From Ashtanga to Vinyasa: Your A to Z Guide to Yoga Styles

Health Yoga Life Yoga instructor Siga Bielkus demonstrates Sun Salutation A, a sequence performed 5 times at the beginning of each Ashtanga class. Sun Salutation A is a common sequence in other yoga styles as well including Vinyasa and Hatha Yoga.
Health Yoga Life Yoga instructor Siga Bielkus demonstrates Sun Salutation A, a sequence performed 5 times at the beginning of each Ashtanga class. Sun Salutation A is a common sequence in other yoga styles as well including Vinyasa and Hatha Yoga. –Denali Tietjen / Boston.com

Ashtanga, Kundalini, Iynegar, Vinyasa…. what? Is your yoga vocabulary limited to downward dog and child’s pose? Don’t kriya, we’ve got your back.

We teamed up with Boston-based yoga instructors Vyda and Siga Bielkus (also voted Boston’s best bachelorettes, gentlemen) to create this yoga guide for the yogi newb and pro alike. Here’s what you can expect from each class style.

Hatha

Good for: All levels

Common poses: Gentle stretching, simple arm balances

Temperature: Room temperature (unheated)

“Hatha’’ yoga is an umbrella term used to describe the physical practices of yoga. Through a combination of conscious breathing and series of poses called asanas, Hatha yoga corrects the body’s alignment.

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One of the gentlest styles of yoga, hatha is a perfect style for beginners, athletes looking to supplement their regular workout with deep stretching, and for more advanced yogis hoping to deepen and perfect their poses.

Side notes: Since Hatha yoga is such a general practice, you may want to ask the teacher what the specific class is like and who it is geared for. You Hatha try Hatha!

Health Yoga Life Yoga instructor Siga Bielkus demonstrates the wide-legged split pose, a deep groin stretch, a signature Hatha Yoga pose. —Denali Tietjen / Boston.com

Ashtanga

Good for: Dedicated yogis

Common poses: Sun salutations

Temperature: Heated (80-90 degrees)

Unlike Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga is a very specific style of yoga. All Ashtanga classes follow a set sequence of poses that begin with an opening sequence, transition to one of six series of poses that vary with difficulty, continues to a back-bending sequence, and end with a finishing sequence and savasana (that final resting pose you always fall asleep in).

While the opening, back-bending, and final sequences are the same in all Ashtanga classes, the second series varies depending on one’s level. In beginner’s classes, the instructor leads all students through same beginner’s sequence while in more advanced classes called Mysore classes, students work independently on their second series depending on what level they’re practicing.

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Since Ashtanga is such a specific style, it is highly encouraged to have a committed Ashtanga practice. Traditionally, students practice six days a week, resting only on Saturdays and full and new moon days. Yoga teachers advise that women should not practice Ashtanga during the first few days of their menstrual cycle. There is no music in Ashtanga classes, and classes are not heated.

Vinyasa

Good for: All yogis

Common poses: Sun salutations, Warrior poses

Temperature: Typically unheated

Vinyasa is the most popular yoga style in the United States. Like Hatha, Vinyasa is an umbrella term for flowing, dynamic styles of yoga including Power and Flow yoga. “Vinyasa’’ simply means to flow with breath from one movement to another, thus Vinyasa emphasizes connecting breath to poses. Achieving perfect alignment in each pose is not necessarily as important as feeling the connection of the breath and body.

Vinyasa classes can be heated or non-heated and with or without music. Classes set to music tend to have a more mental emphasis while classes set to music tend to have a more physical focus.

Since Vinyasa is the least strict style of yoga, Vinyasa instructors are free to personalize their classes. Some instructors may personalize their classes by varying sequences and setting classes to Hip-Hop or other music. Vinyasa classes range from one to two hours in length.

Health Yoga Life Yoga instructor Siga Bielkus demonstrates Sun Salutation B flowing from Warrior I to Warrior II and into Reverse Warrior. Sun Salutations are common sequences in Vinyasa Yoga.

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Kundalini

Good for: Spritual yogis

Common poses: Chanting, camel pose, cobra pose

Temperature: Unheated

Kundalini Yoga is a very specific, spiritual style of yoga that consists of a set of Kriyas, a combination of postures, breathing techniques, chanting, and meditation linked together to create a certain result such as detoxification or circulation.

The word “Kundalini’’ is defined in the yogic texts as the latent energy coiled up at the base of the spine. In order for self-realization to be achieved, Kundalini yogis believe this energy must be stimulated and travel from the lower energy centers of the body to the higher energy centers. Thus, Kundalini yoga aims to stimulate these energy systems to reach self realization.

What differentiates Kundalini from most other styles of yoga is the focus on breath and chanting. Many practitioners find that chanting makes Kundalini a more spiritual practice than other styles. Kundalini classes begin with a simple invocation chant, “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,’’ and end with a personal prayer/song: “May the long time sun shine upon you, All love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.’’

Kundalini teachers typically wear white and cover their heads with a scarf or turban. Kundalini classes do involve song, music, chants, and often a gong is played. Classes range from one to two hours. There is a dedicated Kundalini studio called Kundalini Yoga Boston in Harvard Square.

Health Yoga Life Instructor Siga Bielkus demonstrates the “Breath of Fire’’, a conscious breathing technique aimed to eradicate the ego. The “Breath of Fire’’ is a central breathing technique in Kundalini and is in many Kriyas.

Iyengar

Good for: Yogis of all levels

Common poses: Downward dog, side angle pose

Temperature: Unheated

Health Yoga Life instructor Siga Bielkus modifies Queen Pose, or shoulder stand, with a block. Queen Pose is a common Iyengar Yoga pose. —Denali Tietjen / Boston.com

Iyengar Yoga classes focus on deep stretching and flexibility by holding poses longer than in other classes. Iyengar classes emphasize precise alignment in each pose and thus the use of props such as blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters is recommended.

Through longer poses and specific breathing techniques, Iyengar yoga has a spiritual focus. Students are encouraged to explore the mind-body connection and are not set to music.

Bikram

Good for: Intermediate/experienced yogis

Common poses: Downward dog, side angle pose

Temperature: Heated (105-108 degrees)

Bikram Yoga, sometimes referred to as Hot Yoga, is a set series of 26 postures practiced in a room that is heated to approximately 105 degrees Farenheit. All Bikram classes are exactly the same, every time, down to even a specific script the teacher recites.

Vyda and Siga Bielkus say there are many benefits to practicing yoga in a heated room. The heat loosens rigidity, allowing people with limited flexibility to get deeper into their poses. Also, similar to sweat lodges in Native American culture and saunas in Northern European culture, Bikram Yogis believe heat to be a source of detoxification and purification.

Since all Bikram classes are exactly the same, regular practitioners can really see their progression. Also, regular students can get into a meditative zone because they are familiar with the sequence of poses.

No music is played in Bikram classes and all classes are 90 minutes long. It is important to come to class well hydrated. While Bikram studios welcome beginners, Bikram is a more challenging introductory style of yoga as modifications are not taught or encouraged.

Health Yoga Life Instructor Siga Bielkus demonstrates Camel Pose, one of the postures in the Bikram Yoga sequence. —Denalit Tietjen / Boston.com

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June 18, 2019 | 8:55 AM