Understanding the different Yoga styles

There are so many Yoga Styles being taught in Studios around the world that most students don’t have a clue what all the different styles can do for them. Also, a lot of yogis start off with a particular style of Yoga and then never change, ever! And even if you try another class; you end up comparing how the new Teacher teaches Surya Namaskar or sequences the Asanas differently from your own teacher!

In this article, we’ll try and understand 4 of the most famous yoga styles around the world and in India. I’m drawing from my decade long experience of being a Yoga Teacher and studying various yoga styles, to analyze these legends of modern yoga and their iconic yoga styles.

Before we get into the brands of Yoga; it’s better we are clear on the three primary forms of modern yoga – Hatha, Vinyasa and Power yoga.

Hatha is a classical form of yoga wherein your focus is on holding poses for long so that your body strengthens and your mind becomes one-pointed. Vinyasa is a flow of poses; you’ll be moving from one posture to the next and so on, while focusing on your Breath. Power yoga is usually a combination of vinyasa-inspired yoga and exercise.


I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of the Yoga that is taught in Yoga studios around the world derives from the Ashtanga Yoga established in Mysore (South India). From the 1970’s Ashtanga has slowly spread its message across the western world; and in the last decade Indians are taking to this style in larger numbers. Ashtanga yoga was developed by Sri Pattabhi Jois (who passed away nearly 5 years ago); he adapted the form from a text ‘Yoga Korunta’ that his Guru & Father of Modern Yoga – Sri Krishnamacharya studied.

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Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series postures chart

Fundamental of Ashtanga: An Ashtanga yoga class comprises 2 unique stylized ‘Ashtanga’ Surya Namaskaars (A and B) followed by a sequence of Asanas (poses) that are done in a continuous flow or Vinyasa.

You will move from posture to posture in a designated sequence, whilst focusing on your breath. There are 6 series, starting from the Primary series and moving towards Intermediate and Advanced series (includes progressively tougher poses). In the Mysore style; the Teacher is not guiding the class – in fact, students practice in a shala (hall) at their own pace whilst the Teacher moves around and guides individual students on a one-on-one basis!

Wow Factor! The amazing poses that advanced Ashtanga yoga practitioners perform make your jaws drop! It’s poetry in motion really. And if you ever needed further motivation; Madonna does Ashtanga!

As a reviewer, I’m compelled to say all the good things but also dwell on the things that could do with a change; at least in my opinion. So here goes…

Critique: Ashtanga yoga in many ways was the first yoga system in the world that catered to Fitness – which is great! However, there seems to be an obsession with the Body-Beautiful among ‘Ashtangis’ (as some practitioners like to call themselves), which is perhaps short-changing Krishnamacharya’s vision of a ‘complete’ yoga practice based on Patanjali’s yoga sutras. This has spawned a modern phenomenon of turning Yoga into an almost entirely Asana experience!


Sri BKS Iyengar was a living legend of Yoga and even at 95 years he epitomized Yoga’s USP as being a lifestyle practice that bestows on its practitioners great health & vitality! Based in Pune, the Iyengar Institute continues to be a mecca for modern yogis. Sri BKS was bestowed the Padma Vibhushan award by the Indian Government.

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Iyengar Yoga’s usage of Props

Fundamental of Iyengar Yoga: Iyengar Yoga is a Hatha yoga practice that is very strict on the proper Alignment of each posture. Students take months and sometimes years to master a particular pose! It is this refinement of every posture, a heightened Awareness of body in each pose that trains your bodily Intelligence and your Mind. Iyengar’s students initially were mainly people recovering from ailments and so he used props (a system initiated by his Guru – Sri Krishnamacharya), to allow students to reach and hold the various asanas that helped in their therapy.

Wow Factor! Iyengar Yogis can tell you more about each posture than most other yogis can tell you about all the poses in yoga combined! The refinement in practicing every posture perfectly is astonishing. That also means that Iyengar yoga is great for therapeutic reasons. The usage of props is fundamental to Iyengar’s yoga. Anything from chairs to ropes and bolsters are used so that you can reach and hold particular poses for a longer duration.

