Are you a beginner thinking of taking a yoga class? Confused about what type of yoga class you should pick? Picking the ‘right’ yoga class can be a daunting task. From Bikram to Ashtanga to Hatha to Yin yoga, there are a seemingly endless number of yoga styles. Each style appeals to a different type of person and can benefit your body in different ways, but overall, styles are less important than the practice itself. Yoga can help to improve your overall health, including your balance, flexibility and strength and help to release tension in your body and mind.
Whatever reason brings you to a yoga class, it’s the perfect reason to practice yoga. Most yoga studios will gladly help direct you to the class that matches your current fitness level and knowledge of yoga. In addition, if you let the yoga instructor know upfront that you’re new to yoga, he/she should help you to modify, as necessary, for your individual needs. As you become a more seasoned Yogi, you will be able to modify each class to your own needs as you see fit.
To better help you navigate your way through the many different types of yoga and to help guide you to the style that best suits you, we’ve outlined several of the most commonly recognized yoga styles below. The most important thing to remember is that yoga accepts you just as you are and whatever yoga class you decide to show up to you can modify, slow down, bend your knee or skip a pose if the pacing is uncomfortable for you. If your first class is challenging, just keep coming back. There’s a number of changing variables in a yoga class that can vary from the studio to the teacher to your fellow students – classes can be very different on different days.
Hatha yoga describes any of the physical practices of yoga called Asanas, which are the physical poses you perform in a yoga class. Yoga has 8 limbs and only one of those limbs is the physical practice. In a Hatha yoga class anything goes, you might flow, you might hold poses briefly, you might hold them for longer periods of time – it all depends on the teacher. Many studios will label their classes with levels from beginning to advanced or level 1 to level 3.
Each Hatha yoga class will be different based on the studio and the teacher. It’s best, regardless of your fitness level, to start with a beginning or Level 1 class so that you can really learn the poses well. As you gain familiarity with the poses, you can check out the more advanced classes. With Level 1 classes, the yoga teacher gives more instruction on each pose and will help you safely navigate your way through the class. In the higher level classes, you’ll be given less instruction and maybe just given a cue to move through at your own pace. If you’re new to the practice you might spend your time looking around to see how exactly you are supposed to move through it. That’s OK.
‘Vinyasa’ is when you are linking or merging two things together. When you see a Vinyasa yoga class it generally means that each poses will flow from one to the next with the breath uniting the poses. This style generally has levels as well and is easy to modify for beginners. Generally speaking these classes might start out slow, work to learn the pose and then flow them together with a breath for each movement. In these classes Surya Namaskars or Sun Salutations are repeated to warm and stretch the body. These classes are great at warming, strengthening and stretching the body and calming the mind. In between the movement of the Sun Salutations, standing poses or challenge poses might be added. A Vinyasa class will get your blood pumping, so if you’re looking for a bit of cardio while you work on balance and flexibility, this may be the class for you.
Asthanga yoga popularized by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, is simply the method of yoga that synchronizes the breath with a set series of poses. The series is nonstop (one breath per movement) and follows the same set order of yoga poses. There are six main series in an Asthanga class. Students show up at a predetermined time and the instructor begins each student with a set of poses in the series based on where the student is at in their practice. These classes are referred to as Mysore classes. Be forewarned – -f you show up to one of these classes and have never done yoga before, you may only do Sun Salutations and then be done for the day. There are also Ashtanga classes in which a teacher will lead an entire class through the series and each student will do what they can. Often times, Ashtanga will be weaved into a Vinyasa or Hatha yoga class to make it more accessible to the students because it’s a practice that requires dedication. Ashtanga yoga might be labeled as so-called ‘Power’ yoga with partial Ashtanga sequences but perhaps not the full practice. Ashtanga can be a bit challenging for those new to a yoga practice but if you do venture to try it remember to go slow and take it easy on yourself.
