A Glossary of 24 Popular Yoga Styles & Lineages.

Via Michelle Margaret Fajkus
on Nov 24, 2013
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Photo: Pixoto.

The modern yoga market with its vast array of diverse teachings, teachers and styles, is both beautiful and bewildering.

It’s easy to see how beginners could be overwhelmed or intimidated by all the options.

In the interest of brevity and user-friendliness, this glossary is limited to types of hatha yoga. The whole of “yoga” is actually an incredibly vast field that encompasses karma yoga, tantra, meditation practices and much more.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the most popular yoga styles being taught today.

Please note: I’ve selected the styles with which I’m personally the most familiar.

Feel free to add information about additional styles or lineages in the comments section.

1) AcroYoga: a style of partner yoga that involves one person as the base and another person “flying” in various poses balanced on the base’s feet and a third, the spotter. It is a challenging physical practice that blends elements of yoga, acrobatics, performance and healing arts.

2) Ananda: a gentle hatha style that comes from the lineage of Parmahamsa Yogananda, the author of the classic book, Autobiography of a Yogi. The focus is on gentle poses, mantra meditation and sweet relaxation.

3) Anusara: a lineage established in 1997 by American yogi John Friend. It was rocked by a scandal in 2012, which led to Friend stepping down from his leadership role. Anusara style focuses on “attitude, alignment and action.” Some of its principles of alignment include “opening to grace,” inner and outer spirals and various energy loops in the body.

4) Ashtanga: a lineage headed by Indian guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, even the first series of this style is extremely physically challenging. It involves a prescribed sequence of sun salutations A and B, followed by standing, balancing, seated, twisting and reclining poses. More advanced Ashtanga practices include bandhas (internal locks) and drishti (focused gaze). Ashtanga is the precursor for most vigorous styles of hatha yoga, including its most commonly taught derivatives, Power Yoga and Vinyasa.

5) Bikram: headed by controversial Indian teacher Bikram Choudhury, it involves a prescribed series of 26 poses, each practiced twice in a row, in a room heated to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Full disclosure: I abhor Bikram yoga and recommend against it.)

6) Dharma: a style of eclectic hatha yoga that incorporates Buddhist philosophies and teachings and a focus on Zen or Tibetan Buddhist techniques of meditation.

7) Forrest: a modern lineage headed by Los Angeles based teacher Ana Forrest. Her style weaves yogic and Native American/Shamanic teachings. Poses are typically held for many breath cycles. Lots of core-strengthening and fierce balancing poses are integral to the Forrest Yoga practice.

8) Hatha: the term “hatha yoga” technically encompasses all of the lineages listed here. However, when you see a class labeled “hatha,” it typically means that each pose is held for several breaths, versus flowing more quickly from one pose to the next. Hatha classes are usually slower paced and more accessible to beginners than vinyasa/flow style classes.

9) Hatha Flow: a hatha flow class will involve some slow to medium-paced flowing from pose to pose, through sun salutations or other series of connected poses—followed by sustaining each of the postures for a longer period. Hatha flow classes vary greatly from teacher to teacher.

10) Hot: hatha and/or vinyasa yoga practiced in a heated room. In this way, it is similar to Bikram yoga, but due to Mr. Choudhury’s copyrights, hot yoga teachers are not legally allowed to use his sequence unless they have gone through the official Bikram teacher training.

11) Iyengar: a lineage headed by Indian guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who has been teaching and training teachers at his center in Pune, India, for decades. The focus is on precise, correct alignment. Yoga props including blocks and straps are often incorporated into the poses to enable practitioners to modify the pose to their level of ability.

12) Jivamukti: a modern lineage founded by NYC power couple David Life and Sharon Gannon. This style involves chanting, sacred music (kirtan) and both hatha flow and sustained hatha poses—as well as an emphasis on meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises).

13) Kids: due to the shorter attention span of young children, a kids’ yoga class may incorporate games and stories and move more quickly from pose to pose.

