Vinyasa and ashtanga yoga are very similar yoga styles, but they have some crucial differences as well.
These two yoga styles are often referred to as the same thing. In fact, many beginner yoga students and even long-term practitioners still have a hard time telling them apart.
So, let’s explore the primary differences between vinyasa and ashtanga yoga to help determine which yoga style is best for you!
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
This may sound confusing, but there are actually two kinds of ashtanga yoga.
Traditional ashtanga yoga comes from the Patanjali Yoga Sutras and refers to the practice of the 8-limbs of yoga. The word ashtanga directly translates to mean 8-limbs. So, on a basic level, essentially all yoga is ashtanga yoga. But there is also a specific style of yoga called ashtanga yoga, more commonly known as ashtanga vinyasa yoga.
Pattabhi Jois started Ashtanga vinyasa yoga or ashtanga yoga in the early 1900s. Pattabhi Jois was a long-term student of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, often called the father of modern yoga. He took the teachings from Krishnamacharya and created a specific yoga sequence that he brought around the world and formed the ashtanga yoga that we know today.
Ashtanga yoga or ashtanga vinyasa yoga is an intense physical practice that emphasizes linking movement with the breath while flowing through a series of poses at a faster speed. This yoga style is excellent for people looking for a physical challenge, but it might not be the best for those recovering from injuries or with lower endurance.
Related: What Is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga?
What is Vinyasa Yoga?
Vinyasa yoga is essentially an adaptation of ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Rather than following the rigid sequences of ashtanga yoga created by Pattabhi Jois, vinyasa yoga is more fluid, and teachers have much more creativity in their class styles. Vinyasa yoga can sometimes look very similar to ashtanga yoga, but depending on the teacher, it can also be entirely different.
The word vinyasa in Sanskrit means “to place in a specific way,” and it refers to the importance of alignment and placing the body in a series of postures to consciously move energy through the body, mind, and soul.
Vinyasa is also commonly translated to mean flow and refers to the flowing, fluid nature of these yoga class styles. It also refers to the set sequence of a modified sun salutation practiced between poses in both ashtanga and vinyasa yoga classes.
Vinyasa yoga classes are not only the typical fast-paced power yoga style. The vinyasa yoga style can also be applied to gentle yoga, hatha yoga, or nearly any other yoga style. By weaving the principles of vinyasa yoga into these different yoga styles, you can bring in the practice of breath awareness, body awareness, alignment, and fluid movement.
The Main Differences Between Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga
As you can see, vinyasa and ashtanga yoga can appear quite similar at times, but they can also be drastically different.
The primary difference between vinyasa and ashtanga yoga is that ashtanga yoga follows a specific sequence created by Pattabhi Jois. In contrast, vinyasa yoga classes tend to be more free-form and influenced by the individual teacher’s personal style.
Furthermore, the differences between Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga include:
- Ashtanga yoga classes typically last longer than vinyasa yoga classes.
- Ashtanga yoga is seen as a very intense yoga style for experienced practitioners, whereas vinyasa yoga generally is more accessible to yoga students of all levels and abilities.
- Vinyasa yoga classes may also incorporate music and more variety, whereas ashtanga yoga classes are more traditional in their style and are practiced in silence.
There is also an ashtanga yoga style called Mysore that is essentially ashtanga yoga but with minimal to no guidance provided by the teacher. This differs drastically from a typical vinyasa yoga class that will include much more detailed instructions and guidance.
The Similarities Between Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga
Like all other yoga types, vinyasa and ashtanga yoga are both centered on the primary purpose of yoga – unifying the body, mind, and spirit into one.
To achieve this goal, both ashtanga and vinyasa yoga bring in fluid movement, breath awareness, and alignment to help guide you deeper into your body and bring more conscious awareness of the habit patterns of your mind.
Additionally, all ashtanga yoga classes and most vinyasa yoga classes use the “vinyasa” sequence, which is essentially a modified sun salutation that is practiced between poses or while transitioning into a different practice.
Is Ashtanga Yoga Harder Than Vinyasa Yoga?
Depending on the teacher, both ashtanga and vinyasa yoga can be difficult. But in general, ashtanga yoga is considered a more challenging yoga style than any other yoga style currently practiced. The main reason for this is due to the immense frequency of vinyasas between each pose, and the inclusion of more physically advanced yoga poses that require more extreme flexibility and strength.
Is Ashtanga Yoga Better Than Vinyasa Yoga?
Whether ashtanga yoga is better than vinyasa yoga comes down to personal preference! Both of these yoga styles are an excellent way to dive deeper into yoga practice and improve your mental, physical, and spiritual health. But suppose you are a beginner to yoga. In that case, you are likely better off trying a vinyasa yoga class before joining an ashtanga yoga class due to the intensity of this yoga style.
Can a Beginner Do Ashtanga Yoga?
Ashtanga yoga is typically not the best practice for a complete beginner to yoga due to the physical strength and flexibility required to achieve many of the poses. However, some yoga teachers say that ashtanga yoga is one of the best styles to learn yoga for beginners because it repeats the same sequence and follows a specific set of rules that makes learning the foundational yoga poses much easier.
If you are a beginner at yoga, it is essential to accurately assess your physical abilities and endurance before jumping into an ashtanga yoga class. If you struggle with general endurance and flexibility, then an ashtanga yoga class may feel impossible, and it can be pretty discouraging not to be able to do many of the poses. Therefore, many beginners might find more comfort in a vinyasa yoga class that may have a slower pace and can provide more instruction on pose variations and modifications.
Are Vinyasa Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga the Same?
Ashtanga yoga and vinyasa yoga are completely different yoga styles. That said, vinyasa yoga has its roots in ashtanga yoga, making these practices very similar in their principles and practice.
Depending on the yoga teacher leading the class, ashtanga and vinyasa yoga may look almost identical. That is why it is always important to ask the teacher or your local studio for more information on their teaching style before making any assumptions.
The world of yoga and yoga styles is vast. Still, with a bit of education and experience, you can begin to decipher the differences between various yoga styles and find the right yoga practice for you.
So, try experimenting with vinyasa and ashtanga yoga to find what you prefer. Both vinyasa and ashtanga yoga styles have many benefits to offer!