Over 5,000 years ago in India, yoga became one of Hinduism’s six schools of philosophy. The world now knows it as an integral part of Buddhism, involving meditation, physical postures, and breathing exercises. Generations after generations, yogis (yoga practitioners) have refined and developed different styles of yoga, including Hatha, Ashtanga, and Vinyasa yoga.
Yoga has reached every corner of the globe, with an estimated 300 million people practicing yoga today. In the United States alone, there are over 36 million yoga practitioners. It’s not surprising because yoga has many benefits, including reducing stress, improving flexibility and balance, and boosting strength.
Vinyasa, Haṭha, and Ashtanga yoga are popular styles often practiced in the West. Many yoga studios in Roseville, CA, offer Vinyasa, Hatha, or Ashtanga classes, allowing students to practice different styles. And one of the challenges for beginners is knowing which style is the right fit.
The first try can influence whether someone falls in love with yoga or not. Moreover, to fully reap the benefits of yoga, it’s essential to understand the critical differences between these three popular styles.
Origins and Histories
Generally, yoga was introduced in the West in the late 1890s. After that, the different yoga styles evolved from one another, with Vinyasa being the most recent development.
Hatha yoga is considered to be the oldest form of yoga. The style can be traced back to the legendary founder of the Kanphata Yogis in the 11th century, Gorakhnath. But diving deeper into its history, Hatha yoga can also be seen in the yogic traditions during the 2nd century BCE or 5th century CE. Pantajali, the author of the classics Yoga-sutras and the Mahabhasya (“Great Commentary”), is also credited as a founder of Hatha yoga.
Pantajali is also mentioned when discussing the origin of Ashtanga yoga. The style was first referenced in 200 to 250 BC but further developed when Sri Krishnamacharya established the Ashtanga school. Therefore, and related to Ashtanga, Vinyasa yoga also has roots in Krishnamacharya’s teachings.
Vinyasa is a more recent style established by Pattabhi Jois in the first half of the 20th century. It’s rooted in Yoga Korunta, an ancient text by Vamana Rishi. In the early 1900s, Rama Mohan Brahmachari also shared the Yoga Korunta with Sri Krishnamacharya, who later passed it down to Pattabhi Jois around 1927.
As the different styles of yoga emerged, so did their philosophies. Vinyasa, Haṭha, and Ashtanga yoga have different beliefs and practices, all connected to the ancient yogic traditions.
The word “Hatha” is a Sanskrit compound of two words: “ha,” meaning “sun,” and “tha,” meaning “moon.” Its philosophy was first written around 400 CE by Patanjali Maharishi, which is to be mindful of oneself and use that mindfulness to contribute to the harmony and well-being of those they encounter.
On the other hand, Ashtanga’s philosophy integrates all of the eight limbs of yoga: Yama (moral restraints), Niyama (observances), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).
And lastly, Vinyasa’s philosophy is recognizing the temporary nature of things. So Vinyasa yoga teaches people that movement isn’t contrary to consciousness but an affirmation of how transient consciousness is.
Levels of Difficulty
The three popular styles, even though they share some similarities, also have their approach to physical difficulty. Vinyasa, Haṭha, and Ashtanga yoga each have a unique way of progressing from one pose to the next.
Hatha yoga is suitable for beginners as it moves slower than the other two styles. Beginners are also introduced to basic yoga postures. Ashtanga yoga is a bit more challenging as it’s a faster-paced practice. It’s a structured yoga that requires practitioners to move from one pose to the next in a specific order.
Vinyasa yoga is considered more physically demanding than the other two styles. Classes are often faster-paced, and the poses are linked together by the breath. The style is often described as the middle ground between Ashtanga’s rigidity and Hatha’s leisure.
Why do these three yoga styles have different difficulty levels? The answer is simple: they each have different focuses. Every style of yoga has a purpose reflected in how they are taught.
Hatha yoga focuses on mindfulness, emphasizing breath, posture, and meditation. On the other hand, Ashtanga focuses on muscle training and developing physical strength. Lastly, Vinyasa explores the relationship between mind, body, and breath.
The varying focuses lead learners to another question, “What is the purpose of each yoga style?” For example, if Hatha focuses on mindfulness, why so? And if Ashtanga focuses on muscle training, what does that have to do with yoga’s purpose?
Hatha yoga’s purpose is to develop mental focus and connect the practitioner’s mind, body, and spirit. Ashtanga’s purpose is to purify the body and mind, preparing the body for more profound spiritual practices.
So what is Vinyasa yoga, then? Vinyasa is about developing a sense of oneness, or unity, between the mind and body, using the breath to align the two. Its purpose is to connect with oneself and discover a deeper understanding and awareness.
Apart from knowing the individual philosophies, focuses, and purposes, nothing can teach a learner about the styles better than experience.
In a Hatha class, each posture is held for a few breaths. This gives beginners time to adjust their alignment and get used to being in the position. In addition, Hatha is an introduction to basic postures, and the slow pace means that learners can focus on mindfulness.
In an Ashtanga class, students move through a set sequence of poses without stopping. This can be difficult for beginners, as they may be unable to keep up with the pace or remember the order of the poses. However, ashtanga yoga is also universal, which means that all practitioners do the same pose sequence, no matter where they are in the world.
Vinyasa yoga is often called a “flow” class because of the continuous movement from one pose to the next. Vinyasa classes can be fast-paced as practitioners move through the poses, linking them with the breath. Learners will go through each sequence repeatedly, and the instructor may offer different variations of each pose.
Though it’s clear that they all benefit the mind and body, the individual benefits of each style may be more appealing to some than others.
Hatha yoga‘s advantage is improving balance, flexibility, and strength. It also reduces stress and calms the mind. Ashtanga yoga has many of the same benefits as Hatha yoga but also helps increase upper body strength. Ashtanga yoga is also known as a healthy way to lose weight.
Vinyasa yoga is a cardio workout that helps improve heart health and increase stamina. It also improves lung function and lengthens muscles safely. Vinyasa yoga is also known for strengthening the core and increasing mobility.
Namaste at Zuda Yoga
It’s undeniable how yoga can change one’s life for the better. To many practitioners, it’s not just a mere workout but a way to connect with the self and the world around them. Yoga is a way of life. No matter what style of yoga a learner chooses, they’re sure to experience the incredible benefits of yoga.
At Zuda Yoga Rocklin, we practice Power Vinyasa Yoga, allowing students to link breath with movement to help build body and mind strength and flexibility. No matter your level, we guarantee that you can practice at your own pace. We’ll work with you to make your experience unique and enjoyable.
Reap the benefits of your Vinyasa practice. Try Vinyasa Yoga at Zuda for 30 days for only $30.