12 diverse styles of yoga

written by The WellBeing Team


When most people refer to yoga, they usually mean the physical yoga exercises, or hatha yoga. However, the physical exercises, known in Sanskrit as asanas, are only one of eight limbs of yoga. The other limbs include: Self-Control (yama), Spiritual Observance (niyama), Regulation of the Breath (pranayama), Restraint of the Senses (pratyahara), Steadying of the Mind (dharana), Meditation (dhyana) and Profound Contemplation (samadhi).

The main components of hatha yoga are the asanas and the main function of the asanas is to prepare and condition the body so the mind can practise meditation without obstacles. The word asana means comfortable, stable pose. Asanas are the result of thousands of years of experience, experiment and observation and their names are usually derived from their inventors (eg Matsyendra), certain structures (eg triangle), tools (eg bow), or animals (eg cobra). The names of the asanas also reflect the physical or psychological effects they have on a person. For instance, a cobra pose makes the spine flexible.

Yoga postures should not be confused with regular strength work, which only helps to tone muscles. Asanas are unique positions that strengthen, purify and balance the endocrine, nervous and circulatory systems. While asanas arent commonly prescribed to treat illness, many healers use asanas and other hatha yoga methods to effectively treat chronic illnesses and emotional disorders. Regular practice of asanas will also increase flexibility, stabilise weight and rid the body of toxins.

Practising physical yoga is not meant to be difficult. By definition, asanas are bodily positions that are easy to hold comfortably. Asanas that are correctly prescribed for your specific constitution by an experienced teacher should be easy and pleasant to practise. Most hatha yoga classes include a variety of asanas as well as deep breathing (pranayama) and relaxation exercises.

Many styles of yoga have developed from hatha yoga, but the differences are usually subtle. In fact, the founders of three major styles astanga, iyengar and viniyoga were all students of Krishnamacharya, a teacher at the Yoga Institute at the Mysore Palace in India. The following list is a brief guide to some of the styles offered.




Ananda yoga is a classical style of hatha yoga that uses asana and pranayama exercises. One unique feature of ananda yoga is the use of silent affirmations while in the asanas. Ananda yoga is a gentle, inward experience. It was developed by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi.



Developed by K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga is a physically demanding style of yoga. Participants move through a series of asanas, jumping from one posture to another to build strength, flexibility and stamina. The breath is the focus of this discipline, and links asana to asana in a precise order. There are three groups of sequences in the ashtanga system. The Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa) detoxifies and aligns the body. The Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana) purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels. The Advanced Series (Sthira Bhaga) integrates the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility.



Bikram Choudhury developed this form of hatha yoga as a result of a knee injury that was supposed to leave him unable to walk at age 17. Bikram yoga classes are held in a heated room, so be prepared to sweat. The classes consist of a series of 26 asanas designed to warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons.



Integral yoga was developed by Swami Satchidananda, the man who encouraged the crowds at the original Woodstock to chant, “”Om.”” Integral classes put almost as much emphasis on pranayama and meditation as they do on the asanas. Integral yoga is used by Dr Dean Ornish in his studies for reversing heart disease.



B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the best-known yoga teachers and the creator of one of the most popular styles of yoga in the world. He is the author of Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, as well as other books. Iyengars style of yoga is noted for the precise alignment of postures as well as the use of props such as blocks and belts. Standing poses are also emphasised in this system of hatha yoga, not only for building strong legs but also to increase general vitality and improve circulation, coordination and balance.



Known as the yoga of consciousness, Kripalu puts great emphasis on proper breath, alignment, coordinating breath and movement, and “”honouring the wisdom of the body””. Students learn to focus on the physical and psychological reactions caused by various asanas to develop their awareness of mind, body, emotion and spirit. There are three stages in Kripalu yoga. Stage One focuses on learning the postures and exploring your bodys abilities. Stage Two involves holding the postures for an extended time, developing concentration and inner awareness. Stage Three is like a moving meditation where the participant moves from one posture to another spontaneously.




Kundalini yoga was developed by Yogi Bhajan, who brought the style to the West in 1969. This style of yoga focuses on the controlled release of Kundalini energy. Kundalini is a Sanskrit term meaning coiled. It refers to a latent force within us which is the catalyst for all forms of self-healing and creativity. Each class usually entails spine and flexibility warm-ups, a specific sequence of asanas and a relaxation and meditation. There are literally thousands of exercise sets and meditations in this system.



Developed by Vishnu-devananda and named after his teacher, sivananda yoga follows a set structure that includes pranayama, classic asanas and relaxation. Sivananda yoga also advocates a healthy vegetarian diet and positive thinking.



Developed by Rama Berch, svaroopa yoga teaches different ways of doing common hatha asanas, with a focus on opening the spine by beginning at the tailbone and progressing through each spinal area in turn. Svaroopa yoga also emphasises the development of transcendent inner experience, called svaroopa by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Svaroopa isnt focused on physical improvement but rather the development of consciousness using the body as a tool.



Tantric yoga is based on the belief that the universe is made up of yin/yang (female-male) principles and that these yin/yang energies are also contained within the human body. In tantric yoga, spirituality and sexuality are not separate. Through tantric asanas (postures) and pranayamas (breathing techniques), this branch of yoga aims to tone and strengthen subtle energy bodies (including the physical body) and harmonise the yin/yang energy.



Viniyoga was developed by Sri T. Krishnamacharya, teacher of well-known masters B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois and Indra Devi. Viniyoga is not so much a branch of hatha yoga but more a technique for developing personal practice, using asana, pranayama, meditation, ritual and prayer. Viniyoga teaches that as one becomes more experienced in yoga, the techniques practised must be modified to address changing conditions on all levels of the body and mind. Viniyoga is only taught privately.



Yogalates is a movement system that combines yoga asanas and pilates. It involves stretching and strengthening all the major muscle groups, which promotes slenderness rather than bulk and also enhances posture. Yogalates was developed by Louise Solomon who was originally injured in a yoga class when she was pushed to a level her body was not ready for.



*The following asanas are examples from various hatha yoga branches.


Tantra yoga

Mulabhanda is a basic tantra yoga practice that will increase blood flow to the pelvic muscles and sexual organs, and give strength and tone to the pelvic floor, essential to a sound tantric practice.

Sitting in a comfortable position, begin taking long deep breaths. Squeeze the muscles of the anus and sex organs together. While continuing to squeeze these centres together, begin to lift or pull them upwards towards your navel energy. Once you have become more comfortable with this movement, inhale deeply and slowly, hold the breath, apply the Mulabhanda for a few seconds, then release the Mulabhanda as you exhale slowly and steadily. Continue for one or two minutes then relax.


Yogalates – Abdominals warm-up

When preforming yogalates exercise its important to maintain a neutral spine. That is, lying on your back, check your knees and hips are in line, keeping the natural curve of the lower back off the floor. Inhale. As you exhale, draw the navel to the spine and pull up on the pelvic floor muscles, without moving the spine. Relax and repeat five times. This exercise strengthens the abdominals and the pelvic floor muscles.


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The WellBeing Team