Main Styles of Yoga Research Paper

For English class, I had to write a research paper about something that interests me. So, here ya go!


The Main Styles of Yoga

By: Elena Hicks

When people hear the word yoga, they picture a dimly lit room with people sitting and stretching. However, there are many styles of yoga. In fact, there are styles that cater to certain personalities, goals and cultures. Even though this practice is 5,000 years old, new styles of yoga are constantly being created. This paper seeks to explore the seven most popular styles of yoga today in the United States.

Hatha yoga, despite popular belief, is not a specific style of yoga. Hatha simply means physical yoga (Ratini). So, Hatha yoga is any physical or movement-based yoga style. The only type of yoga offered in the Western Hemisphere is Hatha yoga (Greenwood).There are other more principal based types of yoga practiced in the Eastern Hemisphere. When a yoga class is described or marketed as Hatha, it will most likely be a slow-paced, gentle practice for beginners where basic poses are introduced (Hanley).

Ashtanga Yoga was created by Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India (Cook). Jois brought Ashtanga (also spelled Astanga) to the United States in the 1970s (Hanley). The word Ashtanga means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit (Pizer).  Ashtanga yoga is known to build stamina, strength and flexibility. Ashtanga yoga is considered a highly vigorous, serious workout with constant movement from one pose to the next. Jois often told his students, when discouraged, “Body is not stiff. Mind is stiff.” The goal in an Ashtanga yoga practice is to produce intense internal heat and a purifying sweat (Yoga Disciplines). These elements of Ashtanga yoga detoxify organs and muscles, as well as improve circulation (Yoga Disciplines). Ashtanga yoga is based on six series, always performed in the same order, that increase in difficulty (Greenwood). Vinyasa/Power Yoga is based on Ashtanga yoga.

Vinyasa yoga classes are known as a vigorous, intense, athletic and physically-demanding practice. The word Vinyasa is Sanskrit for flow (Hanley). This style of yoga is called Vinyasa or Flow because the class is built on matching breath to movement (Pizer).Vinyasa yoga is adapted from Ashtanga yoga (Greenwood). The difference is that Vinyasa yoga does not stick to the same sequence each time and Ashtanga yoga does (Greenwood). The sequencing and poses included in a Vinyasa class varies by teacher. Vinyasa yoga was created in the late 1980s by Bender Birch and Bryan Kest. Both studied under the creator of Ashtanga yoga, Pattabhi Jois (Greenwood). Birch and Kest designed Vinyasa yoga for the aerobic-crazed Americans of the ‘80s (Greenwood).Vinyasa yoga classes start with a series of sun salutations as a warm up (Hanley). Again, there are many unique versions of the main sun salutations (Sun A and Sun B.) Vinyasa yoga is also called Power Yoga (Greenwood).

Bikram yoga was founded by Indian Bikram Cloudhury, a gold medalist in Olympic weight lifting and a disciple of  Bishnu Ghosh , a leading yogi in India (Yoga Disciplines.)  Cloudhury created Bikram yoga in the early 1970s, long before yoga was a popular fitness trend (Ratini). Cloudhury took his first trip to the United States from India to show how yoga can treat chronically ill patients. He made this trip in 1971 and was sponsored by the American Medical Association (Cook). Cloudhury said, “You’re never too bad, never too old, never too late, never too sick, to stretch and have a new beginning with yoga.” At every official Bikram class, students go through the same 26 poses  twice. Bikram yoga is commonly called “Hot Yoga” (though, not all heated yoga classes are Bikram,) because studios are heated between 95 and 105 degrees with forty percent humidity (Greenwood). Cloudhury created this style of yoga (especially the heat and 26 postures) to loosen tight muscles, release toxins, and “rinse” and compress all organs of the body (Ratini). The idea is that the heat loosens muscles, which helps students get deeper into their stretching and strengthening poses while avoiding injury because their muscles are already warmed up. Bikram yoga is also unique because it includes all the aspects of fitness: muscular endurance, weight loss, flexibility and muscular strength (Yoga Disciplines).

