Styles of Yoga: A Primer

Last week Tracey, a regular student in my Yoga for Aging Athletes class, asked about different types of yoga classes. If you’re heading to a yoga studio or gym, you may feel (as she did) a little stumped while perusing the yoga schedule. What do all the different names and styles mean?

Tracey, 63, is an avid runner and tennis player. She takes my Yoga for Aging Athletes class every Thursday.

Let’s start with a quick primer.

Types of Yoga Classes

Flow is yoga that moves quickly—often at a rate of one breath per movement. In addition, the poses are linked together, so you move seamlessly from one to the other. Other terms that denote a similar style of yoga include Power Flow, Ashtanga, Baptiste, or Vinyasa. These classes often include a focus on plank pose and other poses that require weight-bearing for the upper body.

Hatha is an umbrella term for all styles of yoga. Classes labeled “Hatha” will move a little slower. The poses won’t necessarily link together.

A class labeled gentle, healthy aging, or senior yoga will be mellow and mindful, with a focus on seated poses or modified versions of standing poses. If you’re a cyclist or runner, this is a great type of class to take when you’re recovering from a race.

Restorative yoga is even mellower: you use props like blankets and bolsters to deeply rest and relax. (You can learn about my favorite restorative yoga pose in my post about supported fish.)

Yin yoga involves holding low-to-the-ground and seated poses for several minutes at a time. While you don’t move quickly, long holds offer a different type of challenge.

Anything labeled Iyengar or alignment-based will include clear, detailed anatomical instruction and the use of props.

Heated yoga refers to yoga in a room heated from 75 up to 105 degrees. If it’s Bikram, a specific style of heated yoga, a set series of 26 poses will always be practiced.

Yoga for athletes will be taught by an instructor who is also an athlete. You can expect a focus on release, strength, stamina, and injury prevention.

This is certainly not comprehensive. New styles of yoga are constantly being created, and different teachers and studios may have varying interpretations of these terms. If in doubt, ask the instructor to explain the tempo and focus of the class.

Which Yoga Class is Right for You?

Your yoga practice should complement the other movement practices in your life, not compete with them.

Recovering from a race? Try gentle, Yin, or restorative.

Looking to build your cardio or upper-body strength? Check out flow.

Feeling the chill of winter cold? A heated yoga class could be fun.

Brand new to yoga? Hatha or alignment classes often cover the basics.

And of course, if you’re an active, aging adult, a class labeled yoga for athletes or yoga for healthy aging (or a hybrid of those) is always going to be the perfect fit.