The Practical Guide to Top 8 Yoga Styles

The Practical Guide to Top 8 Yoga Styles

Whether you are looking to try yoga for the first time or are an experienced yoga practitioner curious about exploring various styles, how to choose the right yoga practice for your needs, likes and goals can be a difficult choice with so many options available.

The first mentions of yoga in ancient Indian texts can be traced as far back as 5,000 years ago. Some researchers believe that yoga began in India about 10,000 years ago as a holistic path to health and well-being. Yoga was brought to America in the late 1800s, when Swami Vivekananda, an Indian yogi, presented a  lecture on yoga in Chicago.

Nowadays, there are dozens of various yoga schools and techniques with new styles emerging and gaining popularity every year. Navigating the world of yoga and finding what works for you can be a daunting task since every style claims to be beneficial to physical and mental well-being. I’ve been fortunate to experiment with many types of yoga over the years trying to find what works for me through trial, error and a couple of neck and back injuries. Read on on how to choose your yoga practice, what to expect of the eight most popular yoga styles and their key benefits: 

  • Vinyasa Yoga (also called Flow Yoga) 
  • Ashtanga Yoga (sometimes also called Power Yoga)
  • Hatha Yoga
  • Yin Yoga
  • Hot Yoga (Bikram Yoga)
  • Yoga Nidra
  • Iyengar Yoga 
  • Aerial Yoga (also called Antigravity Yoga)

1. Vinyasa Flow Yoga
— The Most Practiced Yoga Style

Y Plus Yoga Center in ShanghaiImage courtesy of Y+ Yoga Center

Arguably the most popular contemporary yoga style taught at yoga studios across the United States and globally. Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic yoga style that is often referred to as moving meditation. Vinyasa is a Sanskrit word that means a smooth step-by-step transition between yoga poses (asanas). 

This technique is what sets vinyasa yoga apart from static yoga styles like Hatha: students perform a sequence of yoga postures synchronizing movement with their breathing in one long flow. Vinyasa is a series of interconnected movements used between poses in dynamic yoga styles such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga. The most repeated component of vinyasa yoga is the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), a sequence of twelve yoga poses that originated as a series of prostrations to the sun. Skillfully done, it can look more like a dance with graceful jumps back and forward. 

The Vinyasa yoga style was created and popularized by an Indian yoga teacher and Sanskrit scholar K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) in the middle of the 20th century. His teacher and mentor Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is often regarded as the father of modern yoga. 

What I personally appreciate about vinyasa yoga the most is that every session offers a different combination of asanas that make up a unique sequence that can be catered to specific needs: focusing more on balance, heart or hip opening and so on. Never gets old!

Key benefits of Flow Yoga

Helps improve flexibility, balance and strength.

Where to try Flow Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga
— The Most Vigorous Yoga Style

Photo credit: Fela Adebiyi @felaadebiyi

The term “Ashtanga yoga” can usually be referring to two things: Ashtanga yoga as a comprehensive eight-step system of yoga philosophy and set of prescriptions for a healthy, purposeful life that includes breathing and meditation practices. Yoga postures constitute only one limb out of eight, according to classification of traditional yoga from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Ashtanga yoga as a popular style of dynamic fitness yoga also created by Pattabhi Jois in 1948 in Mysore, India. It is one of the physically most demanding types of yoga, which amassed millions of followers globally. According to Ashtanga teachers, this form of yoga uses body heat, sweating, and deep breathing to purify the body.

For the purpose of this article, I am only going to focus on the second meaning of Ashtanga as a yoga style. Generally speaking, if you see an Ashtanga yoga class on your yoga studio schedule, it means you are in for a sweaty workout. I measured my heart rate during an Ashtanga session and a HIIT workout, and it was close! I would say, Ashtanga is a form of HIIT in the yoga world.

