Which Style of Yoga is Right for You? ~ Jasmine Kaloudis

Via elephant journal
on Jun 21, 2011
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Joint Complexes and Muscle Groups Used in Yoga

There are hundreds of muscles and joints in the human body, so when thinking about the structure of yoga, it is helpful to think of the nine major joint complexes and opposing muscle groups. Joint complexes are sets of joints that work together in the body and behave as one joint. The nine major joint complexes are the ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, shoulders, neck, lower back, upper back, and hips. A muscle group is a group of muscles that perform the same job at a joint complex. When stretching a muscle group, you must consider the opposing muscle group, the group of muscles that are opposing the action of the muscles being stretched. This is because muscle groups work as opposing pairs. Lengthening one muscle group will result in the opposing one being shortened.

Spinal Reflexes As They Relate to the Structure of Yoga

In the structure of yoga, you must also consider the spinal reflexes. A spinal reflex is when a nerve impulse is passed into the spinal cord and then a responding message is sent out without brain input. The three spinal reflexes in yoga are:

• The Myotatic Reflex – this is the stretch reflex. This reflex causes a lengthened muscle group to become tense if it is suddenly stretched, therefore, you need to block this reflex in yoga when trying to stretch. The reflex can be blocked by mentally focusing on the muscle group being stretched, exhaling as you move slowly into a stretch using the shortened muscles to actively move the joint complex into position.

• The Reciprocal Relaxation Reflex – this reflex causes the stretched muscle group to relax when the shortened muscle group is tensed. It can be used to help you relax and stretch any part of your body.

• The Inverse Myotatic (Relaxation) Reflex – this reflex causes the stretched muscle group to relax if it is stretched enough. It usually occurs after at least 12 to 15 seconds.

Yoga burns on average about 200 calories per hour, but it really depends on the type of yoga you practice. Also, learning how to intensify your practice and challenging yourself personally during class can really add to the total calories burned. Learn how to burn more calories, the importance of “growing” during your practice and how to create core stability below.

Different Types of Yoga Popular in the West:

Try this for half an hour!


An easy-to-learn basic form of yoga that has become very popular in the United States. Hatha Yoga is the foundation of all Yoga styles. It incorporates Asanas (postures), Pranayama (regulated breathing), meditation and kundalini into a complete system that can be used to achieve enlightenment or self-realization if practiced on a regular basis. It has become very popular in America as source of exercise and stress management. The ideal way to practice the Hatha Yoga poses is to approach the practice session in a calm, meditative mood. Sit quietly for a few moments, then begin the series, slowly, with control and grace, being inwardly aware as the body performs the various poses selected for the practice session. Do not overdo the asanas or try to compete with others.

A gentle form a Yoga, the most common form that focuses on basic postures that flow in and out with emphasis on breathing techniques. Hatha Yoga is what most people in the West associate with the word “Yoga” and is practiced for mental and physical health. This is a great intro to yoga for beginners.

Calories burned in Hatha Yoga: 175 per hour
Same as: a slow walk

Iyengar Yoga

Developed by yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar more than 60 years ago, promotes strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance through coordinated breathing and poses that require precise body alignment. The poses are generally held longer than in other styles of yoga. In Iyengar, you slowly move into a pose, hold it for a minute or so, and then rest for a few breaths before stretching into another. Equipment like cushions, blankets, straps, and blocks to help the less flexible also distinguishes Iyengar from other types of yoga.

Although Iyengar incorporates the traditional postures, or asanas, that make up the broader category of hatha yoga, the cushions and other props revolutionized yoga by enabling everyone — even the elderly, sick, and disabled — to practice. Because of its slow pace, attention to detail, and use of props, Iyengar yoga can be especially good if you’re recovering from an injury. Iyengar is still one of the most popular types of yoga taught today. If you are restricted by age or a previous injury then Iyengar will be gentle enough for your needs. These yoga classes incorporate blankets, cushions and straps into the poses to make them easier to accomplish. the downside is that Iyengar classes don’t have the same feeling of flow that other styles have since there is a lot of time spent setting people up in poses and it doesn’t have the same group energy that a vinyasa or even hot yoga class since it will seem more disjointed.

