Which Yoga Style Best Fits Your Needs

June 7, 2019

Last updated : April 24, 2023

Now more than ever, yoga is gaining a massive following all over the world. Why is it that yoga is becoming so popular? Well, some people join yoga classes to improve fitness, but also to enjoy the benefits of well-being.

If you are among the fitness enthusiasts looking to join the yoga movement, you'll be happy to hear that yoga can also be vigorous and challenging. Yes, that's right. It just depends on choosing the right type of yoga to get your heart-rate pumping. Yoga is an effective workout for the super-fit, or it can be a worthwhile addition to creating a healthy balance in high-performance sports.

Each yoga style has its own tools to increase body awareness, strength and stamina and benefits fitness, overall. However, there are specific styles of yoga that are 'yin' in nature. You will feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and soothed after practising it. Rest assured that there are far more benefits that yoga has to offer. It is imperative to select the right style of yoga for your specific needs, no matter your fitness level.

The question is, how do you know which yoga style or styles are right for you? Read on to find out how you can make the right choice!

Yoga Styles 101: The 3 Main Types of Yoga and Their Effects on the Autonomic Nervous System

These days, there are just so many yoga styles to choose from. However, it is reassuring to know that all these styles can be likened to one of these three yoga styles:

  • Hatha Yoga
  • Vinyasa Yoga
  • Yin Yoga

When explaining these three fundamental types of yoga, we mainly differentiate them on the basis of their activity level. What does this mean? In other words, the impact on our autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our ANS is an extremely vital system as it governs all involuntary systems of the body. Including blood circulation, digestion, hormonal balance, and immune system and it consists of two sub-systems:

  • The sympathetic nervous system (SNS), prepares the body for action and stress (“fight-or-flight”)
  • The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), regulates all regular functions for the growth and healing of the body (“rest-and-regenerate”)

When practicing a particular yoga style, either the “rest-and-regenerate” response (PNS) or the “fight-or-flight” response (SNS) is stimulated. However, some types of yoga stimulate both of these parts of our autonomic nervous system, equally.

Intrigued? Well, let’s take a deeper look at these three main types of yoga as well as how each affects our nervous system. 

The Main Benefits of Hatha Yoga

Did you know that Hatha Yoga is the oldest style of yoga? It is believed that this style is the very essence of all yoga styles in this day and age. The aim of Hatha Yoga is to purify and control the body. Over time and with regular practice, you can gain control of the mind.

Swami Svatmarama compiled The Hatha Yoga Pradipika in the 15th century AD. This text emphasizes the importance of asana practice for improving the health of the physical body. Swami Svatmarama also explains how we influence the solar (yang) and lunar (yin) energies in the body by practising Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga balances them for increased health and spiritual development.

Hatha Yoga offers many different benefits:

1. Rebalances Our Autonomic Nervous System

For us to function effectively throughout the day, our nervous system needs both states of activation, the “fight-or-flight” (sympathetic nervous system) as well as the “rest-and-regenerate” (parasympathetic nervous system).

Concerningly, a nervous system that is out of balance is all too common in today's world. This expresses itself as spending too much time in the excited SNS state, or “trapped” in the depressed, unenergetic PNS state.

Hatha Yoga allows us to move through a cycle of exercises and postures that stimulate the nervous system in different ways.

By alternating challenging asanas with relaxing poses such as Savasana (Corpse Pose), we teach our bodies to easily move from one state of the nervous system to the other. This results in more inner balance and harmony and improved overall health.

2. Keeps the Spine Young

You may have heard an insightful message during your yoga class or from your yoga teacher. It reads like this, “You are as young as your spine is flexible.” And now, recent medical studies are confirming this ancient yogic wisdom.

In Hatha Yoga, we put a lot of emphasis on moving the spine in various directions. The movement between forward bends and backbends, twists, and lateral stretches actually massages the intervertebral discs. Amazingly, this increases their capacity to absorb nutrients from surrounding tissues.

Beneficially, long-term Hatha Yoga practitioners in a study in Taiwan have been found to have healthier spines and lesser-degenerated discs than the control group.

3. Increases Overall Stamina and Strength

Yes, a traditional Hatha Yoga practice is actually challenging. This is because it challenges your boundaries in terms of stamina, strength, flexibility, and co-ordination.

In Hatha Yoga, even though there are relaxing poses at regular intervals (which might make it look simple), Sun Salutations, strength-building exercises, inversions, and arm balances create an amazing sequence of movement to increase overall stamina and strength.

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The Main Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga

You may have heard of Sri Krishnamacharya. He was a legendary teacher of teachers. After all, he was the teacher of K. Pattabhi Jois, who became a legend in his own right during the mid-1970s with the Ashtanga Vinyasa Series. These teachers contributed to the dynamic and at times vigorous yoga practice of today.

Interestingly, the Ashtanga Primary Series became the blueprint for many Vinyasa and Power Yoga classes. In contrast though, the Ashtanga Primary Series is fixed however there is far more freedom in Vinyasa Flow.  A common element of Vinyasa Yoga is to move from one pose into another with fluid transitions.

Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga 

1. Improves Stamina by Providing a Cardiovascular Workout

Typically, during a Vinyasa Flow yoga practice, there is a sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation.

By using our muscles, our breathing and heart rate increase. By doing this, we can train our stamina and cardiovascular system. In Vinyasa Yoga, we generally keep constant and moderate stress on our respiratory system and the heart.

