Yoga styles explained (and how to choose the right one for you)

Yoga isn't just about flexibility. Choose the right style to complement your training goals and it can also make you faster, stronger and more injury-proof

If you take training even a little bit seriously, you’ve probably already tried yoga and have either thrown yourself into perfecting your handstand scorpion, abandoned it entirely, or filed it under ‘stuff to do when I finally have more free time.’

Well, first: you’re never going to have more time. And secondly: to get the most out of yoga, the key is to match the style you practice to your training goals. Yoga is a 5,000 year-old art that’s been adapted into dozens of different styles: so whether you’re trying to get strong, make yourself more injury-proof, or get into a meditative state for big waves or steep downhill runs, there’s a smart choice.

With social distancing measures limiting the opportunity to attend live classes, we have also included a starter video for each style so you can give them a go at home.

The style: Ashtanga

One of the more energetic styles, Ashtanga is taught in a series of six sequences of asanas (poses, basically), ranging from simple to complex, offering a full-body workout that taxes every muscle and improves flexibility. The aim is to rapidly flow through each sequence, linking each pose with an inhale or exhale and maintaining focus throughout.

Do it if… you’ve got a Strava subscription or a journal full of sets, reps and personal PBs - the repetitive nature of Ashtanga makes it easy to challenge yourself and see progression.

The style: Vinyasa

An offshoot of Ashtanga, this style mixes up the asanas, allowing each teacher to create their own dynamic sequences. The name just means ‘movement with breath’ – but in most modern studios that translates to a faster-paced class that’ll challenge your cardio endurance and even build a bit of strength. You’ll link moves like the downward dog and warrior sequence together, in a class that’s always challenging and interesting.

Do it if… you’ve mastered Ashtanga and want more of a challenge with a cardiovascular workout to boot.

The style: Yin

Yin has less moves per class than many styles of yoga, with many being floor-based rather than dependent on balance, and a focus on staying in static positions for minutes at a time, embracing a more meditative state. It’s based on the Taoist idea of complimentary yin and yang, with yin representing restorative practice in contrast with the athletic movements of yang styles.

Do it if… your ‘other’ training is hardcore. If you’re into lifting weights, hitting pads, or putting in hours on the trails and roads, this focus on relaxation and stillness is the antidote. You’ll build flexibility, improve stability in your joints, and maybe even learn to relax easier.

The style: Hot yoga

You might know this style as Bikram: 90-minute classes that use the same 26 postures every time, in a room heated to a spicy 41˚C. After founder Bikram Choudhury became the subject of several civil suits, many studios have switched to the more generic ‘hot’ moniker, but the idea is the same: hold single poses for longer, allowing your muscles to relax into the tougher stretches.

Do it if… you like physical challenges and mental discipline. Traditional Bikram classes discourage hydrating or leaving mid-class, and even the gentler hot yoga styles can be gruelling experiences.

The style: Iyengar

This is one to check out if you’ve had bad previous experience with charlatans masquerading as gurus. Iyengar practitioners train for six years before they’re even allowed to start teacher training. It’s also safe and progressive: students use props like bands, walls, chairs and blocks to simplify poses and master them before moving on.

Do it if… you’re rehabbing old injuries, have a healthy sense of skepticism, or want simple, steady progression. Instead of leaping into tough poses from the off, Iyengar encourages you to go at your own pace.

The Style: Anti-gravity yoga

The new one. Popping up in trendy gyms, this style’s technically a fusion of yoga with Pilates, dance, calisthenics and circus-style acrobatics using a kind of hammock that hangs from the ceiling. As well as allowing beginners to practice low-risk alternatives to traditional yoga inversions, you’ll get to try brand-new asanas like the flying shoulder stand and the, er, vampire.

Do it if… you want a challenge, or you want to wake yourself up in the morning: some trainers suggest that decompressing the spine, a benefit of hanging poses, can open the intervertebral space in your spinal column to free up nerve transmissions to your muscles.

The style: Kundalini

Technically, all the above styles are considered ‘hatha’ yoga – the word means wilful or forceful, so these are the ones that involve physical activity. Kundalini, meanwhile, focuses on breathing, meditation and chanting, aimed at awakening energy at the base of the space. Traditional classes insist on attendees wearing white, so check with the studio if you don't want to feel like that kid who always forgot their PE kit and had to do the class in pants and vest.

Do it if… you’re looking for something spiritual and you don’t mind singing in front of other people.