14) Kundalini: this lineage’s founder is the Indian (Sikh) guru, Yogi Bhajan. Serious Kundalini yoga practitioners wear all white garments, including a turban covering their hair, which they never cut. Kundalini practices—called kriyas—typically involve fast, repetitive motions sustained for several minutes. Breath of fire (quick, forceful exhalations through the nose) is done in many of the poses. There is an emphasis on chanting, chakras and mantra meditation.

15) Mysore: (See also Ashtanga.) Named for the Indian city where Pattabhi Jois taught, it is a self-paced practice done early in the morning. An instructor is there for guidance but does not lead the class as in a normal Ashtanga class.

16) Partner: as you can probably guess, this style involves two people executing poses together. AcroYoga and Thai Yoga Massage are two polar examples of partner yoga.

17) Pilates: this exercise system is not yoga, but it made the list because it is so often combined with yoga or taught at the same location. Its main focus is on strengthening and developing stability in the core abdominal muscles.

18) Power: (See also Ashtanga.) Derivatives of Ashtanga fall under the umbrella of “power yoga.” This vigorous style will inevitably include plenty of fast-paced sun salutations and other intermediate to advanced poses, flowing from one to the next. Be prepared to sweat. Some of the most popular teachers of this style include Baron Baptiste, Bryan Kest and Shiva Rea.

19) Prenatal & Postnatal: gentle hatha yoga modified for pregnant and post-partum women. These practices omit deep backbends, deep twists and poses done lying on the belly, for obvious reasons.

20) Restorative: in this style, the poses are all done lying on the floor in various positions using lots of bolsters, blankets and blocks to enable the practitioner to relax completely and stay in the pose for several minutes.

21) Sivananda: this lineage’s guru is Swami Sivananda, who established many international ashrams in the mid 20th century. Sivananda class begins with a few moderately-paced sun salutations and includes several brief periods of savasana (deep relaxation in corpse pose) interspersed throughout the hatha practice. This lineage also emphasizes yogic philosophy and texts (especially the Bhagavad Gita) as well as chanting, meditation, pranayama and Ayurvedic nutrition.

22) Thai Yoga Massage: this style of partner yoga/massage originated in Thailand. Most of the poses involve one person giving an adjustment to the receiver (who is usually in a reclining position), using his or her hands, elbows and feet. The focus is on energy lines and pressure points as taught in traditional Chinese medicine.

23) Vinyasa: One of the most ubiquitous styles of modern yoga, Vinyasa involves flowing from one pose to the next with fluidity. It is like Ashtanga, only it does not always involve the same sequence of poses in each class.  The terms “Vinyasa” and “Vinyasa flow” are interchangeable.  These types of classes vary greatly from teacher to teacher.

24) Yin: this style is all about letting go, releasing effort and surrendering muscular tension. It seeks to deepen flexiblity of the fascia, tendons and ligaments as opposed to just the muscles. Most yin poses are performed lying on the floor. Yin poses are held for up to 10 minutes each.

Relephant:

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Everyone Deserves Yoga 

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

 Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

{Photo: Pixoto}

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About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home base since 2012 has been Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in an eco cabin with her Colombian partner, daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written several inspiring books, with more on the way. Michelle's lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma teachings, pranayama, yin, mindfulness, mantra and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat!

Comments

43 Responses to “A Glossary of 24 Popular Yoga Styles & Lineages.”

  1. Brittanie DeChino says:

    This is a great resource!

    One correction: Dharma Yoga definition is not correct. As a 500-hr certified (800-hr in progress) Dharma Yoga teacher and disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra (www.dharmayogacenter.com), I was hoping to shed a bit of light on this. Dharma Yoga, which has thousands of teachers across the globe and many studios in the US (LA, CT, IL, NY, etc) is a discipline based on the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra (age 74) as he learned them from his guru , Swami Kailashinanda a/k/a Yogi Gupta. The Dharma Yoga method, is classical Haha Raja yoga which incorporates pranayama, meditation, Asana and deep relaxation. Dharma is known as “the teacher’s teacher” and is a true living master, he has been teaching and practicing for over 50 years…and is the most humble and kind person you will ever meet. He still teaches 15+ classes a week! Although Dharma-ji does like to study all philosophies and religions, including Buddhism and Zen, the Dharma Yoga method is firmly rooted in the ancient philosophy of yoga as presented in the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. Thank you!