Calories burned in Iyengar Yoga: 175 per hour
Same as: a slow walk


A dynamic form of yoga that connects postures and creates a flow between traditional yoga postures. The ‘Vinyasa flow’ is used especially during the Sun Salutation series. many types of Power Yoga, Hot Yoga and even Astanga also have elements of Vinyasa Yoga with the beginning sequence.

Calories burned in Vinyasa Yoga: 445 per hour
Same as: moderate bike riding for one hour

Bikram and Hot Yoga

The method of yoga that is a comprehensive workout that includes all the components of fitness: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular flexibility and weight loss. The founder, Bikram Choudhury, was a gold medal Olympic weight lifter in 1963 and is a disciple of Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, (Autobiography of a Yogi). One of the unusual but most beneficial aspects of Bikram’s yoga practice is the 95-105 degree temperature which promotes more flexibility, detoxification, and prevention of injuries. Classes include 26 postures, guided by specific dialogue and breathing techniques.

Photo: Ron Sombilon

This is the only yoga style that specializes in using the heated environment. The idea is that muscles will loosen and sweating will cleanse the body and remove symptoms of disease and chronic pain. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been any research on the safety or efficacy of Bikram, and so I don’t recommend it to beginners or those with serious cardiovascular medical concerns because of the potential risk of dehydration, blood pressure changes, and cardiac problems with exertion in such an extreme environment. This is particularly so for individuals who may have an existing heart problem or high blood pressure but don’t know it. People who do it swear by it, and so if you are determined to try it, I recommend that you speak with your physician first.

If you want an intensive yoga experience that incorporates a comprehensive yoga workout with a yoga studio heated up to 105 degrees than Hot Yoga or Bikram is probably what you’re looking for. This method of yoga promotes flexibility, strength, endurance, weight loss and body detoxification. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires incredible willpower and commitment to just stay in the room when it is that hot.


Ashtanga is designed to build strength and endurance. It is an aggressive workout where you move quickly from one pose to another. There is little emphasis on meditation with Ashtanga, and at the end of the session you will feel more like you have completed a traditional weight training or calisthenic workout than you would with any other type of yoga. Ashtanga is for you if you’re looking for a tough, physically challenging workout and you want to get that sculpted toned look. The eight limbs connoted by the word ‘Ashtanga’ refer specifically to the eight spiritual practices outlined by the Yoga Sutra, the original Yoga text. Ashtanga can be composed of 6 set series, each increasing with more difficulty. It is usually combined or referred to as Ashtanga. People who do it swear by it, and so if you are determined to try it, I recommend that you speak with your physician first. This is not a good type for beginners or for those who are not already in good shape to begin with.

Power Yoga

A recently-developed yoga method that was established in the United States. It is an intense yoga workout that focuses on fast-paced, advanced yoga poses meant to build power and work your body harder.

Power yoga is essentially yoga with brawn. It’s the American interpretation of Ashtanga yoga, a discipline that combines stretching, strength training, and meditative breathing. But power yoga takes Ashtanga one step further. Many of the poses resemble basic calisthenics — push-ups and handstands, toe touches and side bends — but the key to power yoga’s sweat-producing, muscle-building power is the pace. Instead of pausing between poses as you would in traditional yoga, each move flows into the next, making it an intense aerobic workout.

Calories burned in Bikram, Hot Yoga, Ashtanga or Power Yoga: 630 per hour
Same as: jogging for one hour

Jivamukti Yoga

Developed in 1986 by Sharon Gannon and David Life, the Jivamukti Yoga method expresses the spiritual and ethical aspects of the practice of yoga that have been disregarded or devalued in contemporary times. It is a vigorous and challenging practice with an emphasis on scriptural study, Sanskrit chanting, vegetarianism, non- violence, meditation, devotion to God and the role that music and listening play in the practice of yoga.

Jivamukti Nyc teachers naked for Peta

Life and Gannon currently operate a few popular yoga studios in New York City. There are elements of power and vinyasa yoga in a typical class. The classes tend to be very crowded as well.

Calories burned in Jivamukti Yoga: 445 per hour
Same as: moderate bike riding for one hour


The practice concentrates on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward. In addition to postures, a typical class will also include chanting, meditation, and breathing exercises. Poses are held for a long time with very repitive movements and chants. I would not recommend this to a beginner since the overtly spiritual aspects and chanting can turn off someone that is very religious.

