Exercise-oriented yoga styles are all derived from or inspired by Hatha Yoga. And the original Hatha Yoga systems go way beyond yoga poses. In traditional Hatha Yoga (more than 50 years old) “asana” or poses, were one of many components of a complex lifestyle which contained a large variety of non-pose type practices, such as purification practices, breathing practices and meditation. Hatha Yoga also differs from its modern exercise-oriented offshoots in that it fit within one of the six divisions of Hinduism, and was primarily a spiritual practice. Traditional Hatha Yoga is still practiced around the world, but by a tiny fraction of those practicing its exercise-and health-focused derivatives, which in the Western world are now simply called “yoga”.
Here is a sampling of a few of the more locally popular modern styles of yoga, a few of which contain spiritual or meditative aspects of traditional Hatha Yoga. (Apologies for leaving so many styles out due to space constraints.) We recommend you keep trying different styles until you find one you like – which is likely as they vary greatly, and all these styles have large followings.
■ Vinyasa Yoga: Also, with slight variations, called: flow, ashtanga , power, Anusara, and Baptist Power Yoga. All of these styles were greatly influenced by the work of K. Pattabhi Jois of India, who called his yoga “ashtanga vinyasa yoga”, or just “ashtanga yoga”. These systems employ poses that are choreographed around numerous repetitions of the “salutation to the sun”, which involves steady movement and requires (or develops) substantial arm strength. The systems sometimes involve breathing in synch with the movements. It is energetic and sweaty. This is by far the most-popular style of yoga today, practiced by over half of all U.S. participants, according to the Yoga in America Survey of 2012. It is a great choice for you if you want a workout.
■ Hatha Yoga: This is the name of a yoga style when it is an amalgam of other styles. Or this name is used when the teacher prefers not to be constrained by the boundaries of the other named methods. As we say above, all of these styles are Hatha Yoga. And indeed some teachers of Hatha Yoga can take you deeply into the traditional yoga journey.
■ Iyengar Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar of Poona India created this style. It emphasizes alignment and involves holding poses (as opposed to moving rapidly from one to another, as in vinyasa). Iyengar also pioneered the use of props, which has become widespread, and “restorative poses”, or therapeutic practices. It adapts well to a variety of fitness levels, body types and needs. A good choice for anyone.
■ Kundalini Yoga: Many traditional yoga lineages have used this term, but Yogi Bhajan’s popular style has made the name well-known. Unique among exercise-oriented yoga systems, it emphasizes holding a pose, sometimes with intense effort, while you control your breath and chant a mantra (such as “sat nam”) for many minutes at a time. It incorporates many meditative and spiritual elements. It is a good choice if you want to go beyond just the poses, and like an intense experience.
■ Bikram and Hot Yoga: Both of these styles are taught in a hot room and involve holding difficult poses. With Bikram Choudhury’s style the pose sequence (26 poses) never varies and the teacher’s script is always the same. “Hot Yoga” is imitative of Bikram Yoga, but contains more variety. Either one is a good choice if you like heat, familiar positions, and you like a challenging workout.
■ Kripalu Yoga: This style was created by Yogi Desai and then further developed by his successors at the Kripalu Center in Lennox Massachusetts. It incorporates more mindfulness and breathing than most other exercise-oriented yoga. It is a good choice if you are interested in meditation, stress-relief, and the deeper aspects of yoga.
■ Viniyoga and Krishnamacharya Yoga Method: Both derive from the teachings of T.K.V. Desikachar, son of T. Krishnamacharya. This style is more individualized, is more traditional, and contains a broader variety of practices than most other exercise-oriented yoga styles. It also emphasizes, as does Iyengar Yoga, therapeutic use of yoga poses. Recommended for anyone.
■ Shivananda and Integral Yoga: Both of these styles were founded by disciples of Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh India. They are more comprehensive and traditional than most others, and include many of the non-pose components of Hatha Yoga, including meditation. These styles are a good choice if you are looking for personal transformation along with your exercise, and if you want to explore the more advanced aspects of Hatha Yoga.
■ Shambhava Yoga: The yoga of Sri Swami Shambhavananda, this style emphasizes body awareness and alignment, along with inner focus and surrender. It culminates in meditation. This is a great choice if you are interested in inner peace and in spiritual growth.