Iyengar yoga does not “flow” at all. Iyengar yoga was developed by B.K.S Iyengarwho wanted to make yoga accessible to all. Each pose is worked on individually using props, blankets, blocks, straps and any other props necessary to properly align the body in each pose. If a teacher uses the Iyengar name they have received specific training in the this type of yoga. Often times a class won’t be called Iyengar but the the teacher may have a heavy Iyengar influence and therefore the class may flow less and focus more on pressie alignment of the body. This is a good class for beginners as they can learn the poses more deeply before they link them together in a flow class.
If you are already in shape and you have some time, Bikram just might be right for you. Bikram is a challenging form of yoga (that should not be confused with Hot Yoga) that is performed in a room that’s heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity. A true Bikram class is a series of 26 poses, lasting 90 minutes long, and done in the same precise sequence every time with very specific alignment adjustments. Bikram himself called the studios “Torture Chambers” and is a pretty good representation of what you will find in a Bikram class (in my opinion). Even though the popular thought is that sweating is good to detox our bodies it has been shown that sweating only elimates 1% of toxins. Bikram yoga uses heat to loosen and stretch the body so that it can be molded into the proper pose. Bikram classes have been known to heal many people. Is it the heat? Or is it the yoga? If you can handle the heat and want to step in to the “Torture Chamber” then this yoga might be for you.
Hot yoga is not Bikram yoga. Just like with Asthanga, Iyengar and many other types of yoga, in order to proclaim yourself under any one lineage of yoga, a teacher must complete advanced study in that specific yoga lineage. Hot yoga is for those yogi’s that like the heat of Bikram yoga but would rather have the style of the class be Vinyasa or Hatha. The rooms are heated to the teachers liking and probably not as hot as Bikram’s 105 degree rooms. Many people like Hot yoga because of the great sweat they get and feeling that they can get deeper into their poses with their muscles being so warm. If you like the heat but don’t want to repeat the same 26 poses, or you don’t have 90 minutes to devote to your practice, then Hot yoga might be for you.
In theory, all yoga is therapeutic. Therapeutic yoga takes it to the next level. Classes are designed to work specifically with each yogi’s limitations due to injury or illness. Therapeutic yoga classes blend, restorative yoga, gentle yoga, supported Hatha yoga, meditation and other styles of yoga to bring the body into balance, reduce stress and hopefully recover from injury or illness. These classes are a great place to start even if you are physically fit because, while they may not be physically demanding, they are a good way to gain a basic knowledge of yoga and they’re definitely a great place to start if you have any type of injury or illness.
Gentle yoga is just as the title says – gentle. This is a great place to start if you aren’t physically fit or have any type of illness or injury. Generally you’ll do some vinyasa work but it will not be strenuous, some light stretching maybe some breath work and, while physically not taxing, you will feel more at ease after this class. Gentle yoga is another good place to start in order to gain a basic working knowledge of yoga practice.
Yin Yoga works with the energy channels that run through the body, the so-called “meridians”. The meridians flow through the inner areas of the body, the facia, ligaments and tendons. Yin yoga is another great place to start if you are new to yoga. Generally, you’ll use props, as necessary, to support the body and then hold the poses anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes. The extended time allows for the “stretch” to go deeper into the body. Breath work and meditation may also be used during these practices to quiet the mind. Generally all poses are done in a seated position and absent of any “flow”.
If you like to relax then Restorative yoga is for you. This yoga practice supports the body with props to hold the poses for longer periods (5-15 minutes) to allow the body to passively relax and stretch. As you allow your body to be fully supported by the props, your central nervous system moves from the fight or flight response to the relaxation response. It’s in this place that deep healing happens.
Restorative yoga is a great class for just about anyone. With all the hustle and bustle of our hectic lives, restorative gives our body time to fully relax and restore.
As you can see there are many types of yoga to choose from. In the end, all Yoga is beneficial to all those who practice and the biggest hurdle is just getting to the yoga class in the first place. Yoga studios and teachers are more than to happy to help you learn the ins and outs of yoga and find the best class for you. There are many components that go into a yoga class so if at first it doesn’t fit just try another class on for size. Just keep coming back.