Critique: While discipline is certainly a quality associated with Yoga; Iyengar Yoga can in some cases produce overly rigid yogis. Many yogis can spend years perfecting their bodies whilst not gravitating towards the higher practices in Yoga.

Often, Iyengar yogis after a few years enjoy practicing the flowing sequences of Ashtanga Yoga and vice versa; the Ashtangis love the detailing in each and every pose in Iyengar yoga! It’s as if the 2 styles created by Iyengar & Pattabhi Jois respectively; both students of the same Guru (Sri Krishnamacharya), are complimentary to one another!


Swami Sivananda is perhaps that most important Swami in terms of leaving behind a modern yoga lineage! Sivananda Yoga is credited with Training over 40,000 Teachers over the last 4-5 decades. The Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Certificate is the closest modern yogis will come to receiving a yoga learning and certification in an Ashram-type environment. Their Rishikesh center (and also the other scenic ashrams worldwide); is always sought out by urban yogis wanting to become Teachers.

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Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training

Fundamental of Sivananda Yoga: Sivananda Yoga is a classic Hatha yoga class that includes 12 Asanas. These are more or less the sames poses described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The poses chosen open up the body and since they are done slowly with sufficient rest in between, the overall effect is Meditative. In fact the class ends with Shavasana and the raison d’etre of the Sivananda yoga is to prepare the student for Meditation!

Wow Factor! Sivanda Yoga, unlike the first 2 styles described is an attempt to prepare the practicitioner for the higher practices of Yoga. Asanas are done in preparation for Meditation. Sivananda Ashrams in Rishikesh, Kerala and other stunning, natural locations are an oasis of calm for beleaguered city-folks. And these Ashram-centers have been a rich tradition of producing Yoga teachers galore!

Critique: The Sivananda style of Yoga is not been able to make the crossover from being a traditional Yoga program to being able to address one of the 2 primary modern requirements from Yoga – Fitness! People today look for Fitness and De-Stressing from yoga; and Sivananda is great as a relaxing practice but students still feel the need to train their bodies at the gym or through other fitness programs or yoga styles.

4) BIKRAM Hot Yoga

Bikram Chowdhury is the most marketing-savvy yogi in history! Through sheer hard work, networking and hard selling; he made Bikram Yoga into the formidable empire it is today. In many ways, Bikram set the stage for the modern yoga boom by taking the ancient practice to the west and selling it to them sans the Meditation element – which made the average American in the 1980s &90s easily digest this esoteric eastern discipline! From president Ronald Regan to every other celeb in Hollywood; Bikram was truly the Yoga teacher to the stars – in the process becoming a veritable Star in his own right!

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Bikram Hot Yoga class

Fundamental of Bikram Yoga: Bikram “HOT” Yoga is a sequence of 26 Hatha yoga asanas (including a couple of breathing exercises); that uniquely is done in a room heated to 40 degrees C (104F)! This added heat causes the effect of practicing Yoga in a sauna – making your body flexible and thereby allowing you to stretch more than usual. You also lose weight and your body clears itself of toxins!

Wow Factor! Practicing in a heated room warms up your body and you are able to stretch beyond your normal range! The risk of injuries while practicing yoga is much lower since the body is well warmed-up.

Critique: Bikram Yoga makes people practice yoga in a sauna and that means that the warming up is being done artificially! Ideally the body should be warmed up; but it should be done by you; through Surya namaskar or Vinyasa, etc. Warming up naturally will also improve your Cardio vascular fitness. Also, the strict homogenization in the script that the Teacher speaks (it’s the exact same whether in California or Sydney) diminishes the freedom of expression of the yoga teacher.


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–  by  Manish Pole  (Yogi, Blogger, Director of Total Yoga)

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Total Yoga

Total Yoga is a balanced style of Yoga that focuses on Fitness training and Mindfulness practice equally.


4 Replies to “Understanding the different Yoga styles”

  1. Wonderful post Manish! You make us understand Yoga and adaptive in our modern lifestyle. Had no clue about different names and forms in Yoga, just a beginner but amazingly beautiful experience to learn completely new form of yoga – Tristar Total Yoga!

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