A class should leave you feeling invigorated, calm, and satisfied--not stressed, agitated, or in physical discomfort.
  8. Once you find a method that works for you, stick with it.

Some Popular Styles of Yoga

Iyengar Style Yoga/ B.K.S. Iyengar

Probably the most widely recorgnized style of hatha yoga in the Western world is Iyengar-style yoga. Characterized by its emphasis on alignment and movement dynamics, teachers of Iyengar style yoga pay particular attention to placement of the feet, hands, and pelvis as well as the alignment of the spine arms and legs. Because of the precise nature of Iyengar style yoga, the pace of a class generally tends to be slow to moderate in speed, but can be very "effortful" in energy. Generally speaking, standing postures are emphasized first to strengthen the student then sitting poses. Various forms of breathing are not emphasized (pranayama) until the student is fairly advanced. Many of the top Iyengar teachers are skilled in yoga therapy.

Ashtanga Yoga / K. Pattabhi Jois

Classic Ashtanga (ashtanga means eight (ash) limbs (tanga)) is probably the most physically demanding form of hatha yoga. Originally based on six series of asanas (vinyasanas), each seriers emphasizing a particular apect of asana practice, even the beginning series could reduce a world-class athtete to tears. The key component of an ashtanga practice is how one posture is connected to the one preceding it and the one following it. Ashtanga places equal emphasis on strength, flexibility and stamina. Ashtanga yoga has become very popular with many celebraties and many modified forms of Ashtanga have been introduced, such as Power Yoga and YogaFit. These modified forms are not as strenuous and in some cases de-emphasize the classic yogic tenets in favor of fitness.

Anusara Yoga / John Friend

Anusara Yoga (following your heart, flowing with grace) is a uniquely integrated approach to Hatha Yoga developed by master yogi John Friend. It embraces the art of the human spirit and powerfully blends this with the science of biomechanics. Anusara Yoga is an exceptional yoga system that integrates the celebration of the heart, universal principles of alignment, (energy loops and spirals) and balanced energetic action into the performance of asanas.

Ananda Marga Yoga

Ananda Marga Yoga is a complete lifestyle and social approach to yoga and meditation, including asanas, kirtan, dance, progressive meditation lessons, philosophy, service, and social change. Developed by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, it incorporates all aspects in a gradual yet dynamic fashion, in classes individually taught or in groups. “Self-realization and service to the Universe” is our motto.

Integral Yoga

Integral Yoga is a relatively gentler style of yoga (as compared to Power yoga, Bikram yoga or Ashtanga yoga) and integrates the various components of traditional yoga - physical postures and stretching, deep relaxation, breathing techniques and meditation. During the class, each student is encouraged to practice at his/her own level of strength, flexibility and endurance. This Style of Yoga was developed by Swami Satchidananda of the Yogaville Ashram in Buckingham, VA. He was the spiritual teacher who introduced chanting to the crowds of the original Woodstock in 1969. Integral Yoga is also used for therapeutic purposes; in fact, Dr. Dean Ornish who studied yoga under the guidance of Swami Satchidananda, uses Integral Yoga in his groundbreaking work on reversing heart disease.

Viniyoga / T.K.V. Desikachar

This style of yoga is based on the principle of vinyasa karma - which literially means "an intelligently conceived step by step approach to the teaching of asana. Viniyoga modifies and tailors the postures to the needs of the individual student. This style differs somewhat from Iyengar (TKV Desikachar was Iyengar's cousin and Iyengar began his students in yoga under Desikachar's father Krishnamacharya, who also taught Pattabhi Jois) in that Iyengar style does not modiify the pose but uses props to support the student in a classic asana, whereas Viniyoga will modify the posture to support the student. Vinyoga represents in some cases a middle path between the precision of Iyengar style and the vigor of Ashtanga style yoga. Another distinguishing characteristictic of Viniyoga is its emphasis on the breath, and a slower pace of execution. In general, viniyoga has a more individualistic slant than, say, ashtanga or power yoga. Viniyoga has wonderful theraputic benefits. Gary Kraftsow is the principle practioner of this style in the United States.

Kripalu Yoga/Yogi Amrit Desai

Developed by Yogi Amrit Desai, Kripalu yoga is characterized by its internally directed approach to asana practice. Kripalu yoga has three stages and with each stage a student may experience the full range of intensity from easy to vigorous.

  • Stage 1 known as "willfull practice" the student learns about placement , alignment, coordination of breath with movement, as well as general mechanics. Postures are usually held for between 10-20 seconds.
  • Stage 2 known as " will and surrender" where the student begins to hold the asanas longer and with a focus on the mental and emotional states that the asana elicits.
  • Stage 3, the student begins to listen to the wisdom of the body and let the asanas "direct the practice". In this stage, the student goes with the flow of the breath and the asana to practice meditation in motion.

