What is the Difference Between Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga?

November 9 | The Practice |

by Yoga Six

Differences Between Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga

The Ashtanga and Vinyasa styles of yoga have several similarities, but they are, in fact, distinct styles of yoga with some clear differences. It’s a good idea to find out what to expect from each style before choosing your yoga classes.

Similarities between Vinyasa and Ashtanga

Both Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga link movements to breath, flowing between poses. Because of this, they both offer a great workout as you’ll be moving almost continuously throughout the class. You may find many common combinations of asanas—for example, both styles usually incorporate the well-known Sun Salutation Vinyasa combination—but you’ll discover poses are integrated differently during the course of the class. Each style is breath-centered, but their sequencing is quite different.

Vinyasa Yoga vs. Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga follows a set sequence of asanas, or poses, that students practice the same way each time, holding each pose for five breaths. There are three series of poses in Ashtanga, each with different focuses, and as the class advances the asanas become more challenging. The primary series is focused on forward bends, the secondary series focuses on backbends and the advanced series focuses on arm balances. In Ashtanga classes, students don’t use props, modifications or music. The classes are predictable enough that some studios offer classes where students move through the Ashtanga series without teacher-led instructions. These classes, called Mysore style, allow the students to move at their own pace with their breath while the teacher circulates and offers personal instructions and adjustments as necessary.

In contrast, Vinyasa classes (sometimes called Vinyasa Flow) use varying sequences chosen by the instructor to match the class composition and the class’s intent for that day. As students flow through the asanas throughout class, there is often a pose toward the tail end of class chosen as the peak pose in terms of challenge and difficulty level. The remainder of the class then slows down, with more seated poses, more stretching and an opportunity to recover. Vinyasa classes often incorporate music and props, with modifications offered when students need them. However, because there isn’t a lot of talking in detail about the poses, it is a good idea to have some familiarity with yoga before you begin Vinyasa classes. For yogis who prefer a more varied class experience, Vinyasa is an excellent choice.

Students interested in starting these classes may want to look for a less vigorous Flow class first in order to ease into the flowing style of Vinyasa yoga. This way, you can become familiar with the poses and learn how to move fluidly with your breath, but at slower and gentler pace. At Yoga Six, we offer Vinyasa classes and less challenging Flow classes at each of our studios in San Diego, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, Milwaukee and Leawood. Join us for a class today and discover how linking your movements with your breath can feel transformative, no matter what style of yoga you practice.