Calories burned in Kundalini Yoga: 175 per hour
Same as: a slow walk

Restorative Yoga

If you want a relaxing yoga experience then restorative yoga classes might be what you’re after. This yoga method incorporates blankets, blocks and yoga bolsters into the class and focuses on relaxation rather than an intensive workout. This is great for those that are feeling depleted and have physical limitations that would prevent them from trying the more vigorous kinds of yoga. This is a great practice for those that have serious illnesses and are worried about a fast paced athletic kind of practice. This is also a great intro to yoga if you do not think you can get into crazy poses and worried about keeping up with a more athletic class. You are not going to get a six -pack from this kind of practice though.

If you are restricted by age or a previous injury then Iyengar or Restorative will be gentle enough for your needs. These yoga classes incorporate blankets, cushions and straps into the poses to make them easier to accomplish. The only downside is that is it tricky to replicate the class at home since it is very prop intensive. You could always invest in the props and then do the practice at home.

Calories burned in Restorative Yoga: 150 per hour
Same as: a very slow walk

Partner Yoga, Couples Yoga and Acrobatic Yoga

All require that you have a partner that helps to adjust and assist you in getting in the poses. Sometimes you juxatapose other times you mirror or create incredible shapes. The poses can range from long held postures that are more restorative and passive in nature to very active poses that require incredible concentration because you are balancing in the air. You are doing many of the traditional postures but combining your body with your partner’s to form a new pose. The poses can make you feel very vulnerable since you are trusting someone else to be there to support you on a kinesthetic level.

Calories burned in Partner Yoga, Acrobatic Yoga and Couples Yoga: 175 per hour
Same as: a slow walk

If you have a specific goal in mind then you might want to look at tailored yoga classes such as those geared towards couples, pregnant women or individuals seeking weight loss solutions. If you are pregnant and new to yoga you should only attend special prenatal yoga classes and make sure that the instructor is properly trained. These classes often incorporate a mixture of styles to achieve the goals of the students.

Key differences between Hatha And Vinyasa Yoga

There are various different types of yoga, some more advanced than others, but all work towards the same goal. That is, they all seek to unify the mind, spirit, and body; and to increase strength and flexibility. Poses are emphasized when the body is out of shape, in need of healing, or not flexible enough. The different styles of yoga, however, approach the practice of asanas in individual ways.

Two of the most popular styles of yoga used today are Hatha Yoga, and Vinyasa Yoga. Although vinyasa yoga is derived from hatha yoga, classes are very different. One of the features that make it unique is the pace. Another is the way postures are linked together in a series of movements. This produces effects in the body, especially in the cardiovascular system, that a moderate hatha yoga class does not.

Hatha Yoga is a gentle and slower paced form of yoga, although it can be quite challenging physically when you move deeper into the practice of it. The word Hatha, when split in to ‘ha’ and ‘tha’, means ‘sun’ and ‘moon’. This style is ideal for those that are new to yoga, and haven’t yet built up experience or confidence. Due to its’ slower pace, it is easier for people to learn the principles, postures, and the breathing methods involved in yoga.

Vinyasa Yoga, on the other hand, is a far faster paced, and more advanced form of yoga. Instead of simply doing individual exercises on the mat, with pauses in between, the asanas are linked together in synchronization with the in-flow and out-flow of breath. This produces a very dynamic effect, and it allows heat to build up in the body. An increased body temperature helps loosen the muscles, and people find they can go deeper into a stretch than if they were doing the posture in a more traditional way.

Both Hatha and Vinyasa yoga offers a range of health benefits. There is certainly no reason why you cannot start off using the slower paces Hatha Yoga, and once more experienced and flexible, move on to practice the more challenging form of yoga, Vinyasa. Both offer a great way to increase mobility in the joints, tone up your body, and find a sense of peace and stillness often lacking in daily activity


Jasmine Kaloudis teaches yoga, yoga retreats and couples yoga in Philadelphia at www.SynergybyJasmine.com. For free tips and articles about yoga sent on a monthly basis, please email info at jasminepartneryoga dot com with “Request Free Yoga Tips” in the headline.


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21 Responses to “Which Style of Yoga is Right for You? ~ Jasmine Kaloudis”

  1. tanya lee markul says:

    Hi Jasmine. Thanks for this great overview!! From what I understand (and also via my own practice – I least I try to do this) is that Ashtanga is actually a moving meditation. Once the asanas are learned and when we learn to breathe correctly that the practice actually becomes a flowing, moving meditation. What are your thoughts? 🙂 Also, there are many alternative postures to suit all levels. In addition, a Mysore practice goes at one's own pace and ability. 🙂 At least that's what I have experienced.

