The Tree of Yoga
One word, many branches
It can be confusing to the new student of yoga, to understand these strange terms that they may come across at a class, studio or on the internet of yoga paths, styles, principles and limbs and whats the difference between them all. Here, Vernette attempts to explain some of the vast yoga information with notes on styes Vernette has trained in or is inspired by.
Hatha yoga (meaning yoga of the body or physical yoga) and not classed as a style, (even though it is now generally used to mean a gentle physical form of yoga as opposed to a dynamic one) is one of the four paths of traditional yoga:
Paths of Yoga
1. Raja Yoga: Often to referred to Patanjali's Yoga after the sage that compiled a list of aphorisms, known as sutras of previous yoga traditions and practices. Also known as Royal Path of Yoga. Hatha Yoga, or physical yoga is one aspect of this path. For more on the 8 limbs that make up this path, please click here for PDF article I wrote a few years back.
2. Karma Yoga: yoga of action
3. Jnana: yoga of knowledge and study
4. Bhakti yoga: yoga of devotion
Yoga principles (Sivananda):
Proper thinking (meditation, concentrations, morals…)
Proper diet (clean, fresh, organic food)
Proper exercise (yoga asanas - postures)
Proper breathing (Pranayama)
Proper relaxation (yoga nidra and sleep)
Styles of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha refers to ALL physical yoga, all yoga that involves moving the body. It translates to mean 'effort' or 'forceful', although not in the literal sense of forcing, but of action, of movement and a balance between ha (solar), tha (Lunar). Yin and Yang if you like - energetic and yet calm. However whenever you see a class listed as hatha, it is usually describing a class of static individual stretches and bretah exercises, often accompanied with Sun Salutations, meditation and relaxation (although not necessarily with any/all of these). See Classic Hatha and Hatha Flow
Below is a list of some of the physical yoga styles out there today.
Anusara - Anusara is often described as Iyengar (a purist form of yoga) with a sense of humour. Created by the aptly named John Friend, Anusara is meant to be heartfelt and accepting. Instead of trying to fit everyone into standard cookie-cutter positions, students are guided to express themselves through the poses to their fullest ability.
Ashtanga - Developed by Pattabhi Jois, a student of Sri Krishnamacharya, considered to be the grandfather to the modern yogasana practice. Ashtanga is a dynamic, strength building practice. It's dynamic, free flowing continuous movement makes for a stimulating hard work out of body and mind. This is a hard cardio vascular form of yoga and many of the moves take years to accomplish but there is no competition in yoga and even if you can’t do a move to the final stage, then, as with all yoga styles, you are still gaining benefits along the journey. Power yoga is an interpretation or variation on Ashtanga and doesn’t follow such a rigid structure. Some of my classes are inspired by this style.
Bihar - see Satyananda.
Bikram - Bikram is the same 26 poses done twice over in a heated room. Hot yoga is the same but has more varied moves and less stringent training - usually just a yoga teacher that adds the heat to the usual yoga program. Caution is advised with attending a hot yoga class as some moves such as inversions, increase high blood pressure, so always good to enquire on training (as with any class) of the teacher for these classes as inadequate training and experience in the practice of hot yoga and Bikram yoga has been known to be lethal. Although, I have personally practiced a hot style of yoga and enjoyed it for some time and don't condemn anyone on their choice to do it. I did start to feel quite ill from it after a while and since studying more in depth anatomy and learning that actually only 2% of toxins comes out in sweat, that there really isn't any point in putting the body into heat exhaustion or through that kind of stress, where the sweating is the bodies naturals reaction to getting hot and is desperately trying to cool you, not detox you... it just no longer made sense for me to be doing it when it wasn't feeling good and also I would caution those that are hypermobile to not practice this style, because although the heat does help you stretch further if you are very tight, there are for many folk, reasons as to why this is not a good thing. Those being on the Hypermobile Spectrum Disorder and/or Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and also we really don't want to be working into ligaments by again, going past the normal range of movement of our joints. In most circumstances, our bodies will soon tell us when we are, but when very hot and / or hypermobile, the warning signs to injury or overdoing it are not as loud. So by all means, do it if you're healthy and enjoy the heat but practice wisely and listen to your bodies signals.
Classic Hatha Yoga - is the yoga of movement and action as mentioned at the start of this article. Barbara Currie is a classic hatha teacher, one of the UK’s most well know teachers in 1990’s-2000’s and was my first teacher. See also Hatha Yoga and Hatha Flow.
Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga - the founder of this style prefers to call it a 'perspective' on yoga, rather than a style. Sadie transitions yoga poses from the ground up via the deep core line / deep front line of the body; the interconnecting lines of muscle that make up our innermost support system as described and taught by Anatomy experts such as Tom Myers (Anatomy Trains) and Leslie Kaminoff (Yoga Anatomy), not just our '6 pack' that we often refer to as the 'core'. Because of its multi-level actions, and focus on constant core connection, Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga is one of the most effective yoga practices for sparking major changes both inside and out. When you go deeper, you balance stability with mobility, strength with freedom, or Sthira-Sukha, and all your yoga benefits will increase. I’m trained in this style and it has been eye opening in regards to the transitions. Sadie certainly shares my anatomy interest in keeping yoga up to date in terms of safety and effectiveness, so you can practice for years injury free. I weave some of these transitions into my classes.
Flow Yoga - See Hatha Flow and Vinyasa
Hatha Yoga - Hatha refers to ALL physical yoga, all yoga that involves moving the body. However whenever you see a class listed as hatha, it is usually describing a class of static individual stretches and breath exercises, often accompanied with Sun Salutations, meditation and relaxation (although not necessarily with any/all of these). Hatha is usually a fairly slow paced class of classic yoga poses held for a few breaths and moving on to a different pose without much or any flow. Breath techniques such as Alternate Nostril breathing and Kapalabhati are often taught. Hatha allows more time for stretching if that's your goal and what you enjoy feeling in the body or need due to tightness or tension. Although the class is considered gentle yoga, it can still be physically and mentally challenging to some, so always ask the teacher about the class. I trained and offer this style.
Hatha Flow Yoga - This combines some static, long held stretches and positions for stamina as well as flowing, more dynamic movements synchronised with the breath, known as vinyasa. Vinyasa means 'to place in a special way' or meaning an intelligently led sequence to build towards something. Although on a class schedule, Vinyasa would usually refer to a 'one breath per move, medium/fast paced practice' (mostly...although again, it varies between teachers).
Sequences can be creative and vary between many teachers and can include sequences from vinyasa, kundalini and pretty much any style of yoga. If choosing this class, it would be wise to ask the teacher what the pace and strength of the class is as some may be more dynamic or stronger than others. I trained and offer this style.
See also Flow Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga
HIIT Yoga - This has been brought together from my knowledge in personal training and gym work as well as yoga. The effects of HIIT - high intensity interval training are widely known and this is the same but with a yoga twist of adding yoga, as well as fitness moves into an interval training programme. Sadie Nardini and Tyler McCoy have been producing similar programmes online as Yoga Shred and Yoga Cut. It maximises fat loss and calorie burn in a short space of time. It really is for those looking to build strength, endurance, lose weight and have more of a cardio type of workout, than that offered by yoga alone. Some of it involves jumping or running on spot moves but in short bursts, rather than anything like running over a long period of time, so in all, much safer on the joints, but it gives the same level of workout for those with limited time available and continues to burn calories after the workout has finished, known as the 'afterburn' effect.
This HIIT programmed is inspired by yoga, rather than being yoga itself or a 'style' of yoga, however, the same yogic intention, application and moves are there, but just in a different way. I trained in this style.
Iyengar - Works on alignment and uses props, such as blocks, straps and chairs to help everyone get good form through practice. Iyengar studied under Sri Krishnamacharya and although Iyengars early practice was vigorous and strong but he changed his practice with age and utilized props and this developed into what we know as Iyengar today - precision and (rigid) linear alignment and long held postures. You'd expect less than 10 poses in an Iyengar class.
Jivamukti - A physical, limit-pushing practice that reintegrates yoga’s traditional spiritual elements in an educational way for Western practitioners. Expect a theme for each class, Sanskrit chanting, and references to ancient scriptures. Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984 in New York City, jivamukti translates as “liberation while living.” I practice this style and weave it into some classes.
Kripalu - Kripalu is a three-part practice that teaches you to get to know, accept, and learn from your body. It starts with figuring out how your body works in different poses, then moves toward postures held for an extended time and meditation. It then taps deep into your being to find spontaneous flow in asanas, letting your body be the teacher.