What is the difference between Ashtanga Yoga vs Vinyasa Yoga

Although the two styles are very similar in their dynamic nature: both have been developed by the same person and use sun salutations to link yoga postures, there are some significant differences that grew more distinct in the context of modern yoga teachings:
  • Ashtanga yoga is usually most fast-paced and requires more endurance compared to Vinyasa yoga.
  • Ashtanga follows the same sequence of poses in a set order whereas Vinyasa classes are more creative and can incorporate a great variety of yoga postures.
  • The use of Ujjāyī breathing: both styles synchronize breathing with movement and use the Ujjāyī breathing technique: long, slow, steady inhalations and exhalations with a gentle hissing sound created by a slight contraction in the throat while breathing with the mouth closed. Students are encouraged to maintain the Ujjāyī breath throughout the entire class in Ashtanga while it’s usually used more sparingly in Vinyasa.
  • The use of Bandhas (“energy locks in the body”): there are three main Bandhas that run along your spinal column and are considered one of the key principles in Ashtanga yoga: Mula Bandha - pelvic floor lock, Uddiyana Bandha - abdomen lock, and Jalandhara Bandha - throat lock. Pattabhi Jois believed bandhas are essential to benefit from the correct breathing and asanas. Bandhas are used to control and seal life energy (prana) in order to optimize its flow in the body.

Where to try Ashtanga Yoga

  • In the United States: CorePower Yoga - over 200 yoga studios nationwide, live virtual and on-demand yoga classes available.
  • Overseas: Yoga Barn - Ubud, Bali.

Hatha Yoga
— Best overall for body and mind

Hatha Yoga outdoors - photo by Fela Adebiyi @felaadebiyiPhoto credit: Fela Adebiyi @felaadebiyi

Majority of modern yoga styles originally stemmed from the classical Hatha yoga and use Hatha yoga postures (āsana). The Sanskrit word “yoga” means “Union” or “Communion” in Sanskrit, and the words “ha” and “tha” respectively mean “sun” and “moon” or literally “the Union of Sun and Moon”. Other sources, for example the Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, translate “hatha” as “force” or “determined effort” because it demands conscious discipline.

One of the most important authorities on Yoga philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita, defines the true meaning of Yoga as a “deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow,” that can only be achieved when the mind and ego are freed from restless desire so they can rest in the spirit within.

Hatha yoga is one of the methods by which the restless mind is calmed. The intention of classical Hatha Yoga, which blossomed around the 10th century, is to achieve the union of all the powers of body, mind, and soul by creating inner peace and harmony. Hatha Yoga was necessary to prepare the body for the more advanced yoga practices of meditation and insight in ancient yogic traditions.  If you, like me, practice yoga for a better quality of life (not just for physical benefits), it can bring more health, peace and happiness.

What is Hatha yoga?

Hatha yoga is a slow-paced physical practice, which - unlike dynamic Vinyasa or Ashtanga styles - focuses on static poses and rest periods between them. Students are encouraged to hold each pose for longer periods of time while observing sensations in the body and breath. In contrast with Hatha, flow yoga classes place an emphasis on the sequences in which the postures are done.

Origin of Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga arose out of the earlier Tantra Yoga style, which in turn originated from the Classical Yoga of around 2,000 years ago, Sarah Powers wrote in the Complete Guide to Yin Yoga. Hatha relies on guiding principles described in the Hindu classics, the Yoga Sutras written in India between 500 BC and 400 AD by the sage Patanjali, according to Britannica.

Patanjali was the first to organize the scattered knowledge about yoga from the fragmented chaos of different techniques and older traditions. The result: the essence of yoga synthesized into 195 sutras (aphorisms). To this day, they strongly influence most styles of modern yoga. Read some of Patanjali’s Sutras here.

Around the 15th century, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the oldest classic Sanskrit manuals on Hatha Yoga, was written by Swami Swatmarama.

Benefits of Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga works very gradually and promotes better relaxation and mental concentration. A number of research studies linked Hatha yoga to mental health benefits including reduced anxiety and higher stress resilience.

