There are various styles of hatha yoga, many of them have specific characteristics that reflect a particular teacher’s approach to asanas; others reflect the characteristics or teachings of a particular organization.
Like people, hatha yoga styles or schools have their own personalities and approaches to practicing asanas. What distinguishes the different styles is what is emphasized, whether it is posture, breathing, aerobic exercises, dance, slow and rhythmic movements, philosophy or a combination of many factors.
Although the basic asanas and breathing exercises remain the same, the way they are performed, in what order, and where the attention is focused while performing are the main differences between the many schools.
Regardless of your age or fitness level, you can find a style that is appealing to you and is more appropriate for your particular body type or personality.
This method combines the physical and the spiritual. The purpose of Ananda yoga is to cleanse and energize the system in preparation for meditation. Each posture is seen as a way to expand or increase self-awareness.
This process is enhanced through the use of affirmation, a distinctive feature of this system. Ananda yoga also teaches a series of poses called “energizing exercises.” These exercises involve tensing and relaxing different parts of the body, along with breathing exercises to send them energy.
Another feature of this technique is the emphasis it places on relaxing deeply in poses, keeping in mind that hatha yoga is a preparation for meditation.
The Ashtanga yoga system is a rigorous practice comparable to the training of an elite athlete. Consisting of 240 postures performed in six successive series (vinyasa) joined by the breath, Ashtanga yoga represents the most intense form of hatha yoga.
The purpose of this continuous flow of action is to create heat that produces a cleansing or detoxifying effect on the body. Ashtanga places equal emphasis on strength, flexibility, and endurance.
Many fitness enthusiasts who thrive on intense workouts like this style.
Integral yoga combines all the paths of yoga – asana (postures), pranayama (controlled breathing), selfless service, prayer, singing, meditation and self-inquiry – in one focus.
It emphasizes a more meditative than anatomical approach. Practitioners of this style of yoga are encouraged to be “easy on the body, calm in the mind, and useful in life.” Comprehensive yoga classes follow an established pattern and last 75 minutes.
This includes 45 minutes of asanas, deep relaxation, a breathing sequence and ends with a meditation. Although challenging, the feeling of the class is soft and meditative and reflects a traditional approach that benefits all aspects of the individual.
Iyengar yoga is probably the most recognized hatha yoga technique in the western world. Iyengar yoga is practiced in the manner prescribed by yoga teacher B. K. S. Iyengar.
It is mainly considered for its rigorous scientific and therapeutic approach, concentrating on correcting structural imbalances in the physical body.
Iyengar teachers pay special attention to the placement of the feet, hands and pelvis, as well as the alignment of the spine, arms and legs. Due to this attention to detail, the pace of an Iyengar class tends to be slow to moderate.
Classes generally focus in great detail on just a few asanas to refine movements. Standing postures are emphasized, and while you will be reminded to breathe, specific breathing techniques are not emphasized as much in this style of yoga as in some of the other styles.
Iyengar-style yoga also relies heavily on accessories: wooden blocks, benches, sandbags, blankets, reinforcements, and straps as a support system to achieve greater symmetry and extension in posture.
Less concerned with the structural detail of the postures, Kripalu yoga has been described as “moving meditation”. It emphasizes the student’s mental and emotional states as the poses are performed, while fostering a gentle, compassionate, and introspective approach.
The postures are held for a long time to explore and release emotional and spiritual blocks. This internal form of hatha yoga consists of 3 stages: deliberate practice, will and surrender, and finally surrender to the wisdom of the body.
Within each of the 3 stages, the postures are offered in different intensities: soft, moderate and vigorous. In addition, spontaneous postures and posture sequences are encouraged, guided by the body’s internal awareness.
Kundalini yoga is an ancient practice designed to produce the “Kundalini”, or reservoir of energy, stored at the base of the spine.
Through the use of breathing, posture, singing and meditation, this energy is consciously stimulated and directed through the chakras or energy centers along the spine. Various breathing techniques are emphasized: alternative nose breathing; slow, diaphragmatic breathing and a dynamic technique called fire breath.
Sivananda yoga incorporates a five-point practice method, which includes proper exercise, breathing, deep relaxation, a vegetarian diet, positive thinking, and meditation.
Following a standard format, Sivananda hatha yoga classes are based on a routine of breathing exercises, sun salutations, a series of 12 classical yoga and relaxation poses.
The Viniyoga method represents a kind of intermediate path between the accuracy of Iyengar yoga and physically demanding Ashtanga yoga.
It is based on the principle of vinyasa krama, which means “an organized yoga study course”, and combines asana, pranayama, meditation, text study, counseling, imagery, prayer, singing, and ritual.
Yoga poses are tailored to the physical needs and limitations of each student, taking into account body type, emotional needs, cultural heritage, and interest.
The emphasis is on the spine, and breathing is considered more important than the way the posture is performed. Breathing and movement are consciously coordinated and inhalations and exhalations are articulated in different lengths and proportions. Classes are usually one-on-one private sessions.