  2. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thanks for this! As a yoga instructor, this is a great resource esp. for new students or those with questions about various styles.

  3. Yeah … one of my influences … that is not to say that it can't morph into a #23 basted with #17 sauce … one can acknowledge one's teachers, yes …

  4. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks, Kimberly. I'm glad it will be useful.
    Namaste,
    Michelle

  5. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for this addition, Brittanie. There are two types of Dharma Yoga, apparently. I have practiced a handful of times with Sri Dharma Mittra and he is a wonderful and amazing teacher. The Buddhist-flavored Dharma Yoga I was referring to is taught at studios such as Dharma Yoga in Austin. (http://dharma-yoga.net/classes.html)
    Namaste,
    Michelle

  6. @edemarco says:

    Bikram's lineage is from Bishnu Ghosh…who was the brother to Paramhansa Yogananda..the man who brought Kirya Yoga to the West in the 1920's…therefore pretty sure it is a lineage. Perhaps the editor may abhor it…but those 26 postures done in the heat and in the proper sequence was designed to heal the body from the inside out. People may not like Bikram and his teaching style personally but there is no argument to be made, his Yoga style works and is a true lineage.

  7. devacat says:

    Kripalu yoga! "Kripalu Yoga teaches breathing, stretching, and relaxation techniques while emphasizing the practices of being present, listening to one's body, and accepting where one is today in terms of flexibility, strength, and alignment. Any style of hatha yoga will give you the benefits of physical strength and flexibility, Kripalu yoga also teaches you to accept yourself how you are in this moment."

  8. Eddie says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Enjoy your Elephant Yoga articles as well as your fun blogs. Recommend a correction to your entry 15) Mysore. "…An instructor is there for guidance but does not lead the class as in a normal Ashtanga class." Recommend you eliminate the phrase, "…as in a normal Ashtanga class". The "normal" Ashtanga class is the Mysore class. The led class in Ashtanga is not the normal or usual way to learn or practice Ashtanga. Most Ashtanga studios or other studios with serious Ashtanga programs have Mysore classes 5 or 6 mornings a week and may have a Led class once or twice, often just once–some traditional Ashtanga studios don't have Led classes or schedule them only periodically. In earlier years Led classes were a rarity, although they are a bit more common now.

  9. Islandgirl says:

    What about Moksha!

  10. Daniela says:

    i agree!! i practice ashtanga yoga

  11. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for this addition! Namaste, Michelle

  12. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for this clarification, Eddie. I am obviously not an ashtangi.
    Namaste,
    Michelle

  13. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for this clarification. Namaste, Michelle

  14. Ashtangi88 says:

    You forgot Intergal Yoga – That's pretty much a big one!

  15. Tilley says:

    This is a very handy list for a beginner like me! I'd like to see Satyananda added to the list which is what I have begun practicing; as far as I understand it it involves asanas, pranayama, and yoga nidra medtitation, and the teacher does not demonstrate the poses but rather describes them (which I find great as I do not have to be constantly looking at the teacher; and I feel they can focus more on making sure we are doing the asana correctly.)

  16. Gaby says:

    Anusara's description leaves much to be desired. It is so much more than a scandal, and it is unfair that a beginner will read this and that will be the first thing they know about Anusara yoga. Would you attend a class if that was what you read?

  17. Baxter says:

    Thanks Michelle.

    If anyone is unsure of what Yoga is in terms of lineages/ authentic practices/ how fast/ slow/ flowing/ steady/ focus is, then I suggest tracing it back to either Patanjali who wrote the Sutras (won't give you nay clues as to how to pull off a trikonasana though as Yoga is a practice for the mind, essentially).

