Vinyasa vs Ashtanga: Which one is harder?

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There are so many different types of yoga to choose from nowadays. The common question I generally get is Vinyasa vs Ashtanga? Which now should I go for and which one is harder?

Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga can be physically demanding. Both have a strong emphasis on asana and attract people who also want a workout. However, there are key differences to both practices which may make them appear harder to easier some of which are whether music is played and the class duration.

And so if you are wondering whether Ashtanga or vinyasa is harder, then the best thing you can do is actually attend both classes and see which one feels harder! The reason for this is that it really is a personal preference so the answer will depend on a variety of factors.

Definitely check out my detailed guide for Ashtanga yoga beginners if you are new to Ashtanga yoga and looking for more information.

However, here is another way we can look into this. Both Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga have certain key differences. And so, for this article, I will look into these in a little more detail and these may then help shed some light on which one you may in fact find to be harder.

Both Ashtanga and Vinyasa help build strength

The first thing to point out is that both Ashtanga and Vinyasa help to build strength. You may have felt this if you have practiced them for a little while.

First off, let’s have a look at whether there are any scientific studies that have tried to answer this question.

I was not able to find any studies examining whether Vinyasa or Ashtanga is harder. What I was able to find are studies that found that each of them (separately) was able to build strength.

Ashtanga and strength

One study carried out in the US in 2004 found that Ashtanga yoga may, in fact, be able to increase core and upper body strength.

In this study, 26 participants between the ages of 20 and 58 were subscribed to 6 weeks of yoga. 

The participants were split into two groups. One group practiced Hatha yoga while the other practiced Ashtanga yoga. Both groups did a 75-minute practice twice a week for 6 weeks.

The results showed that people in both groups showed an improvement in core and upper body strength. Perhaps not surprisingly, better results were seen with Ashtanga yoga, given that it is a more physically demanding practice.

Vinyasa and strength

One study carried out in India in 2018 found that “vinyasa yoga led to significant improvements in muscular strength and flexibility among soccer players.”

In this study, 30 soccer player participants between the ages of 20 and 25 were subscribed to 6 weeks of yoga. 

The participants were split into two groups. One group did strength training exercises while the other practiced Vinyasa yoga. Both groups did a 60-minute practice twice, 5 days a week of 12 weeks.

The results showed that people in both groups showed significant improvement in muscular strength and flexibility. Perhaps not surprisingly, better results for muscular strength were seen in the strength training group and better results for flexibility were seen in the vinyasa yoga group.

So now that we know that both Ashtanga and Vinyasa can help increase strength, let’s now have a look at the various factors that may make one practice feel harder than the other.

Ashtanga vs Vinyasa: Ashtanga has repetition

Ashtanga yoga follows a set sequence of poses. This means that any time you practice Ashtanga yoga, you will practice the exact same pose each and every time. This may make the practice feel harder, as you are always practicing the same and there is no variability. And so this is why some people find Ashtanga yoga difficult.

However, for some yoga practitioners, this is what makes the practice easier. The fact that you know what to expect and there are no surprises along the way. This may not only make Ashtanga feel easier, it also helps the body open up and strengthen on the same poses for each practice.

Vinyasa vs Ashtanga: Vinyasa can be more playful

Vinyasa can be considered as a free-style version of Ashtanga yoga and this may make it feel harder or maybe easier for some people.

In Ashtanga yoga, each practice involves the same set of poses. And so if this seems boring to you, then perhaps vinyasa is a better fit. The reason being is that a Vinyasa class can be tailored and adapted and may come across as more fun.

A typical Vinyasa class may follow a similar sequence to Ashtanga yoga. For example, in a Vinyasa yoga class, you may also start with sun salutations or variations of those. However, once the body is warmed up then the rest of the class depends on the teacher, the mood of the day, and the abilities of the students.

Ashtanga vs Vinyasa: Ashtanga can be a moving meditation

Ashtanga yoga uses the Tristhana method to help us stay focused on our practice. The elements of the Thristana method are:

  • Asana (Postures)
  • Dristi (Gaze)
  • Breath (breathing with sound)

And so with time and experience, in Ahstnaga yoga we flow through the set sequence of poses with our attention directed to the asana, dristi, and breath. These elements together help to make Ashtanga yoga feel like a moving meditation. We know what to expect and so we allow our body to move through the sequence.

And this is why with time, Ashtanga yoga may in fact feel easier, mentally than other forms of yoga where we don’t know what to expect.

Vinyasa vs Ashtanga: Vinyasa can have music

Now whether you like to practice yoga with music is a personal preference. Some people may find it distracting and may make it harder for them to concentrate. And so if you feel the same, then you may like the silence of an Ashtanga class.

On the other hand, others may feel like music helps them get in the zone and helps to amplify the experience. And so if you feel the dame, then you may prefer Vinyasa yoga.

Which one is right for you?

Both Ashtanga and Vinyasa are physically challenging and both can help to build strength. Now whether you find one more challenging than the other really is a personal preference. If you want to challenge yourself physically then both types of yoga are perfect.

You may like to mix and match and until you find one that resonates more with you. And if you still like both, then practice both!

My recommendations

Here are some tips if you are trying to decide between Ashtanga and Vinyasa.

Ashtanga and Vinyasa YouTube classes

If you would like to try out these two classes from the comfort of your own home, then here are two beginner videos from each type. Practice one and then practice then the other a few days later (as you may be stiff the following day).

And so this little project may give you a little idea of which one feels harder.

Both classes are 20 minutes long.

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