As mentioned, there is much more freedom in Vinyasa Flow. There might be some short intervals to catch our breath, but for the most part, we keep moving (with our heart rate and breathing rate above resting level). The regular practice of dynamic yoga styles such as Vinyasa will therefore increase your endurance for prolonged physical and mental exertion. This is how you can increase your fitness level.

2. Increases Strength in Your Limbs and Core

Vinyasa Yoga practice is active and dynamic in nature. So, as a result it will tone your legs, arms, and core. This is a well-known benefit of these more dynamic types of yoga, as it requires us to get into various challenging poses such as Lunges, Warrior Poses, and Chaturanga Dandasanas (yogic push-ups). Another benefit is the core strength gained through Vinyasa Yoga which helps to improve your posture and overall body control.

3. Boosts Metabolism

As in any conventional exercise, the increase in muscle tone gained in Vinyasa Yoga tends to increase the metabolism of the yoga practitioner, which can result in weight loss.

The Main Benefits of Yin Yoga

Paulie Zink found the Yin Yoga style in the 1980s. It  focuses on the Yin aspect of Taoism. This means an emphasis on a more gentle, calming style of yoga. In a Yin Yoga class you can experience supported postures which are held for an extended period of time - from 3 to 12 minutes.

The aim is to gently stress the connective tissues in the targeted areas. However, unlike Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga is not necessarily simple or easy.

Yin Yoga also offers many benefits:

1. Increases Flexibility by Releasing Deep Fascia

To explain deep fascia in a simplified way, it basically consists of dense fibrous connective tissue which surrounds all components of the body. Such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. There is also fascia that suspends the organs within their cavities and wraps them in layers of connective tissue, which is called visceral fascia.

Yin Yoga stimulates and releases fascia. It creates a beneficial and therapeutic effect called myofascial release. By practising Yin Yoga regularly, long-stored tensions are released, scar tissue is broken down and released, and muscles relax into their natural state once again.

This results in improved posture, a reduction of chronically recurring injuries, and improved joint mobility.

2. Activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The nervous system's “rest-and-regenerate” mode (aka PNS activation) is one of calm and relaxation. This is because our breathing slows down, our heartbeat is at a more relaxed pace and the mind stabilizes.

In this state of the nervous system, the body can repair and heal itself as it has the time and energy to do so. It can digest food and eliminate waste properly. When the systems are in balance, our health and longevity are positively impacted. In Yin Yoga, most poses are generally held steadily for around five minutes.

As a consequence of our busy and hectic lives, many of us are unable to get an adequate amount of PNS daily, so our bodies (and minds) begin to wear down more quickly and eventually succumb to illness or burnout. During the long holds in Yin Yoga, our heartbeat is slowed down and we can focus on our breath. This calms the mind and allows for PNS activation. Allowing the body and mind to rest, rejuvenate, and heal.

3. Increases Our Capacity to Deal With Discomfort

In Yin Yoga, most poses are held steadily for about five minutes. What initially feels easy, becomes challenging after a couple minutes of a hold.

When practising Yin Yoga, we follow key principles:

  • Don't hold the pose at more than 80% of your capacity. 
  • Enter the pose to the fullest and then slowly back out at least 20%.
  • You can support your body with a block, bolster, or cushion in order to stay in a “Yin zone”. 
  •  You may experience discomfort, but no “red” pain. 
  • Yin Yoga is neither lazy or restorative, even though it is slow and uses much support like props. 
  • The idea of Yin Yoga is to place some stress on our tissues in order to stimulate and re-balance them.
  • Over time, you will be faced with discomfort but you will learn to endure it, using your breath and mental focus.

Which Types of Yoga is Best for Fitness 

So, if you are a fitness-enthusiast or compete in sport on a competitive level, you may find a great balance from Yin Yoga or gentle Hatha Yoga practices. However, if you are looking to increase your overall fitness and strength, Vinyasa Yoga might give you some great results!

If you lead a busy life and want to increase your overall fitness, strength and flexibility, Hatha Yoga can help. It will give you some yin aspects to relax and some yang energy to get fitter. You can choose to do both Vinyasa Yoga and Yin Yoga practices during the same week.

Please do keep in mind that all yoga classes depend a lot on the teacher and how they structure and lead the class. It is possible for a Yin class to be quite stressful and a Vinyasa class to be very relaxing.

Now you should have an idea about which style of yoga suits you. If you have the time, you may even combine yoga styles to create more of a challenge for you!

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Learn how to practice, modify and sequence 250+ yoga postures according to ancient Hatha Yoga principles.

About the author

Kalyani Hauswirth Jain

Kalyani Hauswirth-Jain is the Creative Director and a senior teacher at the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams. Prior to joining Arhanta Yoga Ashrams in 2011, Kalyani studied Modern Dance in the Netherlands where she discovered her passion for the body-mind connection and personal leadership. In 2007, Kalyani began teaching yoga professionally, and four years later, she was training yoga teachers at our ashrams.

Now with over 11000 hours of teaching experience, Kalyani is a lead teacher for the 200- and 300-hour Yoga Teacher Trainings, as well as a number of 50-hour courses at the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams. When she’s not adjusting postures in class, Kalyani is writing informative blogs and guides for fellow yogis, and co-authored the critically acclaimed book, 'Hatha Yoga for Teachers & Practitioners.'

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