Purna Yoga

This style of yoga has been developed by Aadil Palkhivala, a long-time and senior student of BKS Iyengar. Mr. Palkhivala has defined Purna Yoga as "Complete Yoga", taking care of the physical, mental, vital, and psychic aspects of yoga. The term "Purna Yoga" comes from his spiritual teachers Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

Integral Yoga / Sri Aurobino - Swami Satchitananda (Yogaville, VA)

Integral yoga is a gentle form of yoga that integrates various components of traditional yoga, (asana, pranyama, relaxation, chanting, and meditation). This style of yoga encourages the practitioner to practice at their own level of flexibility, strength and endurance. This style was derived from the philosphy of Sri Aurobino and developed by the late Swami Satchitananda of Yogaville, VA. Swami Satchitanada is also remembered for teaching the audience of Woodstock chanting. In addition, Dr. Dean Ornish has based his Yoga for a healthy heart on Integral Yoga.

Ananda Yoga / Swami Kriyananda

This style of yoga is based on the yoga of Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). It was developed by J. Donald Walters (also known as Swami Kriyananda) of the Anada community in Nevada City, California. It is a form of Kriya Yoga that is meant to "clear and energize" the practitioner in preparation for meditation. He later developed Ananda Yoga from his work with Kriya Yoga. Ananda Yoga uses asanas as ways to expand or heighten self-awareness. A distinctive feature of this sysem is the linking of a specific affirmation with each asana. For example, the affirmation for the Cobra posture is, "I rise joyfully to meet each new opportunity."

Yoga College of India / Bikram Choudhury

Known as the "yogi to the stars", Bikram Choudhury created a technique inspired by his teacher Bishnu Ghosh the brother of Parmahansa Yogananda. A set of 26 postures with two pranayama techniques (one done at the beginning and the other at the end). Bikram's yoga is very energetic and is also known as hot yoga because the tempreture of the room is set very high to allow you to sweat (80 degrees or higher). This style is not recommended for individuals with injuries or with back problems.

Kundalini Yoga

This form of yoga utilizes dynamic sets or kriyas, (a combination of postures, breath, mantrum [sounds], and visualization). When a Kundalini kriya is performed in the prescribed manner, one gains access to and mastery of a particular, predictable and stable state--a facet of your awareness. As with any practice that that can be very "energetic" it is advisable for people to seek the guidance of a teacher trained in kundalini yoga.


Yoga Fit® was developed by Beth Shaw, and aerobics/fitness instructor and certified White Lotus yoga teacher. The distinguishing characteristic of YogaFit is that it utilizes an aerobics approach to yoga postures incorporating them into routines. This type of movment program is one of variety of yoga "spin-offs" that borrow yoga asanas and fit them into a "stylized" routine. Many of the fitness centers and YMCA's have adopted YogaFit® due to its similarity to a traditional aerobics approach. Many aerobics teachers have taken the weekend certification course offered by YogaFit®. For those who are in good shape and want to try a "yoga-lite" approach to areobics, this might be for you.

Yoga in the style of Vanda Scaravelli

Ms. Scaravelli was heavily influenced by B.K.S. Iyengar (Iyengar yoga), Desikashar (viniyoga), and J. Krishnamurti (jana yoga), in addition, Ms. Scaravelli also was influenced by the Yang family style Tai Chi as taught by Chen Min Ching. This style of yoga integrates breath, support of gravity to create a strong and supple spine. This style provides both an energizing and relaxing yoga practice for new and experienced students. Students who have been through the late Esther Myers's training program are influenced by Ms. Scaravelli's approach to hatha yoga.

Acu Yoga - as taught by Michael Gach, PhD

Mr. Gach has integrated two ancient healing modalities in his movement system. Hatha yoga and Acupressure points that are pressed while doing the poses. This system of yoga can be quite vigorous and it uses Kundalini breath techniques.

Yin Yoga

Paul Grilley is one of the principle practioners of this style of yoga. Yin Yoga contains the ancient, and some say original, form of asana practice. The sages who pioneered the path of yoga used asanas to strengthen the body, so that they could sit for long periods in contemplative meditation. If you have ever sat for a long time with legs crossed, you know the hips and lower back need to be strong and open. The sensations you felt were deep in the connective tissues and the joints. These are the deep yin tissues of the body, relative to the more superficial yang tissues of muscles and skin. Yin Yoga opens up these deep, dense, rarely touched areas.

Art of Living Foundation as taught by Tom Mitchell

A meditation technique that releases physical tension and emotional stress using only the breath. Once the technique Sudarhan Kriya) is learned it can be practiced at home for about 10-30 min/day.