Yoga Traditions & Schools of Thought

by Sarah Downs Moesgaard


*This article is still in process.  Please check back for more complete information on the wide world of yoga traditions.


Ashtanga is a practice developed by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India in the early part of the 20th century.  Jois was a relative and student of TK Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga.  In Ashtanga style yoga, there are 6 set series, or routines, of poses, all with prescribed breathing patterns (pranayama), focal points for the eyes (drishti),  and muscular energy locks (bandhas.) The series are performed in the same sequence for every practice.  Teachers may lead group classes, or they may give class "Mysore style," meaning practitioners move at their own pace while the teacher circulates, giving one-on-one support and guidance to each practitioner.  This is a dynamic, powerful practice that equips yogis with a balance of power, strength, flexibility, and focus. It may be an especially appealing practice for people who experience a lot of un-grounding in their daily lives, for example, traveling often, stressful work environments, changing jobs or living situations, hectic school schedules, or a high degree of unpredictability.  The steadiness of the routines can have a very centering and steadying affect.  This may also be an appealing practice for those who are looking for a devotional practice. More info at the Sharath Jois webiste.


Vinyasa is a flowing style of yoga that draws from the traditions of Ashtanga, for example, in the regular use of Sun Salutations.  The major difference is that the routines in Vinyasa vary with each practice.  Teachers generally set a theme for the day around a seminal pose, a mantra or quote, or inspiration from the natural world.  Vinyasa classes vary greatly from teacher to teacher, however, most are physically demanding with more cardio requirements than some other yoga forms and will help practitioners build strength, body awareness, flexibility, and balance.  This may be an appealing practice for someone who likes variety.


Yin ​comes from the Chinese lineage of yoga.  Defined by Paul Grilley (based on the teachings of Daoist yoga by, among others, Paulie Zink) and Sarah Powers, yin yoga focuses on the subtle body (energy body) and on opening the connective tissues of the body (tendons, facia, ligaments, etc.) This style uses mostly low to the ground poses, held for longer periods of time (1-10 minutes) to create flexibility, mobility, softness and responsiveness.  This may be an appealing practice for people who have another, energetically demanding movement practice (like running, weight lifting, etc.), who already have an interest in martial arts, or who sit a lot in daily life, for example, office workers.  The yin poses focus heavily on opening, or increasing range of motion, in the hip joints and associated tissues. For more info read Paul Grilley's book: Yin Yoga: principles and practice.


Restorative Yoga is the yoga of relaxation.  Think: very long held poses, with lots of props, like blankets and pillows, and often with gentle music, to create an atmosphere of calm.  This is a very good practice if stress-reduction is the major goal.  Deep breathing and peaceful vibes can help ease anxiety and release habitual physical and mental tension patterns. Judith Lasater has written the go-to books about restorative yoga including, Relax and Renew; Restful Yoga for Stressful Times .