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  2. Maria says:

    fivefootwo – thank you for posting your reply
    I am also an ashtanga practitioner, and teacher. The description of Ashtanga yoga in this piece is, I would argue, biased and innacurate. Nowhere in the description of Ashtanga yoga does the Author mention the importance of the BREATH. The Breath is key to the practise, and as you described, once you are moving through the practice fluidly, whether is simply 10 surya namaskar, or its full primary or intermediate, being with the breath the entire practise becomes like a moving meditation. I practise approx 3-4 times per week and I throw in a restorative practise at least once a week too. I've been practising this way for the last number of years, and I am sad to report the "sculpted toned" look referred to in the piece still eludes me, and furthermore I know people who are larger, and less toned than I but who have more advanced ashtanga asana practises than me, so again, this description is a mis-informed generalization, is flawed and innaurate

  3. Maria says:

    Ashtanga is descreibed above as "an aggressive workout " …..eeeehhhhhhh maybe thats what the Author thinks, but I'm curious as to how and where she has experienced a class been taught in an agressive way, or has she as a studnet been told to practise agressively? In either case this is not anything to do with Ashtanga as a style of yoga, but has to have come from whatever teacher who told her to practise like that and/or with her own ill-informed perception of how she believed she had to practise. In any case, agression has no place in Ashtanga.
    Yes, its a demanding practise, in that the physical demads require that the practitioner learns to tune in to their breath, move along with their breath, and starts to work their "core" ( known as Bhandas in the ashtanga system, but the author didn't refer to this element of the practise either). Its a dynamic practise so yes, there are differences between Ashtanga and the hatha and iyengar styles. However I have attended some strong Iyengar sclasses where I have worked to a level that was as deep and hard, if not more so, than my Ashtanga practice.

  4. Maria says:

    The author also mentions "This is not a good type for beginners or for those who are not already in good shape to begin with"….. well again I have to provide a counter to this statement – I have taught Ashtanga yoga to absolute beginners some of whom were the stiffest guys you could imagine – hard nosed footballers, overweight people; surfers with stiff shoulders….. Once you teach in a manner in which the student proceeds slowly, incrementally, and at a pace that ensures they work, but dont over-do it; where they keep their breath at all times; and modify as their body requires, then it is a safe and appropriate style to begin with, with the guidance of a qualified teacher.

    If you are someone who has any kind of health or injury concern , then before doing ANY KIND of new activity, whether is yoga (of any style) or pilates or cycling or whatever, then its always best to check with a medical professional or physiotherapist first.

    Sharath has famously said "anyone can practise yoga… except lazy people".

  5. Maria says:

    Sorry for multiple posts but I had to split up my reply – EleJo wouldn't allow me to post such a long comment….

  6. Yogini5 says:

    Over 50 and doing yoga. Me too, but mine is a more sedate, fusion kind. I estimate I burn about 225 calories an hour in my slow flow style, which is not long on those jumpbacks or inversions. Having started from … not much. There is an extremely mild, soft vinyasa yoga style called YogaFit, which isn't represented here …

    Anyway, over-50s, Represent!

  7. […] one movement. The outcome is a graceful flow from one pose to the next, with each pose linked by a transitional movement. Despite the calm that transitions and sequences should bring, many students focus on the pose, or, […]

  8. Yogini5 says:

    Thank you for clearing that up. Ashtanga, as like working out in the gym, won't give you an aesthetically beautiful body, unless–substantially–that is the kind you were born with.

  9. "Vinyasa Yoga, on the other hand, is a far faster paced, and more advanced form of yoga." This is a preposterous statement to make. Just because Vinyasa moves fast does not qualify it as more advanced. More rigirous? Absolutely. But, I don't think the definition of advanced is more sweaty.

  10. Yogini5 says:

    You're absolutely right. And this is not counting vinyasa yoga fusion practices, of which there are many.

    Vinyasa depending on the lineage, in most cases, gets advanced when the practitioner is balancing on parts of their body other than their feet; or when the practitioner can bind hands or hands to feet and balance at the same time. As does Hatha yoga and Iyengar Yoga.

