8 Types of yoga: Who it’s best for and what to expect

A woman balances in a head pose with feet spread out beside her.

So, you were browsing through the class schedule at your local yoga studio or gym and came across not one, two or even three types of yoga, but several!

Now what?

First, take a deep breath. As a newbie navigating the wonderful world of yoga for the first time, it can be difficult to even know where to begin.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to do it alone!

Whether trying to figure out the difference between Hatha yoga and Vinyasa flow or if Hot yoga classes are just slippery sweat sessions, this beginner’s guide will take you through the various yoga types and help you choose the right one for you.

Let’s get started!

How many types of yoga are there?

As you probably have already discovered, there are many different types of yoga.

In modern yoga, you’ll likely come across eight main styles that are designed to promote strength, endurance, calmness and balance through pranayama (breathwork) and various asanas (poses).

The eight main types of yoga include:

  1. Hatha yoga
  2. Iyengar yoga
  3. Restorative yoga
  4. Yin yoga
  5. Vinyasa flow yoga
  6. Ashtanga yoga
  7. Bikram yoga
  8. Kundalini yoga

Having a better sense of each style’s benefits and what they involve will help you choose a yoga style that is best suited for your individual needs. 

When deciding, make sure that your choice aligns with these personal aspects:

  1. Fitness level and state of health
  2. Personality
  3. Specific health and wellness goals

While each style is distinctly different, some share similar characters and others couldn’t be more different.

For those that love a good sweat session, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Bikram and Kundalini yoga tend to be more exertive and energising with many physical postures.

Iyengar, Hatha, Restorative and Yin yoga are slower-paced, more meditative and less focused on cardio-vascular stimulation.

If you prefer a mental journey to a physical one, Yoga nidra is a guided meditation practice that promotes mindfulness and reduces stress.

Now that we’ve touched on the basics, let’s explore the eight main styles of yoga in some more detail.

1. Hatha yoga

Who is it best for?

Hatha yoga is a good starting point for newbies because it tends to be slow to medium-paced.

When instructors advertise a yoga class as “Hatha,” it usually also indicates it is suitable for beginners. This is because Hatha yoga is designed to help students polish yoga postures and alignment.

It is not a form of yoga that leaves you huffing and puffing.

What can I expect?

Hatha classes are gentle and relaxed.

They tend to integrate poses with pranayama and a short meditation to close off with.

Most classes will finish in Savasana (corpse pose) while your instructor guides you through a relaxing visualisation exercise and calming breathwork. This helps you relax after exerting yourself.

Where did it originate from?

The precise origins of Hatha yoga are not known, but most types of yoga today are based on this form.

In the West, the Sanskrit term “hatha” which means “force” is generally used as an umbrella term to describe gentler yoga classes with a focus on good form for your asanas (poses).

2. Iyengar yoga

A woman stretches her legs out in front of her using a yoga band.

Who is it best for?

People who enjoy precision, discipline and a challenge, as Iyengar yoga is the most rigorous form of Hatha yoga with a strong focus on precise postures and alignment.

While it can be very physically challenging at advanced levels, it is suitable for beginners.

You can systematically work your way up as strength and flexibility improve. Just prepare to be corrected.

What can I expect?

Iyengar classes are very slow and precise.

The emphasis is on getting each pose right and your instructor will spend a lot of time helping you with this.

Iyengar yoga uses a lot of props to assist with postures, such as yoga blocks, straps, bands, belts, chairs and special cushions.

These props are used to correct your alignment and ensure that you don’t hyper-extend or over-flex your limbs.

It is excellent for aiding with the recovery of injuries and helps improve overall flexibility and musculoskeletal strength.

Where did it originate from?

The style was developed by the revered Indian yoga guru, B.K.S Iyengar, in the 1970s.

3. Restorative yoga

A woman lies in corpse pose during a Restorative yoga session.

Who is it best for?

Restorative yoga is intended to restore physical and emotional balance while generating a sense of wellbeing.

It’s all about achieving mental, emotional and physical relaxation, so it’s great for anyone looking to heal, rejuvenate or simply relax.

Restorative classes can also be great for stress relief and are suitable for beginners.

What can I expect?

Like Iyengar yoga, Restorative yoga focuses on proper alignment, but it is less rigorous and doesn’t always require props. It also tends to be more soothing than Iyengar yoga.

As with Iyengar or Yin yoga, you hold poses for longer periods and there isn’t a quick transition or flow between them.

Rather, restorative yoga embraces a meditative style with continuous movement and breathwork to encourage total body awareness.

Where did it originate from?

American yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater, who studied under Iyengar, is credited as the pioneer of this form.

While she developed the style in the 1970s, it gained prominence with the release of Hanson’s book “Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times,” published in 1995.

4. Yin yoga

Who is it best for?

Those who like a calm, slow pace without too much cardio will enjoy Yin yoga.

This slower style is great for people who want to relax, unwind and improve their flexibility. It is also recommended for disciplining a busy and overactive mind.

Like Restorative yoga, yogis practice at their own pace but with meticulous form.

It is much more calming and less exacting than Iyengar yoga, helping you reach a relaxed and focused state of mind.

