Yoga is an ancient Hindu practice that has evolved in several accessible modern forms. This popular mind-body practice has many potential health benefits. Studies have found that yoga can help lower blood pressure and ease low back pain. It's also been shown to improve energy and reduce pain in people with arthritis. Yoga can also improve strength and flexibility. Which type of yoga is the right one for you?
Style: gentle. Hatha is actually another word for yoga, but if it’s not more specifically defined, it will often be a very gentle, easy-going practice. Typically, hatha yoga is not vigorous or sweaty. These yoga classes are among the least challenging.
Style: intense. In Ashtanga yoga, students practice the same sequence of 41 vigorous postures or asanas, individually and at their own pace. A teacher is present to demonstrate or assist as needed. The primary series begins with a simple sun salutation and ends with a headstand and lotus. Beginners usually start with classes led by a teacher, and it can take up to three months to master the positions. Ashtanga yoga is for students who want a challenging and disciplined practice.
Style: sweaty. Also known as "hot yoga," Bikram is among the most polarizing of the yogas. You either love practicing in a heated 105-degree room on a sweat-drenched yoga mat, or you hate it. A series of 26 postures devised by Bikram Choudhury, this form of yoga includes several difficult standing balance poses. Unlike other yoga practices, there are no inversions such as headstands. Proponents say the heat allows for greater range of motion and a better workout. But it’s critical to stay hydrated during Bikram yoga, and this practice is not for anyone with chronic health issues like multiple sclerosis or heart conditions.
Style: freestyle. Vinyasa is the most common and popular yoga, and it involves a flow sequence of postures and breath designed by an individual teacher. Generally, a good vinyasa class will begin with a few sun salutations to warm up, followed by the teacher’s choreographed sequence, which could be gentle or vigorous. Some vinyasa yoga classes incorporate chanting and meditation. Classes differ significantly depending on the teacher, so new students may want to try out a few different instructors to find the style they like best.
Style: precision. Iyengar is among the least sweaty and the most precisely detailed of all yoga practices. As opposed to vinyasa, there is no flow from pose to pose. Emphasis is put on the exact positioning of each posture, which is held for several minutes or longer. For example, in a simple standing pose, students may be asked to imagine holding eggs under their armpits without breaking them. Iyengar yoga often uses bolsters, straps, blocks, and blankets to help students perform the postures correctly. This yoga practice is ideal for those seeking to master posture positioning and alignment.
Style: Type A. Power yoga is a general term used for challenging, fitness-based yoga adapted from Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga, but free of particular posture sequencing. Teachers choreograph their own flow sequence, which is generally vigorous and might include other fitness exercises in addition to standard poses. Power yoga is the least spiritual type of yoga, typically with no chanting or meditation. As with vinyasa yoga, it’s advisable to read teacher bios or try a few different teachers to find the right fit for you.
How to get started with yoga
Here are eight tips to help guide you to the best yoga teacher and practice for you.
- Find a beginner-level class and take it several times; it may take a few sessions to decide if the practice is for you.
- Read teachers’ bios on a studio’s website to gauge their sensibility and choose one that feels right.
- Teachers should be certified by the National Association of Yoga Teachers at either a 200 hour or 500 hour level.
- Tell the teacher of any injuries or health conditions so that he or she can provide modifications.
- Take it easy to begin with. Intense overstretching may lead to injury and discomfort and prevent you from returning.
- Don’t be shy. Ask questions—even in the middle of class—if you aren’t clear on the posture. Most teachers will come over and help.
- Listen to your gut. If you don’t like a teacher or feel the teacher is reckless in some way, then find another. All yoga teachers are not created equal.
- Studios provide yoga mats, but ultimately you may want to have your own if you practice yoga regularly.