Hatha yoga restores the body to its most optimal state as it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's rest, metabolism and how well we handle stress according to Encyclopedia of Neuroscience.

Long term health benefits of Hatha yoga include toned muscles, better sleep, stronger immune system as it helps lower stress hormones. This study found that Hatha yoga also improves communication skills and has a positive impact on how we communicate with each other.

Read More: Top 10 Well-Being Learnings From 15 Years of Yoga, most of them being in the tradition of Hatha yoga.

Here is an example of one of my Hatha yoga sequences for energy and focus in the morning if I have 30 minutes or less to practice:

  1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana) - 3 minutes
  2. Standing Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana) - 1 minute
  3. Tree Pose (Vrikshasana) - 1 minute per each side
  4. Rest - Quick Savasana - 3 minutes
  5. Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) - 1 minute per each side
  6. Rest - Quick Savasana - 3 minutes
  7. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) - 1 minute per each side
  8. Mountain Pose (Tadasana) - 1 minute
  9. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) - 1 minute per each side
  10. Final Savasana - 10 minutes

Where to try Hatha Yoga

Yin Yoga
– Best for relaxation and deep stretching

Rooftop Yoga in Shanghai led by Fela Adebiyi @felaadebiyiPhoto credit: Fela Adebiyi @felaadebiyi

What is Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a slow paced, still, meditative yoga practice mainly focusing on deep stretching with relaxation, and is mainly done on the floor with seated and supine poses (some you can even do without leaving your bed). Yin yoga incorporates principles of traditional Chinese medicine and works on the Yin tissues, also known as the connective tissues. They provide support, bind together, protect organs and maintain the form of the body.  

Origin of Yin Yoga

According to The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga, it became a separate yoga style not long ago in the 1990s when American yoga teacher Paul Grilley developed Yin Yoga as we know it today. Paul realized the yin postures can be extracted from a common yoga class into a separate practice of its own. He was the first person to create an entirely Yin Yoga class, complete with opening meditation, counterposes, and closing Savasana. 

Yin postures are not new and have been known for centuries. In fact, holding stretches for long periods of time have been practiced in ancient China as part of Daoist Yoga and taught by Taoist priests to Kung Fu and other martial arts practitioners around 2000 years ago. That explains why it is called “Yin” yoga as Yin is a Chinese word; not an Indian term. Yin asanas were previously embedded into asana practice simply as additional postures to perform. Today, the majority of yoga studios offer at least 1-2 classes of yin yoga every week.

Benefits of Yin Yoga

  • Helps increase joint mobility and range of motion
  • Stimulates the circulation of blood and fluids into the tissues and joints to keep them supple and healthy
  • Promotes a deep feeling of calm and peace
  • Releases emotional, physical and mental tensions
  • Energetically, Yin Yoga optimizes the flow of life energy (Qi or Chi - in Chinese) throughout the body

Where to try Yin Yoga

Bikram Yoga (Hot Yoga)
– Best for sweating it out

Hot Yoga Class in San Francisco, Ritual Hot YogaPhoto credit: Ritual Hot Yoga

“Fasten your seat belts: Bikram Yoga and the ride of your life” - the opening line of the introduction to Bikram Choudhury’s book on the eponymous yoga style he invented. Known for his passion for vintage cars and yoga, he drew parallels between tuning up cars at a mechanic shop and overhauling human bodies at a heated yoga class. “The only thing that gives me as much pleasure as seeing a junked car come back to life is seeing a junked human being come back to life through yoga,”  Bikram, who called himself a human mechanic, wrote in the book. 

What is Bikram Yoga

Bikram Yoga is a fixed sequence of 26 postures (adopted from Hatha Yoga) and two breathing exercises that started to gain a lot of popularity in the early 1970s when its founder opened the Hot Yoga school in Beverly Hills in July of 1973.

