Written by Jon Dyer.
When I started doing yoga, I had a hard time trying to unravel all the different styles and what their purpose was. Then I started reading about the 8 Limbs, and that really threw me for a loop. After doing yoga for more than 10 years, I can't say I've done every style, but I've done enough of them to get an understanding of the various types of yoga. So, how do you go about choosing a yoga style that's right for you? Start by articulating your yoga goals.
The following are different yoga goals:
Fortunately, many yoga styles will achieve several of those goals. For example, Ashtanga (or Power Yoga) can dramatically improve both strength and flexibility while helping you lose weight. Gentle yoga (a.k.a. Yin Yoga) can help with flexibility, spiritual pursuit, stress relief and depending on the routine, injury rehabilitation. It's also important (and I didn't get this for a while), that you can do more than one style of yoga as part of your yoga regimen. You don't have to restrict yourself to one style.
Some yoga programs are fairly regimented. They make claims about a particular style of yoga being the best or the 'true' style of yoga. Frankly, I find such statements disappointing. There is no "one" style of yoga that's the 'true' form of yoga. There are many excellent and effective yoga styles. That said, different styles are designed for different results. That's why the starting point is determining your desired result.
The following is a list of popular yoga styles accompanied by purpose (expected results):
Increase strength, balance and flexibility. Can result in weight loss and muscle toning. Extremely rigorous. Poses aren't held for a long time. Instead, it's a continuous flow of poses.
Improve flexibility, balance, focus and relieve stress. Much less physical than Ashtanga yoga. Poses are held longer. The central idea is posture correctness. A lot of emphasis is on the proper alignment (if you don't like being corrected endlessly, this is not the yoga for you). This style also relies on props to aid alignment.
I love gentle yoga because it's so relaxing. The poses are generally simple, but held a long time. They develop excellent flexibility, focus and help with relieving stress.
Hatha yoga confused me for a while in the beginning because I didn't understand it's an umbrella term for many yoga styles. Most physical yoga styles fall under the umbrella term. When yoga is referred to Hatha yoga, it sometimes simply means a flow of poses, often incorporating the basic poses that are held for a moderate duration (5 to 10 breaths).
Bikram is the trademarked name of a style of hot yoga. The distinguishing feature of hot yoga is that it's practiced in a room with the temperature cranked up. It helps with toxin elimination (that's the theory). You sweat a lot (and I mean a lot).
There are 26 fundamental postures that make up the routine. Some hot yoga routines veer from the 26 postures. The point is that when practicing yoga in a hot environment, you'll stretch further and sweat more.
Core yoga is a recently developed yoga designed to strengthen and hone your core section. It incorporates a variety of poses that target your core directly or indirectly. Not all core routines are the same. Like many yoga styles, the routine varies.
I haven't done a great deal of Kundalini Yoga, so I don't know a great deal about it. It incorporates various breathing practices during poses in an effort to harness energy. It's chakra-centric yoga. Sorry, this is one style that I'm not terribly familiar with (I've done quite a bit of the above-mentioned styles).
Many yoga teachers and studios have developed their own styles (Anasura, Jivamukti to name 2). Most fall under one of the above styles in format or may incorporate a variety of styles.
I hope the above helps you get a better understanding about the various styles of yoga. Again, there isn't a 'best' yoga style. It comes down to your preferences and goals.
Jon Dyer is a contributor to YogaBaron.com.