A Quick Breakdown of the Most Popular Forms of Yoga

Yoga has taken the Western fitness world by storm in the past few years, but it's actually an ancient meditative practice that's been around for thousands of years.

What was once a bit of a foreign concept has become one of the biggest-trending fitness styles to date. These days, it's not hard to find a yoga for beginners course or a handstand workshop to attend.

Classes can be either in person at a hot yoga studio or a regular studio, or through an online yoga platform. There are also special yoga events popping up like yoga on tap at breweries, yoga festivals, and yoga with cute animals like puppies and goats!

With so many different kinds of yoga, though, it can be hard to tell what you're getting yourself into. Here's an explanation of the 5 most popular yoga styles.

1. Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa basically means "movement".

So, a vinyasa yoga class has plenty of continuous movement. Teachers guide their students through a series of poses breath by breath rarely stopping to hold the pose for a few breaths at a time.

Poses that are held are usually done as a warm-up series or a cool down sequence before reaching the final resting pose, savasana. If you've ever heard of Sun Salutations, someone was probably talking to you about vinyasa yoga as this is a popular warm-up series of movements.

It's also common for teachers to tell their students to vinyasa in the middle of a class, which means to go from a certain pose into plank, chaturanga, up dog, then down dog. A vinyasa yoga class can have a focus on a certain part of the body (strengthening the back or the legs) or positions of yoga (heart openers, arm balances, inversions).

These classes are arguably the most common hot yoga classes, but they're also popular in non-heated studios.

Vinyasa makes you sweat whether you're in a heated room or not. It's all about setting a pace with your breath and keeping to it as you move on your mat. You work hard for the entire duration of the class building strength and expanding your flexibility.

2. Yin Yoga

Yin is all about slowing down. It's the exact opposite of vinyasa yoga - although some studios offer classes that are a beautiful mix of the two. Such classes start with a vinyasa flow to warm up the body, then ease into yin poses to care for certain muscles.

Yin yoga asks you to hold poses in an almost uncomfortable manner. Students often find themselves in one pose for up to 5 minutes without moving, or maybe they move into a pose even more. This allows a stretch to reach the lower levels of the body's muscle fibers, which can't be done without taking the time to stretch this deep.

Don't be surprised if you find yin yoga more challenging than a flow. It's easy to get lost in the transitions and turn your mind off during vinyasa. But when asked to hold a pose for 3-5 minutes, you really learn the importance of the breath.

3. Acro Yoga

Acro yoga is often called partner yoga. This is a fun, creative form of yoga where two (or more!) people are doing poses together. The partners support each other in their handstands or heart openers, and they do so while stacked on top of each other instead of side by side.

This ends up looking more like acrobatics than yoga, which is where the name "acro" comes from. Don't be mistaken, though. Acro yogis aren't gymnasts or people who've been in the circus. They're people who have found a significant form of strength and control in their practice which helps them be a base or flyer when practising with another.

4. Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga is a little more "strict" than the styles listed so far. It's a heated practice (105 degrees Fahrenheit) where students do the same sequence over and over.

The sequence is a series of 26 simple postures. A teacher guides the students through the series twice then into savasana. That's it. There's no fancy flows or higher levels of Bikram; it's the same 26 poses every single time.

5. Ashtanga Yoga

Some people don't see the appeal of doing the same poses in the same order every day, while others swear by it. This is especially true for Ashtanga yogis.

Ashtanga yoga also follows a set series of poses and each one is held for 5 breaths. But, the poses always continue. There are many levels (series) of Ashtanga yoga, which allow students to expand their learning of the body and understanding of the practice.

In fact, students and teachers often talk about the parallels between what is happening on the mat and the representation of certain poses in daily life. There's a profound connection that happens when you start to do the same poses every day and discover what they can teach you off the mat.

A student cannot move on to more Ashtanga poses until they master the series they are working on. This is done under the guidance of a certified Ashtanga teacher.

Teachers can guide a whole class through the poses and in their breath counts, or they help students as each one flows through their own practice. The latter is done in what is called a "Mysore class" or in the "Mysore room" because Mysore, India is the only place where teachers can become Ashtanga certified.

The most committed Ashtanga students practice in the morning before the sun rises, without eating anything at all. This is most in line with traditional Ashtanga yoga, but there are some Mysore classes available at studios at mid-morning or as late as noon.

Ashtanga yoga is said to be the original practice, the form of yoga that all others have been derived from.

Yoga for Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced Students

The thing about all the different styles of yoga is that they're not for everyone. Some people absolutely love intense, heated flows in a hot vinyasa class and can't bring themselves to understand the consistency of Ashtanga, while others are the complete opposite.

This is why it's important to explore a few different yoga classes, and even more crucial to understand that not all yoga for beginners classes are the same. Your experience with yoga depends on what you're looking for from a class. The studio you go to (or don't) and the teachers you follow also have an influence.

But, at the end of the day, you're your best teacher. Listen to your body and your heart as you dive further into yoga. That's how you will find the benefits.

For more yoga and wellness insights and information, click here.