Bikram Yoga studios and classes are heated to 105°F (40.5° C) to help “forge bodies and minds of steel” in the heat. Sweating, and a lot of it, is one of the main objectives of hot yoga since it is believed to help “sweat out toxins.” Bikram hot yoga classes traditionally last 90 minutes. However, I have seen many variations that last about 60 minutes with studios trying to fit more classes in a schedule. 

The two breathing techniques of Hot Yoga include the Standing Deep Breathing (Pranayama) and “Skull-Shining Breath” (also known as “Blowing in Firm Pose” or Kapalabhati breathing), a hyperventilation type of breathing performed at the end of every Bikram Yoga class to invigorate and build heat in the body.

Origin of Hot Yoga

Bikram Choudhury was born in 1944 in Calcutta, the Indian State of Bengal. At the age of six he met Bishnu Charan Gnosh, the famous Bengali bodybuilder and yogi, who then became Bikram’s guru and  taught him Hatha Yoga for the next 20 years. Bikram claimed his yoga method was derived from 5,000 years of yoga wisdom and based on his training in India and over 50 years of practice in both yoga and weightlifting.

Hot Yoga was first introduced in Honolulu, Hawaii in the beginning of 1970s, and then spread across the United States when hot yoga founder and businessman Bikram Choudhury came to Los Angeles where he lived and taught ever since.

In 2019, the human mechanic was accused of rape and sexual harassment of women pursuing yoga careers in the Netflix documentary “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.” Following the disturbing revelations, large numbers of yoga studios across the globe changed the trademarked Bikram name in their businesses and classes to simply “Hot Yoga”. Nevertheless, the type of yoga Bikram created and popularized remains one of the most popular yoga styles in the world, primed for fast recovery in the post-covid era.

Benefits of Hot Yoga

  • Weight loss - students burn more calories and lose more water in a hot environment. 

According to HealthLine, the calorie burn can be as high as 460 for men and 330 for women during a 90-minute Bikram yoga session.

  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Increases flexibility
  • Revitalizes body and mind 
  • Rejuvenates the spine, the center of all energy in the body

Considerations

There are some safety precautions to keep in mind when practicing hot yoga and rapid breathing (Kapalabhati) to make sure you do not pass out in a hot room:

  • Dehydration: make sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after a hot yoga glass to stay sufficiently hydrated.
  • Dizziness may occur, stop immediately and do not hesitate to rest in the child’s pose or Savasana for as long as you need.
  • Pre-existing conditions: if you have a history of fainting, heart conditions, if you’re pregnant or keeping a low calorie diet, consult your doctor before starting hot yoga.

Where to try Hot Yoga:

Modo Yoga - International community of 70 hot yoga studios in the USA, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Try my home studio in San Diego - re-opened March 17, 2021.

Yoga Nidra
– Best for Mastering the Art of Non-Doing

Yoga Nidra meditation technnique

What is Yoga Nidra

Also known as Yogic Sleep, it is an ancient meditation and deep relaxation technique from India that works by taking you to the border state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. Experts also say that Yoga Nidra slows down our brainwaves and operates in the twilight zone between us and our thoughts or the conscious and the subconscious mind.

Origin of Yoga Nidra

The first mention of the purpose Yoga Nidra was found in the Upanishads, the ancient philosophical-religious text of Hinduism dated to between 800 - 500 BCE (2800 - 2500 years ago). Yoga Nidra is as old as Yoga itself. As a meditation technique it was first born from the traditional tantric practice of Nyasa over a thousand years ago and was developed by a yogi and spiritual teacher Swami Satyananda in India in the 20th century. It has now spread worldwide, although it still remains a lesser known meditation technique. 

How Yoga Nidra works

“Nidra” means sleep. Yoga Nidra is a unique meditation technique because it rides on the natural process of sleep, which our body already knows how to do. Ancient Yogis realized that it was easier to use a biological process to release identification with thoughts rather than inventing a new one, a Yoga Nidra researcher Kamini Desai, PhD, wrote in Yoga Nidra The Art of Transformational Sleep (2017).