    I'm not 100% sure how duration of hold of postures figures into this, but in a physically healthy practitioner, holding those kinds of postures/binds for a longer time, in steadiness, is also more advanced than a shorter hold.

  11. Thaddeus1 says:

    Hey Jasmine…gonna have to agree with the above comments from my fellow ashtangis, but i thought since you are in Philly that maybe you would have the opportunity to swing by David Garrigues' new school. He is one of the few certified Ashtanga teachers in the US and lo and behold just opened a studio in your backyard. His website, with all the pertinent info, is http://www.ashtangayogaschoolofphiladelphia.com/A…. You should check it out. I think you will find the experience far different than your description. Blessings.

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  14. Zee says:

    If you really believe that "there is little emphasis on meditation in Ashtanga" then you don't understand ashtanga, and should probably not be writing about it

    -a sometimes ashtangi

  15. Candice says:

    Not sure I would categorize vinyasa as "more advanced" than hatha yoga. I don't prefer to call any style more advanced than the next, just different view points on the path, persuasions, flavors. A 15 minute shoulderstand in an Iyengar class can really kick your asana, in my opinion. Vinyasa may make you sweat more, but I've never gotten so deep into a pose and practice, made so many advancements that are tuned to my own body (instead of teaching to a fast paced room of 30+ bodies) as in an Iyengar class. Still, each has their method, and each method calls to the dosha and preference of the practitioner. An excellent piece, but I would be careful to exclude anything that can be misconstrued as opinion or preference in an article like this. Lest you get the defensive commentators, like myself 🙂

  16. Candice says:

    Also- props are not only used for limitation, but to provide biofeedback. Sometimes a wall, a block, a strap, a partner, can provide much insight into the body that wasn't felt in 30 seconds of feestanding poses. A prop provides feedback and sometimes support. It is not a acrutch. But overall, I like your description of Iyengar yoga. Usually it is called "restorative" which I disagree with. Not many of my own Iyengar classes are restorative, quite the contrary. They demand I get into a pose precisely, observe my weaknesses (are you flexible enough to get into the pose but not strong enough to hold it? or vice versa?) and it takes incredible willpower to hold a pose for 1, 2, 5, 10. 15. 30 (yes, 30 minutes!) To isolate muscles I didnt know I had, or to explore anatomy. Vinyasa doesn't provide that insight. But sweat and anatomy are two different things sometimes…

  17. Megan McDonald says:

    I would like to state that all of this yoga, can be considered hatha yoga. Hatha yoga, yes "sun" and "moon", but also "right" and "left", "shiva" and "shakti", "yang" and "yin", was developed by Goraksha around 1300 C.E. Hatha yoga is a forceful yoga, as in, any yoga that "forces" the kundalini rising up the shushumna nadi. This is a huge oversight of history by many. Originally, hatha yoga was developed to keep the body strong, and prepare it and the mind to be able to sit for long hours, for meditation. It was originally only about 50 postures, and has since developed incredibly. Krishnamacharya came to America in the 1930s and created a new and profound fusion of yoga with calisthenics and other activities.

    Nonetheless, "Hatha" was coined by a woman in the 60s or 70s, and is what we often refer to as this slow, gentle yoga. Where, yoga being the living tradition it is, as this woman was able to take a broad term and make it seem narrow, Hatha actually embraces all asana practice, and anything associated with awakening the Kundalini in the base of the spine.

  18. NotSoSure says:

    Thanks Candice. You hit the nail on the head. While I occasionally enjoy an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class, the work I do in my Iyengar classes in deeper on all levels. I find Iyengar yoga not only more challenging physically than Ashtanga/Vinyasa but more challenging mentally. And I am lucky, my Iyengar teachers are themselves students of senior teachers who study with Mr. Iyengar himself.

  19. Andy says:

    Interesting that Elephant would even publish this write up that has so many basic, factual errors in it.

  20. As lifelong practitioner of Kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan I would like to encourage beginning student to try this tradition. The essence of all yoga is formulated in the spirit of your own divine nature and not religious orientation.

  21. Hailey says:

    Kundalini Yoga a slow walk my ass! You are twisting and breathing intensely in a rhythmic tempo. Bad analogy taking a slow walk. After 4 classes in a week my body is toned and slimming no walk has done that for me. it doesnt matter what move you make the deep breath burns calories thru oxygen.