The most popular yoga styles now — explained

Updated on May 15 2018

Workout fads come and go so often it’s hard to keep track these days, but virtually no other activity has endured the test of time quite like yoga. After all, it’s been around for more than 5,000 years, and there’s no signs of slowing down just yet — not when trendy studios keep popping up, and yoga gear has seen an all-time high in sales. 

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The benefits of yoga have been raved about by fanatical millennials and self-professed yogis for almost a decade now, and for good reason. Stress relief and relaxation are two of its most common benefits, but beyond these immediate returns are rewards that go much deeper. Elevated self-esteem, reduction in chronic pain, and increased flexibility are a few of the many science-backed advantages of practising the ancient “sport”.

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But perhaps the hardest part about being a novice wannabe yogi is choosing the right class. Skim the class schedule at any studio or gym, and you’ll notice words that sound more like medieval spells than yoga styles . Should you start with a Vinyasa class, or hop onboard the Bikram bandwagon first? Besides trust us, you’ll want to know what you’re getting into before you step into a hot yoga studio.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common yoga styles you’ll come across now. 

Hatha

We’ll start with the basics. Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures, such as standing poses, forward bends, twists, inversions and balances. Because of its slower pace, a hatha yoga class is best for beginners as it generally comprises of a gentle introduction to basic postures and breathing exercises. You might not work up a sweat, but you’ll leave the class feeling relaxed and looser.

Vinyasa

Sanskrit for “to place in a special way”, vinyasa yoga is characterised by fluid, movement-intensive practices, coordinating movement with breath to flow from one pose to the next. This means it has a lot in common with Ashtanga yoga, except it doesn’t follow a prescribed sequence of poses and is a lot more flexible. This “no rules” approach gives instructors the freedom to mix it up for each class. “Power yoga” is usually just a more empowering term for vinyasa yoga, and is widely popular for being fast paced, calorie-blasting, and challenging. 

Ashtanga

Essentially a highly-structured Vinyasa-styled class, Ashtanga yoga’s ultimate purpose is the purification of the body and mind — if you can get past its demanding practice. This method calls for synchronising the breath with a progressive series of postures that centers on sun salutations, nine seated positions, hardcore abs asanas and then inversions. It might not sound like it, but it’s supposed to be a meditative experience.

Iyengar

Its emphasis on precision, detail, and alignment means this style requires yogis to hold a sequence of seated and standing asanas for several breaths. Props such as straps, blankets, wooden blocks and chairs are often used to help make the poses accessible — especially for beginners — and there’s diversity in the sequences used, preventing injury and overuse of a certain muscle. Expect a slower-paced class, albeit one that will also physically and mentally challenge you to stay put. 

Hot yoga

Far from a casual sit-down session in the sauna, hot yoga classes are usually sweat-inducing, heart-pumping affairs in a 30 to 40 degrees Celsius climate-controlled room. The session provides a detoxifying element to the regular styles of yoga (often Vinyasa or Bikram), while loosening muscle stiffness, increasing pulse rate, and improving blood circulation.

Bikram

Synthesized from traditional hatha yoga techniques, Bikram is a hot yoga style that gained traction in the early ‘70s. The 90-minute routine consists of a fixed sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises in a room heated from 35 to 42 degrees Celsius, and with a humidity of 40 percent. Founded by Bikram Choudrey (who endorses every Bikram-certified teacher), the style has been known to alleviate issues such as stress, insomnia, back pain and arthritis.