If you’ve finally decided to try yoga, or you want to expand into a new practice, your first step is to find a class that fits your schedule. But once you start browsing, you can get overwhelmed by the endless types of classes and names you’ve never seen before. Most styles are based on the same yoga poses (called asanas), but your experience can be vastly different from style to style.
We talked to some local instructors and experts to break down 10 of the most popular types of yoga to create a cheat sheet that will help give you a better idea of what style might be best-suited for your fitness plan.
“Introducing yourself to all kinds of yoga can serve many purposes for your body, physically and emotionally,” says local yoga and fitness instructor Marissa Walch. “Sometimes I crave sweating, but other days restorative may be more beneficial. You can find multiple classes that complement your life.”
Aerial Yoga helps you achieve levitation . . . literally. Over the past few years, we’ve seen “silks” and “anti-gravity” have a serious moment. You use these props to support you throughout the practice, with flying vinyasa flows and movements. Most aerial programs have progressive classes and it’s best to start with a beginner class and build up in skills and confidence. “The silks can make the postures more supportive but they can also make the poses more challenging,” says yoga instructor and educator Michelle DeVore Zuniga. “This is something that surprises most people because they think it is all just relaxation.”
Ashtanga yoga follows a set sequence of asanas that students practice the same way each time (as people progress in their practice, they are able to progress in different variations of the poses as well). There are multiple series of poses, each with different focuses, gradually becoming more challenging as class goes on. Each pose is held for five breaths and is typically physically challenging and vigorous. In Ashtanga classes, there is no music and most students don’t use props or modifications.
Bikram yoga is highly specific—the only thing that will change from class to class is your instructor. Each 90 minute class goes through a series of 26 yoga postures and breathing exercises, all organized in a sequence to help you work your full body. The 105-degree room is intended to help warm up your body and deepen the work in your muscles and the effects from the sequence.
Buti yoga is a newer variety of yoga, where you combine cardio-intensive tribal dance moves with body-toning yoga movements. Created in 2012, these yoga classes can work your core muscles hard—think lots of hip and torso movements. The class is intended to help strengthen your muscles with yoga and increases your conditioning with cardio.
Typically a good class for new and learning students, Hatha yoga is a general category. Asanas and pranayama (breathing exercises) help you focus on balance, flexibility and relaxation. However, while you generally spend more time getting into and holding poses, they aren’t necessarily beginner postures. “In Hatha classes, you can practice your technique with instructors that will often provide detailed demonstrations and alignment cues to ensure you’re getting to the poses safely,” says yoga instructor Emily Fleming.
Kundalini Yoga incorporates different practices from other yoga styles: Bhakti yoga (the yogic practice of devotion and chanting), Raja yoga (the practice of mediation/mental and physical control) and Shakti yoga (for the expression of power and energy). As with other styles, your movements are often synchronized with your breath. Classes are designed to awaken and move energy from the base of your spine upward through each of the seven chakras. Kundalini will feel quite different from other varieties, placing a huge emphasis on meditation, chanting and repeating movements over and over.
Expecting mothers can prepare their bodies and minds for their next big adventures with prenatal yoga. Prenatal classes often focus the lessons on relaxation and breathing, benefiting mom and baby. “Prenatal postures are carefully chosen to be safe and supportive,” says DeVore Zuniga. “This practice aims to help mothers adapt to changes and focus on building strength and stamina that is needed during child birth.”
Restorative yoga is meant to do exactly that—restore. It typically involved only a handful of poses extended for longer periods of time, supported by props. By completely supporting the body in propped-up asanas, students can get to a state of relaxation and rest. Expect more gentle and lying down poses.
Vinyasa classes are one of the most common classes you will find. “Vinyasa means ‘to flow’, so this style typically focuses on synchronizing your breath with your movement, creating a continuous flow of poses,” says Walch. While it’s a common practice, each class can be different, driven by the instructor’s composition and use of music and props. Classes typically start slow, warm up to a peak pose or flow, then slow down with seated poses, stretches and opportunities to recover. There isn’t always detailed instructions for each pose, however modifications are often offered.
Find it in Baltimore: Aluma Yoga, Asana Roots Yoga, Baltimore Yoga Village, Bamboo Moves, Earth Treks, Eclectic Soul Yoga, Inline Fitness, LIFT Yoga + Strength, Merritt Clubs, Movement Lab, M. Power Yoga, Sanctuary Bodyworks, Under Armour Performance Center, Yoga Tree, YogaWorks
If you’re looking for a more relaxing practice, slow-paced Yin yoga is a perfect fit. Yin uses more seated and supine poses for longer periods of time, focusing on the release of your fascia (your connective tissue). This practice will help if your muscles feel extra tight and you need longer, deeper holds to release.