Yoga Nidra stills the waves of mind by progressively moving us through the same brainwave states as sleep. The process of sleep happens by dropping into progressively deeper brainwave states (Theta and Delta) in which we disengage and move away from our thoughts. The secret to Yoga Nidra is that we enter this process consciously. 

How to do Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra class
Photo credit: Hartig Yoga

How to actually get started and practice Yoga Nidra is fairly simple and does not require any prior experience in yoga or meditation. Yoga Nidra is practiced lying comfortably on the floor or in the bed in Savasana pose (on the back, arms and legs open). The technique works like a mental body CT scan: a guided meditation takes us through each body part from head to toes. All we need to do is to bring awareness to each body part as they are called and move our attention throughout the body and bodily sensations while resolving to stay awake. The best thing about Yoga Nidra is that all we have to do is breathe, relax, let it happen and simply observe without judging.

Gaps of Nothingness in Yoga Nidra

As you practice Yoga Nidra, at some point you will experience the so-called gaps in consciousness, nothingness or blank states that may feel like a brief loss of body awareness similar to biological sleep. It is perfectly normal! In fact, such moments might be a good sign you're doing it right as they indicate a very important work happening behind-the-scenes as our subconscious mind takes over and releases mental toxins from our system, for example incomplete, unprocessed raw emotions and traumatic experiences.

How do you know you were, in fact, not sleeping? In the guided Yoga Nidra session, when asked to come back at the end, your consciousness switches back on again, and you do become aware and come back. This means that the mind is still receiving outside information while in the deepest yogic sleep states. According to researchers, this is the distinction between biological and Yogic sleep.

Benefits of Yoga Nidra 

Yoga Nidra is more than a power nap and is backed by neuroscience. Multiple studies have found Yoga Nidra effective for reducing anxiety and stress levels as well as producing favorable changes in heart rate variability (HRV), a new way to track well-being  according to Harvard Medical School.

Wikipedia states that it is also being applied by the US Army to assist soldiers to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are many benefits of Yoga Nidra, to name a few:

  • Rest: 30-45 minutes of Yoga Nidra is as restorative as three hours of sleep. 
  • Stress management: bring more inner tranquility and more peace in the midst of life
  • Health and anti-aging benefits: Yoga Nidra slows the rate at which we age and keeps us looking younger, longer by taking us to brainwave states where the organs and systems are nourished and regenerated, according to this book.
  • Psychological benefits: a powerful detox for the mind at the subconscious level, designed to release the undigested past and unprocessed emotions. Some even say it may serve as self-psychotherapy, where the mind heals itself. 
  • Personal growth: yogis state that the ultimate purpose of Yoga Nidra is to make the most out of our human journeys. As we release the past we make space for the new and prepare ourselves for experiencing one’s true nature.

Where to try Yoga Nidra

Thanks to the Internet, Yoga Nidra is easily accessible from home. However, it is recommended to try it with an experienced Yoga Nidra teacher in a studio setting to help establish the right foundation and provide guidance if you are just testing the waters. 

The ultimate best place to learn Yoga Nidra in real life if you're not limited by the budget: Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California - Yoga Nidra Retreat: Rest, Restore, and Rewrite Your Life - May, 2021

Online options:

  • Listen to the original recording of Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (in English) - 39 minutes
  • Insight Timer has the largest selection of free Yoga Nidra recordings in various lengths and languages from 5 to 45 minutes. Simply install the app on your phone, choose the length and the voice to your liking and give it a try before going to bed. Better sleep guaranteed!

Iyengar Yoga
  – Best for perfecting alignment: the Ballet of Yoga

Classic Iyengar Yoga class

If Ashtanga yoga is a yoga version of Interval Training, the Iyengar style is a yoga version of ballet thanks to the meticulous attention to every detail of alignment in asanas. Interesting fact: some of the best Iyengar Yoga teachers are, in fact, former professional ballet dancers, for example Rodney Yee.

