There is not one type of yoga, though all types of yoga have the same goal. For practical purposes, we’ll say the goal is moving through life with more ease, acceptance and awareness.
The menu of yoga options for reaching that goal is long. Figuring out which style works best for you can feel overwhelming.
To be sure, the last few years have ushered in a bunch of (ahem) styles: heavy metal yoga, yoga & beer, naked yoga – you get the idea. That’s not what we’re covering here. We’re talking about classical styles and styles you see in fitness centers and yoga studios. There are many more, but this should get you started.
If you’ve never practiced before, it’s worth trying out several styles, and even the same style in different classes because instructors sometimes interpret styles differently. Try each class a few times before you rule it out.
Physically demanding and disciplined.
You’ll follow an established set of linked movements that synchronize with your breath, a key component practiced by closing off the back of your throat. Getting between poses can be a challenge (and an exercise in humility) until the style is mastered.
Bikram (sometimes hot yoga)
Structured and sweaty.
Bikram is built around 26 poses you’ll do twice, always in the same order, in front of a mirror, in temps that push 105 degrees. Every instructor is expected to stick to a universal script that includes telling students when they can drink water. Many practitioners lose weight regularly practicing this style (and not just due to sweating). Variants of Bikram are called Hot and Hot 26 and can veer somewhat from the rigid rules.
Good for beginners or those who want to go easy.
Hatha technically refers to the physical arm of yoga. But the term has come to mean a gentle practice when used in the context of classes. You’ll likely do standing and seated poses that work on strength, flexibility and balance.
Committed to precise alignment of poses.
You might work on one pose for most of a class. You’ll also likely use yoga props to get into ideal alignment. Yoga newcomers might find this style frustrating because of its granular focus. But if it resonates with you, you’ll know darn well how to execute poses – a boon when you do other styles.
All about fitness.
This style is usually an amped-up version of an ashtanga-vinyasa hybrid (though its true origin lies with several veteran instructors, who didn’t design it to be vinyasa on steroids). Classes are sometimes heated, forcing the body to work even harder.
Nearly effortless, physically, but can be challenging mentally.
If you’re wired it will be hard to settle into a restorative class without first shedding energy. That said, many instructors start with gentle movements and then set up restorative poses, which helps. Expect to do only a few poses per class, completely supported by props. If you can relax in each pose and revel in its stillness, your mind’s chatter will die down.
Meditative, often with breathing exercises and mantras.
Expect to rest and breathe with intention between discrete poses and to open and close class with mantras. The poses and their order are nearly always the same. All those elements coax practitioners into a zen zone. Poses work on strength, balance and flexibility.
Therapeutic, with emphasis on tailoring each pose to one’s particular body and for specific results.
Viniyoga sessions often have a strong sense of purpose. So, for example, are you in a particular pose to lengthen your spine – or your hamstrings? Many poses do both. Your focus and approach for the pose would vary depending on your aim. Poses are often repeated during a class, and there’s often attention to the breath.
Vinyasa (and flow)
Flowing in movement and breath.
Expect nearly all your movements to link, generally timed with inhales and exhales. Vinyasa and flow classes range from gentle to vigorous, so look for descriptors (slow flow, strong flow, etc.) If the instructor is creative, the class might seem choreographed like a dance.
Very stretchy, and quietly introspective.
You’ll be down on your yoga mat pretty much the whole time, gently encouraging your connective tissue (particularly at your joints) to be more pliable. Focus tends toward the lower body. Expect to hold some poses for as long as five minutes.
Connect with yoga instructor and former Yoga Journal editor Mitra Malek at mitramalek.com.
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