Ask The APP: Difference Between Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga?

Ashtanga is the original vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa means “to place in a special way”.  Nyasa means “to place”and Vi “in a special way. Many people, however, like to translate it as, “flow”. All Power and Vinyasa yogas have their roots in Ashtanga. For the purpose of this article, we will assume that the question was regarding Power Vinyasa that is popular in many studios across the world. I am also going to mainly use the traditional Mysore style framework for comparison.



They both flow intelligently from pose to pose

The structure is similar-they both contain a warm up, standing poses, floor poses, backbends, inversions, closing poses and svasana

The physical portion of both practices can be very athletic depending on the approach

They both use deep resonant breathing

They both build strength and flexibility

They are both suitable for all bodies depending on the approach

They both typically hold poses for an average of 5 breaths

Poses used are similar



Ashtanga may be taught Mysore style or guided. The traditional method is Mysore style which is where the student is taught the sequence one pose at a time with guided classes only taught once a week. It is highly recommend to learn the practice pose by pose before practicing guided. Power Vinyasa is always guided.

Ashtanga is made up of of several set sequences with variations given  by the teacher where needed. 


No skipping or “sitting it out”-Ashtanga students work on all poses, given to them by the teacher, until they are performed in a way deemed satisfactory by the teacher. If the pose was not given to you, you are not responsible for knowing it.

In a Mysore class, the students work up to what they have been given. They typically are stopped on a pose that requires more work and they continue to practice just to that point until it is safe to move on.

In Ashtanga, if you don’t like a pose, you still work on it. If there is a pose you like but you have not gotten to it yet, you don’t work on it. You don’t skip. The teacher may allow you to move on if they see some block in your physiology that will not allow you to do the pose or if there is a pose up ahead that will help you therapeutically.

In most Power Vinyasa classes, if a student does not want to practice a pose, they can sit it out, go to the bathroom, stop and drink water  or take rest at that time. The class must move on. Even if the teacher thinks you are exhibiting avoidance behavior, they are not going to stop the class. In Mysore style Ashtanga, if you go to the bathroom, the pose will be there when you get back.

Precise-In Ashtanga every part of of your body from the fingers to the toes has a place. Even your eyes have a position. Power Vinyasa usually allows for artistic variations.

There is no 200 hour Yoga Alliance certification for teachers-In Power Vinyasa, anyone with $2800 and a will to learn can teach. In Ashtanga, you need the blessing of the lineage holder. Though Many people teach Ashtanga who do not have the blessing of the lineage holder because they just want to spread the practice, technically all certification and authorization is done in India.  So essentially, anyone who is authorized or certified to teach Ashtanga yoga has made many trips to India over the course of many years.

There is no teacher training program. Essentially you just do your practice. If Pattabhi Jois, who passed, or his grandson Sharath Jois who is the current holder of the lineage, thinks that you should teach, they let you know.

Mysore practice has no limits-In power Vinyasa, a teacher can only give out a limited amount of  advanced variations in an all levels class before the class goes outside the realm of all levels. They have to keep the flow. In a Mysore style class, a stone cold beginner just learning to breathe and move can be right next to a practitioner with a Cirque Du Soliel practice. They are both given detailed instructions on their individual practices in the same room.  In Power Vinyasa, once you get to a certain level, it is pretty much up to you to kick up your own practice and you have to rely on workshops and the occasional play time the teacher may or may not include in class to advance your practice. In Mysore style Ashtanga, the teacher over time, adds difficulty to  your practice and there is no need to look outside of the practice.



Your are expected to memorize the poses you have been given.



Many poses seen in more advanced series of Ashtanga like scissors (Astavakrasana), Crow or Dancer are done every day by beginners in Power Vinyasa classes all over the world. The difference is in the transitions. In Ashtanga the transitions are just as important as the pose so if you can’t transition in and out using the required Vinyasa, you don’t do the pose. In the video below, every movement she makes is a part of the vinyasa. You come in and out of scissors through tripod. You are expected to flip your grip for Natarajasana.

In Power Vinyasa, transitions are changed to fit the students. Both of these pose can be entered into and existed however the teacher sees fit.

No water

Water is not allowed in a traditional Ashtanga class. Students are expected to hydrate before practice. In Ashtanga, heat is typically self generated so it is important to keep the flow so that your fire does not go out.

No music

Traditional Ashtanga classes do not include music. In Vinyasa yoga, it depends on the method, teacher or studio.



Ashtanga is based on a lineage going back to Krisnamacharya in India. Ashtanga has a  methodology that has changed very little from its inception.  You can go into any traditional Ashtanga class in the world and the class will be executed the same way. While there are some Power Vinyasa classes that have a lineage holder, most are arranged by the teacher or studio in a way that they see fit. Power Vinyasa classes all over the world look different.

 What other differences are their between the two? Comment below!

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@shannasmallyoga.com.