    The other solid reference is T Krisnamacharya who was a pioneer in the revival of the ancient teachings of yoga, and served as the guru of Iyengar and Patthabl Jois. If you understand the original, you will understand how others ) including Iyengar and PJ) have modified it.
    As for the more modern forms of Yoga, they are complete interpretations and usually created loosley from the original tradition. Nothing is wrong or right, as long as it does not create Himsa (harm).
    That's how I would decide what to choose. Ask how many injuries each flavour of Yoga produce, understand how ego can play a major part, and you'll have a better understanding of Yoga has grown into many forms.

    In terms of labeling anything "correct" (as in "correct alignment"), I'd be careful as to how that is considered, for "correct" can be different for everyone and there can be no correct anything, especially alignment!
    That would require a complete assessment of a student to determine their individual anatomy which can never be done in a group class, only in one-on-one Yoga Therapy.

    And therein lies a whole new subject….

  18. Clark says:

    Thai massage actually originated in India

    the Buddhist monks studied and practiced management of their energy lines thru massage

    the practiced traveled to Thailand when Buddhism was introduced there

    and then Thai massage become more available to the public over time, therefore known better as “Thai massage”

  19. Jes says:

    I was thinking the same exact thing!

  20. Savitri says:

    "Scaravelli" Yoga – Vanda Scaravelli taught for 50 years before she passed away at the age of 91 years old. Vanda was introduced to Yoga by her friend J. Krishnamurti when she was 45 years old. She studied the anatomical precision from BKS Iyengar, and the emphasis on breath and ease from TKV Desikachar. Vanda believed in undoing, rather than doing, and she developed her own distinctive way of working with breath and gravity to free the spine. She taught her first student Diane Long when she was 67 years old. Esther Myers of Toronto, at whose studio I completed a 2-year Yoga teacher training program (750 hours), was another of her well-known student. This school will celebrate its 35the anniversary in March 201. It also has a 250-hour Advanced Yoga teacher training program (for a total of 1000 hours). "Scaravelli-inspired" Yoga teachers can be found all over the world today. Vanda's book Awakening the Spine is a classic.

  21. Sergio says:

    ViniYoga (viniyoga.com) is missing in this list.

  22. Amira Dittrich says:

    Sivananda yoga asana sequence focuses on the health, flexibility, and strength of the spine. The practice emphasizes 5 main points of yoga: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet, proper relaxation (savasana), and positive thought and meditation. There is a large focus on personal spiritual development to create inner peace within its practitioners so that the world may know more peace.

  23. Hilary says:

    I really enjoyed reading the list of yoga styles as well as the comments above. I wonder what ancient yogis called their practices? Yoga has been around for thousands of years. The list seems to be of all modern forms of yoga.

    Also, the comment Baxter made about correct alignment resonates with me. Now I know why I often get frustrated in classes that focus on "correct alignment". Someone please write an article on this. Namaste~

  24. April says:

    Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga. Read the Bhagavad Gita for more information, and all the lineage you need to know about them.

  25. Andrea says:

    OK, this is gonna sound a litlle bit brutal.
    Basic hint for anyone who's reading. Just look for 4 (Ashtanga) and/or 11 (Iyengar). Discard the rest, as it's all westernized bs, created just to make money out of vaguely informed gym-goers.
    Vinyasa Flow/Power Yoga are nice, but just be aware that you're not actually practicing yoga but a glorified gymnastic that takes from yoga in some way. That's totally ok, just be aware of what you're doing.

    Just a couple of corrections: Mysore is not a yoga style. It's just a kind of class in Ashtanga, therefore I don't see why it has its own number on this list.
    In Ashtanga Yoga you're actually taught to use your breath, your bandhas (strictly related) and point your Drishti (gaze) as soon as you start practicing. You may not be able to grasp it immediately, but that's definitively not reserved for "advanced" practitioners.

  26. littleladyblogger says:

    This is a great post. Definitely helped me understand the differences among certain types of yoga, especially with the clarifications in the comments section. I have tried a few, but I must say Iyengar and Ashtanga are my personal favourites, since I like to focus on the spiritual side as well. Thank you for this post!

