One of the biggest hurdles in starting a yoga practice is deciding which style of yoga is right for you. One of my favorite yoga instructors once told me, “When you are ready, your yoga will find you.” This is great advice because the options are broad, the names are confusing, and you may feel compelled to take a class that you are not ready for or vice versa.
WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. The movements of yoga are described in Sanskrit, the language of India’s classical texts and scriptures. In Sanskrit, yoga means to unite or “yoke” the mind, body, and spirit. Yoga classes consist of a series of asanas (poses or postures). Asanas are performed in various positions, including sitting, standing, hands and knees, and lying on the back or belly. The poses are designed to move the spine through all its planes of motion. This type of class is considered a “mind-body” offering, which means the participants should be mentally focused and introspective as they perform the exercises. A yoga practice is an ideal way to improve your quality of life, as it enhances both physical and psychological well-being. It helps to build flexibility, strength, concentration, and stamina. Yoga is practiced by people of all ages, abilities, and conditions.
STYLES OF YOGA
There are many schools and styles of yoga. When starting out, it’s best to look for a beginner class in any style. Many classes are adapted for those who have mobility issues. For example, chair yoga is a popular modified class taught with a sturdy chair and designed for those who have difficulty transitioning from positions on the floor. Inquire about observing a class before participating, and speak to the instructor before class to share any concerns, conditions, or injuries. Find an instructor who can accommodate your needs and with whom you feel comfortable. If group classes do not facilitate your needs, private yoga sessions are a great option. The following list represents the most widely available yoga styles, although there are many more.
- Hatha Yoga—The term hatha refers to any of the styles of yoga but has been contemporized to refer to a style of yoga that is slow paced. Each posture is thoughtfully explored; transitions from one pose to the next are gentle. For most new comers, hatha yoga is a good starting point because it will provide an excellent foundation to the practice of yoga.
- Best for: beginners, those who enjoy a slower pace and like to move thoughtfully, and those requiring more physical modifications.
- Vinyasa Yoga—The term vinyasa refers to many different types of classes but most commonly refers to vinyasa flow or flow. Classes are more rigorous and incorporate a series of poses called sun salutations in which each movement is linked to the breath and flows from one posture to the next.
- Best for: those who have some yoga experience, those who like to move, and those seeking more of a workout.
- Ashtanga Yoga—Ashtanga is a fast-paced, flowing style of yoga. A defined series of poses is performed in the same order each class. Ashtanga is intense and physically demanding because it requires constant movement from one pose to the next. Transitions are more rigorous in nature because of the pace of the class.
- Best for: experienced yoga students, those who enjoy a faster paced athletic style program, those with good body awareness and skills, and those who enjoy the discipline of a set routine.
- Bikram/Hot Yoga—Hot yoga was pioneered by Bikram Choudhury whose name is often synonymous with hot yoga. His method, the Bikram method, is a set series of 26 poses, but not all hot yoga classes use this series. Hot yoga classes are taught in dedicated spaces intended to maintain a temperature of 90°F to 105°F. To support the extreme heat, the studio must be designed to resist mold, warping, or melting materials and must be equipped with a thermostat system that regulates humidity. The heat aids in loosening tight muscles and may produce profuse sweating, which is thought to be cleansing. Exercising in the heat is not recommended for individuals with metabolic conditions, including high or low blood pressure. Make sure you are medically cleared before engaging in this type of class.
- Best for: those who enjoy the heat and like to sweat and those seeking a more vigorous workout.
- Iyengar Yoga—Based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, this style of practice focuses on form and alignment using props such as yoga blankets, blocks, and stretching straps to assist students in mastering proper form. Poses are held for longer periods of time, and teachers provide in-depth knowledge of the pose and how to master it.
- Best for: those who enjoy the discipline of form and precision.
- Restorative Yoga—A slow, relaxing style of yoga that allows you to explore select poses using a variety of props, including, chairs, pillows, stretching straps, blankets, and yoga blocks to promote comfort and deep relaxation.
- Best for: Those who enjoy slowly “letting go” and ideal for those seeking recovery from intense workouts or sports.
More is not better. It is common for participants to sustain injuries when they attempt to perform movements which they are not ready to do because they want to keep up with others or feel it’s a badge of honor to perform more advanced postures. Some poses are contraindicated for certain health issues. Always check with your health care provider before starting a new exercise. Inquire about movements or activities you should not be engaging in. For example, many yoga classes use inverted postures where the head is lower than the heart. This type of posture may not be appropriate for participants with high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, or vertigo. Speak to your doctor about what you are planning to do, and learn how to modify for your needs. Experienced instructors will offer modifications and teach you how to use the various props to aid in your success.
YOUR YOGA WILL FIND YOU
It may take a few tries to find your yoga. Be patient with the process. If your first class is not a home run, try it again and share your concerns with your instructor or studio owner. They may have recommendations to help you succeed.