What can I expect?

Yin yoga is designed to stretch your muscles and relax your mind by slowing down your parasympathetic nervous system.

During a Yin yoga class, you will only hold three to six poses, but you will maintain them for anything from two to ten minutes.

The instructor will encourage you to breathe deeply and relax completely into the pose.

Each time you do a Yin class, you will be able to hold the same pose for longer. It is very relaxing and yogis have been known to fall asleep while holding a pose.

Where did it originate from?

Yin yoga was first developed in the late 1970s by Paul Zink, an American martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher.

5. Vinyasa Flow yoga

A woman stands in a high lunge pose with hands pointed to the sky in prayer pose.

Who is it best for?

All forms of Vinyasa tend to be good for a combination of weight loss and improved fitness.

Like Hatha yoga, Vinyasa flow is more of an overarching term for yoga that moves seamlessly from one pose into another, hence the term “flow” in the name.

Vinyasa yoga is more high-intensity and dynamic than Hatha yoga with a constant and organic flow between asanas.

Be warned, advanced Vinyasa classes can be a little intimidating for a beginner, so be sure to choose a more entry-level session if you are new to the form.

What can I expect?

The basis of a Vinyasa flow yoga session is the standard yogic sun salutations which are repeated a few times.

Classes tend to be dynamic and energising and you can work up a bit of a sweat!

Some advanced classes require a basic level of coordination and some knowledge of classic yoga poses. A session can feel a little choreographed for this reason.

Each instructor will adapt classes to combine different asanas in a unique way with some moving at a faster pace than others.

Where did it originate from?

Like Hatha yoga, Vinyasa Flow does not have one key founder. It combines elements of Ashtanga and Hatha yoga and has evolved over time.

6. Ashtanga yoga

Who is it best for?

Ashtanga is best suited for more experienced yogis as it requires a good knowledge of classical yoga postures and a high level of fitness.

Ashtanga is a fast-paced and high-intensity adaptation of Vinyasa flow yoga.

What can I expect?

Classical Ashtanga follows the same series of six asanas.

These are constantly repeated and specifically synchronised with your breath.

Students are generally expected to repeat these asanas without guidance and the instructor will simply facilitate the class to correct postures.

Ashtanga is sometimes referred to as Power yoga, but there are some nuances.

Both forms are designed to increase cardiovascular fitness and build your strength and stamina, but Ashtanga tends to be more rigorous. It’s also more focused on correct form than Power yoga.

Where did it originate from?

Ashtanga yoga was developed by Indian guru, K Pattabhi Jois, in the late 1940s. 

Contemporary Ashtanga may sometimes be advertised as “Mysore style” since this was the city that Jois lived in.

7. Bikram yoga

Who is it best for?

Those who like to work hard and sweat buckets!

Bikram yoga is most suitable for people with high levels of fitness that thrive on a lot of exertion.

As a form of Hot yoga, a fusion of yoga and exercise, this high-intensity practice will leave you feeling both exhausted and rejuvenated.

Bikram is excellent for detoxifying the body because you sweat out many impurities, so be sure to drink plenty of water.

What can I expect?

In classic Bikram, students will run through a fixed sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises.

This physically demanding style is usually performed in a sauna-like room heated to 41 °C (105 °F) with a 40% humidity factor. This environment is intended to replicate that of the Indian subcontinent, making your practice more authentic.

As with Ashtanga and Power yoga, Bikram and Hot yoga are sometimes thought to be the same. 

While Hot yoga uses the same basic principles as Bikram, it does not always follow the classic 26-pose structure and same heat levels.

Where did it originate from?

Bikram yoga was developed by Indian-born guru, Bikram Choudhury, who emigrated to the United States in the 1970s and pioneered the style there.

8. Kundalini yoga

Who is it best for?

With a strong emphasis on fast inhalations and deep, pelvic-based breathing, Kundalini is not for everyone.

It can take some getting used to but is worth a try to see whether you enjoy it.

It is believed to sharpen your focus and promote the release of endorphins. This style of yoga is ideal for those who enjoy building up powerful psychic energy in their bodies.

A woman breathes in and out practising pranayama breathing techniques

What can I expect?

In a Kundalini yoga class, you can expect a fair amount of exertive yogic breathing. This is believed to build up energy from the base of your spine and work it up towards the skull and out the top of your head.

The idea is to activate spiritual energy called “shakti” that is said to be located at the base of your spine.

By chanting mantras and using the Kapalbhati breathing technique or “Breath of Fire,” you can learn to channel energy through your various chakras (energy points).

Where did it originate from?

Kundalini is an ancient yoga style thought to have existed as early as 1 000 BCE.

It was popularised by Indian guru, Yogi Bhajan, who brought it to the US in the 1970s.

Now that you have a better understanding of the most popular forms of yoga, why not explore them further on a yoga retreat?

Whether you want to master basic poses on a Vinyasa flow retreat or explore yoga as a budding mother on a prenatal yoga retreat, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Not sure where to start?

Try Basubu!

With all the yoga experiences you can imagine right at your fingertips, Basubu makes booking a yoga retreat an absolute breeze.