  27. Carrie says:

    Recommend against Bikram? Why? You state you abhor and recommend against it without offering a reason. Seems unfair for a yoga practitioner unfamiliar with Bikram. It would be in my top 5. Not so opinionated on any other style/practice.

  28. Bill says:

    looks like a bunch of americanized garbage, i went to a class the other day that had a dj. What are your reasons for abhorin Bikram? Nobody can name a posture in Bikram that isnt real. You dont have to like Bikram the person but you cant say anything about the class especially if you have never taken it.

  29. maltrump says:

    What about Tantra and ParaYoga?

  30. Kathleen says:

    Kripalu was left off the list. I love and practice/teach Kripalu inspired yoga and (like most practitioners of any particular style) love it.

  31. elina says:

    What about Swasthya Yoga?

  32. labyrinth365 says:

    Andrea, Svinanda is not Westernized, with all due respect.

  33. labyrinth365 says:

    Also, Andrea, — Kundalini. Your perspective comes from the lineage of Krishnamaracharya, which I completely respect, but your note feels disrespectful to other lineages which are practicing in the US arguably with even a more spiritual and less physical focus than practices originating from Krishnamaracharya, which was quite informed by English gymnastics. Namaste.

  34. Chelsie says:

    Yay Forrest Yoga!

  35. Blossom says:

    Andrea, based upon the point you are making I guess, if asked, I would say skip all but Sivananda.

  36. Juliana says:

    I was going to point this out as well. It would be useful for the author to include both types in this list, especially since the one not mentioned is the most widespread.

  37. Rick G says:

    Michelle, Respectfully I think if you are going to share such a negative opinion of "Bikram Yoga" (it's the only one of the 24 you share an opinion on) you should state the reason WHY you "abhor" and "recommend against it". I practice Bikram Yoga and I have seen some pretty miraculous things happen in the hot room. Perhaps you don't like Bikram Choudhury as a person, but his yoga works, period!! I'll remember when I see your name on an article in the future to skip over it. You've lost your credibility with this subscriber.

  38. Alexis says:

    I thought it was extremely unprofessional to write you “abhor” Bikram yoga. Really surprised that side comment still hasn’t been removed. You’re entitled to have an opinion, but this was not the place. Bikram yoga was one of the first styles I tried and I still love it.

  39. Camila Perez says:

    Hi Michelle 🙂 This was incredibly informative! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with all of us. I knew of some of these and have practiced Hatha and Vinyasa, but most of the rest is completely new to me.

    I noticed there is one style of Yoga missing on this list: Budokon Yoga. It is a legitimate derivation of yoga and I have been practicing for a few years.
    Budokon itself is a combination of martial arts, living arts, and yoga. It incorporates a Zen meditation before and after class, and encourages students to follow a strong, calm, and balanced lifestyle.
    Budokon Yoga is based off of Hatha Yoga, with focus on the transition from pose to pose. Fluidity and movement control are crucial – which connects to mental control and fluidity.

    I highly encourage everyone to look into it, especially those who find Hatha Yoga to be too easy-going for their taste, add some umph to your practice!

  40. Carroll Ann says:

    Integral Yoga: This is in the lineage of Sivananda Yoga. Its found is Sri Swami Satchidnananda, a direct disciple of Master Sivananda. It is very similar but was designed to incorporate many of the 8 limbs of yoga in a hath-style class, including chant, pranayama, short meditation and deep relaxation/samadhi.

  41. Mick says:

    Mysore and Ashtanga are not different styles of yoga. Mysore is the way Ashtanga is traditionally taught. Led class, which is common in most other yoga styles is held usually once a week. As my teacher says: during Mysore you practice your instrument (yourself) and during Led you play in a symphony. For whatever reason many western teachers regard led class as 'normal' and Mysore as advanced. Which is having it backwards. Don't believe me? Have a look in Sharath's Jois' shala in Mysore.

  42. Mick says:

    According to the right of free speech, any place is the right place. If the author stepped on your toes I suggest you curl them up a bit to avoid this happening more often.

  43. Oh, hi Brittanie, so good to see your comment here! =)
    Thank you for the detailed info; I came here to write the similar points.