Kundalini / Laya / Tantra
Often known by either name. Kundalini Yoga is a dynamic, potent and effective system of self-transformation and personal development. Kundalini Yoga stimulates individual growth through systematic techniques that strengthen the nervous system and balance the glandular system (the guardians of health), for increased stability and vitality. The word "kundalini" literally means "the curl of the lock of hair " and often refers to the energy at the base of the spine as a coiled serpent or as the tantras taught it, in the heart. Kundalini was first mentioned in the tantric texts in the 5th/6th century but not as a 'style' of yoga but more in the description of it as energy 'Kundalini Shakti'.
Sivananda taught Kundalini as part of his Laya yoga and wrote the book Kundalini Yoga in 1935, his student and founder of the Bihar School of Yoga (BSY), Swami Satyananda, went on to write a book called Kundalini tantra too.
Yogi Bhajan systemised his own form of Kundalini yoga, said to be 'the oldest yoga', 'the mother of all yoga' 'that had been kept secret until he brought it to the west in the late 1960's'. Well, as already explained, there were many mentions of it prior to him but he has certainly made his style/version of Kundalini Yoga well known and very popular. Many of Yogi Bhajans followers tend to be Sikh and always wear white and a head covering, this is encouraged if you go on to train to be a teacher of that lineage. His style is also known as White Tantric Yoga..
I am a lifelong student Kashmir Shaivism and tantric texts but would by no means say I am fluent in its teachings, I have studied with Christopher Tomkins, a sanskrit and Tantric Shaivism scholar, Sivananda / Satyananda / BSY school of yoga as well as reading the above Sivananda Kundalini books, but has also studied with Carolyn Cowan and Maya Fiennes of the Yogi Bhajan tradition too and draws from all these inspirations for the kundalini and kirtan classes.
Menopause Yoga classes and workshops feature techniques from hatha yoga, somatics, restorative yoga, pilates, meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy and CBT to help with the hormone fluctuations, bone density and muscle mass and the many varied aspects of pre;-,peri;- and post menopause.
Prana yoga / Sahaja Yoga - is a mixup of Kundalini kriyas and Vinyasa flow movements. Is freeform, almost dance like yoga and often does involve Chakra Kriya - yogic dancing. Sahaja means spontaneous and is some of the oldest forms of yoga, dating from the Tantric era of yoga postures, dancing and embodied movement meditation. There’s no guide for a lot of it, except that inside of you. I have studied the work of Shiva Rea as well as doing her online mini courses and in person workshops in this style of vinyasa yoga.
Pregnancy Yoga - Prenatal yoga are asanas and sequences that are modified for pregnancy, although not limited to that realm, as it can also be beneficial for anyone to do as a change from usual practice and for those needing a gentler practice. Often the use of chairs and partners is incorporated into the practice to create a nurturing supportive and yet empowering environment. Postnatal yoga helps to regain strength in the inner body with pelvic floor and abdominal strengthening as well as reclaim back a sense of identity and individuality. There is also Baby Yoga and Baby Massage all designed to help the mother get back to exercise in a gentle way but also to help bonding with baby whilst doing so. I have trained in also these modalities.
Restorative and therapeutic (injuries, muscle aches, stiffness etc…) Yoga - is gentle and involves more re-alignment and manipulation and often there aren't too many poses in one session as they are held longer with the aid of props to allow the body to relax into the pose. This kind of yoga is done mostly on a 1-2-1 basis, although a yin class, although works deep into the connective tissues of the body is also very restorative and meditative. I have trained in these styles and offers it.
Rocket Yoga – this is not a style I personally know a lot about but apparently it’s a quicker route to progression in the Asthanga series and very powerful.
Sivananda - Sivananda works on the principles of 4paths of yoga, 5principles and 12 basic postures. The four main paths of Yoga are - Karma Yoga (action), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Raja Yoga (based on Patanjalis 8 limbs of yoga, often called the Royal path as it includes yoga of the mind and hatha (physical) yoga) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge). Each is suited to a different temperament or approach to life. The 5points of yoga are proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet, proper meditation and positive thinking, proper relaxation. Swami Sivananda was also a doctor and has a brilliant understanding of anatomy and ailments. Sivananda is now one of the largest schools of yoga in the world. I trained trained with this school.