Iyengar Yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar more than 60 years ago(Yoga Disciplines). B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the most influential and best known yoga instructors. He still teaches yoga, at 80 years old, from his home in Prune, India (Cook). This style of yoga is focused on attention to detail, as well as the precise alignment of poses. Iyengar yoga uses props like blocks, straps, bolsters and blankets to make yoga accessible to the injured, ill, disabled and elderly (Yoga Disciplines). Iyengar is famous for saying, “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” Iyengar wanted to give all people this freedom and feeling of true well-being. This drove his style of yoga, especially the emphasis on using props. Iyengar yoga has been nicknamed “Furniture Yoga” because of the detail-oriented and slow-paced, deliberate sequences, and the use of props (Greenwood). The trademark of Iyengar yoga is an intense focus on the subtleties of each and every pose. Poses are held much longer than in most other styles of yoga. To teach Iyengar yoga, a rigorous two to five year teacher training program is required, so teachers can learn to pay close attention to muscular and skeletal alignment (Yoga Styles Guide).

Kundalini yoga was developed by Yogi Bhajan and brought to the United States in 1969 (Yoga Styles Guide). When asked what Kundalini was, Yogi Bhajan answered, “It is the creative potential of the human being.” Kundalini Yoga focuses on the controlled release of Kundalini (serpent) energy at the base of the spine. The goal is to move this “serpent” energy to the upper body. Kundalini exercises are called Kriyas and are constantly moving, invigorating repetitive motions. Kundalini yoga classes are unique because they include a hatha yoga warm up, chanting, singing, Kriyas, meditations and breathing techniques (think alternating nostril breathing.) Unlike many types of yoga, there is little focus on alignment and body positioning (Ratini).

Yin yoga was created by Paul Grilley with the purpose of stretching the body’s connective tissue, especially around the joints (Pizer). Yin yoga is also called Taoist yoga. Yin yoga is also often called “yoga for the joints” compared to most styles of yoga that are for the muscles (Yoga Disciplines). Yin yoga is meant to complement yang yoga, any athletic or strenuous yoga practice (Greenwood). In Yin yoga, poses are held for between five and twenty minutes (Yoga Disciplines). Yin Yoga works the fascia and bones in addition to the previously mentioned connective tissue and joints (Yoga Disciplines).

Restorative Yoga is based on Yin yoga.  In restorative yoga, props (similar to the props used in Iyengar yoga) are used to support the body and promote relaxation (Hanley). Restorative yoga classes are often offered at the end of the week at gyms and yoga studios. Restorative yoga is not meant to be a workout, but a “reset button” for your regular yoga practice and/or other athletic activities. The goal of restorative yoga is to passively allow muscles to relax (Greenwood).

There is a style of yoga that meets the needs of everyone: people who love to sweat, stressed-out workaholics, hard-core athletes. Yoga has evolved, and continues to evolve, from its roots in India. This paper has barely touched on what these styles of yoga are, and are yet to become.



Works Cited

Cook, Jennifer. “Not All Yoga is Created Equal.” Yoga Journal.Cruz Bay Publishing, 2013.Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <>.

Greenwood, Becky. “14 Styles of Yoga Explained Simply.” MindBodyGreen.MindBodyGreen, 20 April 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <>.

Hanley, Kate. “A Beginner’s Guide to 8 Major Styles of Yoga.”Gaiam Life.Gaiam Incorporated, 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <;.

Pizer, Ann. “Yoga Style Guide.” About Yoga., 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <;.

Ratini, Melinda. “Which Style of Yoga is Best For You?” WebMD Health & Balance. WebMD, 25 May 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <;.

“Yoga Disciplines-Different Types of Yoga.”, 2013.Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <;.

“Yoga Styles Guide.”The Yoga Site. Yoga Site Incorporated, 2004. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <;.





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