Now that we’ve succeeded in convincing you that yoga is really really good for you, you may have hit your local gym or done a search online for yoga classes, only to realize that, there are like, a lot, of different yoga classes to choose from.
Well first of all, we might as well go ahead and say it, but we’re a bit biased towards online classes and DVDs : ) Check out our post on the “top reasons to start your yoga practice with an online class first,” and our guide to the “types of characters you’ll come across in your local yoga studio.”
In any case, before you embark on your yoga journey, here’s a nifty little guide to some of the most popular yoga styles. Whether you’re browsing the ol’ world wide web for local yoga classes, or choosing to learn via DVD, find out which of these schools your instructor comes from to get an idea for what to expect in your class.
Hatha Yoga – Technically, any type of yoga that has a physical component is known as hatha yoga. However, if you’re seeing a class being described as “hatha,” in your local gym or online, it usually means that it is going to be a slower moving class with an emphasis on basic yoga poses, breathing, and light meditation. Hatha yoga is a good place for beginners to start.
Iyengar Yoga – This is another good place for beginners to start. Iyengar yoga is generally a slower moving class with an emphasis on achieving perfect alignment (which less than bendy students can achieve by using blocks, straps, and chairs). Iyengar yoga was created by B.K.S Iyengar who was able to improve his own health with the practice of yoga and can be a good option for those facing chronic pain. Most other styles of yoga place less of an emphasis on reaching “perfect” alignment. In other styles, you’ll often hear the instructor push you only as much as your body will permit.
Ashtanga Yoga – This strand of yoga was invented by one of B.K.S Iyengar’s classmates. It’s a strength building practice that uses the same set of six poses in a specific order for every session. The poses progress with difficulty. Although it is possible to find a beginners Ashtanga class, astanga yoga is generally considered to be a challenging practice. Since it is always the same poses in every class, you can expect most of the other students in class to really know what they’re doing. If you’re seeing a class described as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, or Power, then you can expect a yoga workout that will get you sweating.
Vinyasa Yoga – Also known as “flow” classes, vinyasa yoga classes are among the most popular. It’s all about flowing from move to move in a relatively quick matter, synchronizing body movements with the breadth. Although Vinyasa yoga is an off shoot of Ashtanga, and is similar to it, there are a few subtle differences. While we can’t generalize for all studios across the country, we have noticed that Ashtanga sessions tend to focus on strength building through longer holds while Vinyasa classes tend to focus on flexibility because of its fast flowing nature.
Power Yoga – If you’re doing yoga at the gym, then you’re probably doing a version of power yoga. Power yoga is also an off shoot of Astanga, and was developed in the 1990’s to cater to a more fitness audience (that’s us!). You’re going to get a lot less spiritually in classes that label themselves as power yoga and the style of each class really depends on the instructor, as the order of poses can be different every time. Compared to a Vinyasa flow class, you are going to find fewer poses and longer holds in power yoga, as well as a greater emphasis on body control. Although power yoga can be more difficult as a physical exercise, it can be more accessible to yoga beginners than a flow because you’ll have more time to grasp each pose.
Restorative Yoga – Beginners new to the practice need to have an open mind if they are thinking about attending their first restorative class – which draws on Iyengar’s use of props in a slow moving, passive class that helps students experience the benefits of each pose, without exerting the effort that other styles require. The focus is as much on realigning the body and stretching as it is on mind control. Sitting still and focusing on the present are difficult skills to master and are just a few of the benefits of restorative yoga. In fact, many of yoga’s benefits you read about, like better sleep, stress relief, and calming the parasympathetic nervous system, most of them come from restorative yoga. It’s all about unwinding and slowing down in order to come out refreshed. It’s kind of like a nap for adults, only way more rejuvenating.
Bikram Yoga – Also known as “hot yoga,” is a yoga class that incorporates many of the poses you would find in a power yoga or a flow class, except that it takes place in a really HOT room. So you’re going to sweat. A LOT. Bikram yoga classes take you through a patented order of 26 poses that are always the same, and always in the same order. Yoga studios who deviate from that specific order cannot legally call themselves “Bikram,” and usually go by hot yoga instead. Generally, the class and the benefits are going to be mostly the same in both. In fact, a 2013 study of healthy adults found that practicing Bikram yoga three times per week over two months improved their deadlift strength and improved their lower back and hip flexibility, though it did not have an effect on cardiovasuclar, or aerobic capacity.
There are other types of yoga to be sure, but we’re still working on this article. What can we say? We’re like REALLY busy. Check back soon!