Satyananda Yoga - Bihar School of Yoga. Satyananda yoga is a type of yoga that intentionally centers on the whole person and was developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati from his teacher, Sivananda. Compared to Iyengar or Vinyasa yoga, Satyananda yoga is gentle and less physically oriented. A Satyananda yoga practice begins slowly with a systematic sequence of asanas and incorporates pranayama, meditation, Tantric and cleansing practices, and pratyahara. Its practices are derived from ancient and traditional sources. Satyananda Yoga uses practices in a traditional way, asanas (postures and movements) to balance the body and mind through the physical body, pranayama (breathing practices) to work on the energy body (equated with Ki or Chi in other systems), and meditation to calm and focus the mind. Some of the postural sequences seem gentle but have deep effects on body and mind when done with breath awareness and concentration. I have studied this tradition and offer a once month class focusing on the pawanmuktasana series and yoga nidra.
Slow Flow Yoga - See Hatha Flow yoga and Vinyasa
Sun Power Yoga - This blends Iyengar, Ashtanga and Sivananda together and is one of the schools of yoga that I trained with. Also described as dynamic hatha as it can be quite strong for some if new to practice or exercise. Draws on the Sivananda tradition and philosophy.
Tantra Yoga – See Kundalini
Thai Yoga - An assisted yoga, more in line with massage than yoga but the stretches that are applied to the recipient are a mirror of yogasanas. Also to Thai yoga massage practitioners, they are often taught Thai Yin Yoga to protect their own bodies when giving the therapy.
Viniyoga - Developed by Desikachar, son of Sri Krishnamacharya. Viniyoga is the legacy of the great guru. It is based on the guru/student model, in which an experienced teacher works individually with each student, making a personalized yoga program for them based on such factors as health, age, and physical condition, including past or current injuries. When you attend a group yoga class, there tends to be a one-size-fits-all approach. A teacher may ask if there are any injuries, but no serious attempt is made to know more about your physical condition. A viniyoga practice may include asana, pranayama, chanting, and meditation, depending on the students' needs.
Vinyasa - Vinyasa literally means 'to place in special way' like a ritual or order of things but the modern interpretation of Vinyasa is 'movement synchronised with breath' through either fast or slow flowing sequences. Examples of a simple vinyasa sequences are: cat/cow inhaling on the cat tilt and exhale on the rounding and the sun salutation sequence is also an example of a vinyasa flow. Vinyasa’s strength is in its diversity. There is no single philosophy, rulebook, or sequence that teachers must follow, so there is a lot of room for individual personalities and creativity to come through so if your first flow class doesn’t rock your world, keep trying different teachers. If you like having things a little loose and unpredictable and like to keep moving, this style is definitely worth a try. Also known as Flow Yoga. A slower variant is Slow Flow Yoga
I trained with Katy Appleton in the (appleyoga) vinyasa methodology, Core Strength Vinyasa by Sadie Nardini and Tyler McCoy, Prana and Sahaja Vinyasa with Shiva Rea and Sun Power Yoga. See also Hatha flow
Yin Yoga - The essence of Yin Yoga is surrender. Yin focuses on postures that lengthen the muscles surrounding the hips, pelvis, and lower back. Students typically hold these postures for 3-10 minutes per side in order to lengthen the connective tissue that surrounds the joints and increase its elasticity. The elasticity of our connective tissue diminishes with physical activity and aging, which makes Yin essential for injury prevention and joint health. Since a Yin Yoga practice often includes several long, seated forward bending postures, it also restores energy and calms the nervous system. Pure bliss!
Many of these asanas will be familiar to experienced yoga students. However, these students will notice that the name is different in the yin tradition - this is deliberate. The pose may look the same, but the intention is different. The yin pose of Swan looks identical to the yang pose of Pigeon, but in Pigeon, as in most yang poses, the muscles are the targets. In a yang pose, we engage the muscles and stretch them. In the yin practice, we relax the muscles; we aim our intention into the joints and the deep tissues wrapping them, not the more superficial tissues of the muscles or skin. I offer yin classes inspired by Bernie Clark and Paul Grilley.
Again a therapeutic form of yoga tailored to individual needs and uses yoga to aid and treat medical conditions such as back injuries or aches, headaches, IBS, Long Covid, Chronic Fatigue, fibromylagia, etc... Can include different types of massage, relaxation, visualization and any other therapies if required. Suitable for everyone, not just those with stressful, busy lives. This is only done as 1-2-1 session.