Yoga may be thought of by some as a trendy way to get in shape and de-stress, but it's far from new. The ancient practice is actually thought to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old when it was first used as a means of achieving enlightenment. That's certainly still a main reason some modern yogis turn to their mats (or wherever they prefer to flow), but the evolution of yoga as we know it today also means tailored benefits like improved alignment, energy release, a soothed nervous system, and so much more. And while one "best yoga style" does not exist, there might be one that works best for you depending on what you're looking to get out of it.
"The best type of yoga for your body is the kind of yoga that brings your mind into the present and feels good," explains Jessica Rosen, owner of One Down Dog studios in Los Angeles. "Yoga is all about increasing your joy and feeling better in your body — try it all to find what feels good for you, and keep in mind that can change from day to day."
And Rosen isn't the only fitness expert to applaud yoga as something that can help a variety of mental and physical needs. "I incorporate it into almost every client session and try to practice daily," says celebrity trainer and wellness coach Amy Rosoff Davis. "It is an incredible way to incorporate mind, body, and soul."
That said, she recognizes that from one day to the next those needs might change, which could have you reevaluating which type of yoga will suit you best. "Yoga is called a practice because that’s precisely what it is," she adds. "While one day you may want a high-paced Vinyasa flow, another day you may need something more restorative to calm your mind and body." So which one could be a fit for your lifestyle right now? Ahead, find a breakdown of some of the most popular types of yoga to practice, as explained by some expert yogis.
"Vinyasa yoga is breath-to-movement yoga where practitioners focus on linking a single inhale or exhale to the expansion or contraction of the body," says Ava Johanna yoga and mediation teacher and founder of The Alchemized Life podcast. "This style is especially beneficial for athletes looking to increase balance, improve flexibility and enhance focus. Incorporating vinyasa yoga, in many cases, can help prevent injuries like muscle strains or tears making it an attractive exercise for athletes looking for a gentle workout on their off days."
Hot yoga is more of a general term than a specific style, though the traditional 26-posture sequence Bikram yoga can be considered part of this category. In modern yoga, many differed styles incorporate some amount of heat (often infrared) to help encourage body detoxification. And according to Sian Gordon Fujikawa, co-founder and teacher at Love Yoga, it's that effect that gets a lot of yoga novices interested. "Hot Yoga can be great for beginners because it gives them the flush and endorphin rush that often gets people hooked to yoga," she says. However, the heat can also be cause for concern for some. "Eventually, however, it begins to wear on your joints and the heat can overstretch the muscle tissues beyond their capacity," she warns.
Looking for a simple practice to get started? Hatha might be the one for you. "[Hatha] is slower paced yoga that's focused on breathing and postures, says Rosoff Davis. "Hatha is great for beginners or when you need to take it easy."
Want to focus on your flexibility? Look for a yin style class, which is slower paced with poses held for longer periods of time. "Yin is good for people who are particularly tight," says Gordon Fujikawa. "Yin yoga can really help to open the fascia and muscle tissue in a way that regular yoga doesn't address. It's also wonderful for people with anxiety or a lot of stress in their lives."
Iyengar is a more modern style of yoga, established in the 1970s by B. K. S. Iyengar. "Iyengar focuses on alignment as well as detailed and precise movements with controlled breath," says Rosoff Davis. "[It] relies heavily on props and has students hold poses for a long time to help them perfect their form and go deeper into poses in a safe manner. This style is really great for people with injuries who need to work slowly and methodically, but you will also get a great workout."
Gordon Fujikawa, whose practice is heavily influenced by this style, adds that Iyengar is especially good for established yogis looking to thoughtfully expand upon their practice. "Anyone who would like to understand deeply and practice meticulously will enjoy Iyengar yoga," she explains.
If it's the spiritual side of yoga you're most interested in, Kundalini class might just get you to that higher plane. "It is a very healing energy work practice and works with sets of postures, meditation, mantras, and breath work in specific sequences to create specific results in our bodies, minds, and our lives," explains Britt Deanda, kundalini and meditation instructor and co-founder of wellness hub Elevate the Globe. "It clears out the subconscious mind and allows us to release old stagnant energy and traumas, to create new habits and realities for ourselves and the planet."
Deanda adds that those who are purely looking to yoga as exercise might not be the best candidates for this type. According to her, those who are "not ready to tap into their spiritual side" might prefer a different style.
Restorative yoga refers to any practice focused on slowing down, breathing deep, and being especially gentle on the body. And according to the experts, it's especially geared toward those healing from injuries, or just in need of a little more TLC — inside and out. "Restorative yoga helps you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system and deeply nourishing for your whole body," shares Gordon Fujikawa.
Rosoff Davis adds that this type of yoga may also include a few extra accoutrements. "Props such as blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows are there to help you sink deeper into relaxation," she explains.