What is Iyengar Yoga

B. K. S. Iyengarthe creator of the yoga style named after him, recognized that physical health above all is important for mental development, as our bodies are vehicles for the mind that functions through the nervous system. He wrote in his book Light on Yoga: The Definitive Guide to Yoga Practice (1966): “My experience has led me to conclude that for an ordinary man or woman in any community of the world the way to achieve a quiet mind is to work with determination on two of the eight stages of Yoga mentioned by Patanjali, namely asana (yoga poses) and pranayama (rhythmic breath control).”

Iyengar Yoga, similar to Hatha Yoga, is a static yoga practice so do not expect to “flow”. The difference is a much greater emphasis on precision, structural alignment and perfection of each asana. There are no vinyasas or sun salutations that connect different postures in Iyengar Yoga, practitioners hold poses for a few breaths up to a few minutes and simply transition from one pose to the next. The longer length of holding each posture compared to other schools of yoga is one of the major differences. According to its founder, this promotes a better awareness in the pose and allows the muscles to both relax and strengthen at the same time. 

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

The sequence in which asanas are performed is considered important in Iyengar Yoga. Iyengar divided asanas into three groups: the primary, intermediate and advanced courses and outlined weekly yoga routines for practice in Light on Yoga. There is a total of 300 weeks of yoga sequences, which is roughly 6 years of yoga practice in the book! Why six years? According to Iyengar, capable seekers “can reach enlightenment after six years of yoga practice.” 

So if you feel up for the challenge, the paper version of the Iyengar’s 300 week system is a great place to start or you can try one of the yoga channels on YouTube. This free YouTube course from a Russian yogi Nikolay Shimenkov currently has video recordings for the first 15 weeks with new videos released bi-weekly. The instruction is in Russian but it is easy to follow the sequence visually and it is created in the best traditions of the original Iyengar style. Poses are held on average for one minute.

Iyengar using chairs as props at yoga class

Another distinct feature of the Iyengar yoga is the use of props, including a lot of ones that start with the letter “B”: Blocks, Belts, Bolsters, Blankets and so on. It was one of his major innovations in pursuit of the perfect alignment for yoga practitioners of all levels and abilities. Today we can expect a wide variety of props in yoga studios of various schools of yoga, not to mention that it is a huge industry projected to reach $66 billion by 2027, according to the “Yoga Market” report.

Origin of Iyengar Yoga

B.K.S. Iyengar started practicing yoga to improve health in his teenage years after contracting tuberculosis and began teaching in 1936. Both Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, learned yoga from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India. Krishnamacharya, one of the most influential yoga teachers of the 20th century, contributed to the revival of Hatha Yoga, which we believe was at the foundation of majority of other schools of yoga we know today. 

What’s a typical Iyengar yoga class like

There are over 200 yoga poses and 14 breathing techniques detailed in Iyengar’s Light on Toga, which is considered the ultimate manual of asanas that yoga teachers across all schools of yoga refer to for the correct way to do a posture. The Yoga Journal wouldn't think of doing a photo shoot without a copy of Light on Yoga on the set. There are on average between 10 and 20 asanas in a 1-1.5 hour Iyengar yoga class depending on how advanced it is.

Iyengar yoga typically starts with a meditative warm-up, followed by standing postures, and then ending with restorative, supine poses finishing with the final resting pose (Savasana) and Pranayama (breathing exercises.)

Inverted poses, such as shoulder stand, hand- and head-stand, are very common in more advanced Iyengar yoga classes with the use of blankets to support the shoulders and protect the neck. From my experience, this is a much safer way to learn inversions as I got myself a neck injury the very first time I attempted a head stand.

Iyengar classes are usually designed to focus on a specific group of asanas and areas of the body, for example a class may be designed around poses to improve balance or open up the hips.

Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

  • Develops agility, balance, endurance and vitality 
  • Teaches the correct way to perform asanas and builds a strong foundation for all other yoga styles
  • Creates an overall feeling of wellbeing, according to this study.
  • Lowers anxiety, stress and depression by increasing the production of a mood-boosting neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, results from a study by Boston University School of Medicine showed in 2010.
  • Effective for both back and neck pain, minimizes the risk of injury.

Where to try

Aerial Yoga
– Best for defying gravity

Aerial Yoga class at Trilogy SanctuaryPhoto credit: @trilogysanctuary

What is Aerial Yoga

Something that could have been inspired by one of the spectacular Cirque du Soleil shows, Aerial Yoga is one of the newest yoga styles that emerged in the U.S. and started to gain popularity in 2006. It is a type of a hybrid body-mind workout that combines the original floor yoga (Hatha Yoga, specifically) with elements of gymnastics, dance and pilates.

Origin and History of Aerial Yoga

The great yoga master B. K. S. Iyengar was the first who popularized the use of props in yoga, including yoga blocks, straps, chairs, slings and even blankets. In 2001, an American physical therapist Antonio Cardenas developed and launched a suspension swing system called the “Yoga Swing” that originated from experiments to relieve back pain by getting upside down using  “cotton sheets sewn together and hardware supply ropes.”

In the 1990s, the first aerial yoga sessions were taking place in New York, where a former gymnast, Broadway dancer and Tony Award winning aerial choreographer Christopher Harrison synthesized elements of yoga, aerial acrobatics, dance and various forms of strength training into a new kind of workout with a lot of aerial moves using a new yoga prop - silk hammock that he developed. It is now known as Christopher Harrison's AntiGravity Lab that offers restorative aerial yoga and fitness classes.

In 2005, Michelle Dortignac, a former dance and aerial arts professional from Colorado, literally took asanas to the air when she started developing her aerial yoga style, now branded as Unnata Aerial Yoga. Since the debut to the general public in 2006, her aerial yoga class quickly gained popularity in the USA, France, Germany, Japan, and was mentioned in the Yoga Journal magazine for the first time in 2007.

In the founder’s words, “Unnata Aerial Yoga is a carefully developed method of Hatha Yoga that uses the support of a soft, fabric Aerial hammock suspended from the ceiling to enhance and refine a traditional floor Yoga practice.”

Benefits of Aerial Yoga

  • It’s fun!
  • Beneficial for people who have back or neck pain thanks to the decompressing effect on the body
  • Development of a deeper body awareness in multidimensional space

Cons

May make you dizzy so swing with caution. Read about the Guardian journalist’s aerial yoga experience here.

Where to try Aerial Yoga

Outdoor Aerial Yoga class Photo credit: @trilogysanctuary

Bottom line

Nowadays, there is a great variety of yoga styles available both online and in a studio setting depending on your individual goals and aspirations. Dynamic yoga styles are best suited for people who want a fast-paced, rigorous, calorie-burning workout focusing more on the fitness side of the practice. So if you are interested in incorporating yoga as a full body exercise combined with stretching and breathing, Vinyasa, Flow, Power, Ashtanga Yoga are a great choice.

If you are looking to get into yoga to improve overall health, to get stronger physically and mentally and feel happier long term, you may want to start with one of the static styles, such as Hatha Yoga or Iyengar Yoga.

If you have any back, neck or spine injuries, you should always consult with your doctor before starting with yoga. Injured or too exhausted? Try a restorative Yin Yoga class or Yoga Nidra to tap into the yogic state of mind: both yield fantastic healing, calming and anti-stress benefits.

In conclusion, whichever yoga path you choose for your journey, it is good to keep in mind the purpose of yoga is to keep the body and mind healthy and strong, and in harmony with nature.

‘The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it.
When the mind is still, the beauty of the Self is seen reflected in it.’
B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga - 1966

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