– I love yoga and have been practicing for about 20 years. There is so much to say about this practice that I’m fearful to even begin because certainly I will overlook someone’s favorite type. So let me break this down into easier chunks.

The first thing you need to know is that there are several types of yoga practices ranging from barely moving to heart thumping feel like you’re never going to stop moving classes. No matter which type you think you’ll like, I strongly recommend taking about 6 months worth of beginner classes to learn the names and shapes of the poses before jumping in to any class. Learning the basic alignment of the poses will help you to enjoy the more advanced classes and prevent injury.

With that being said, here’s a glimpse into some of the kinds of yoga you will find. What to expect:

Restorative Yoga & Yin Yoga

– In these classes, you will move very slowly and hold the poses for longer periods of time, usually supported with blocks and blankets. Restorative is very gentle and meant to help you relax deeply, while Yin is meant to stretch the connective tissues which can cause some soreness the next day. If you are Über stressed out, try a restorative class. If you are super tight, try a Yin.

Gentle Yoga

– You will probably practice a slow form of the Sun Salutations and the basic standing poses but not hold them for very long. Again, you will be encouraged to use props to help you find your best form in the poses and to support your body until you’ve built up strength. (I teach a Gentle class every Tuesday at 5 p.m. check my website for details.)

Iyengar Yoga

– If you like specifics, details, and adherence to form, Iyengar is for you. Alignment is the key principle for these classes and you will be asked, nay, required to use props to be in that alignment. They also use wall straps to help you hang out and explore the depths of poses and to support you in poses you never thought you could do. These classes move slowly and precisely but can be challenging as you will hold standing poses longer than maybe you’d like to but not longer than you need to!

Ashtanga Yoga

– Athleticism is the hallmark of Ashtanga. You complete the same series of postures every time in a 90 minute class connecting each pose with a “vinyasa” which includes a push up and backbend between every posture. It is dynamic but disciplined. If you like to mark your own progress and you like a serious challenge, Ashtanga classes are for you. Each person is encouraged to do the best with each pose along the way so even a beginner can successfully navigate this practice but you have to be willing to modify until you build the strength to complete the series. There are 6 series. Most people never get past the first 2. If the title includes “Mysore” it means that each student is practicing on their own pace and the teacher walks around assisting; there is no specific direction given so you must know the sequence to participate.

Hatha Yoga

– this is a catch all name for yoga classes. Depending on the teacher, these class formats vary wildly. Typically it means the class will move slowly and poses will be held for about 5 breaths. You will do standing, balance, seated and supine poses. Ask others who have attended this class to tell you the difficulty level. Variations are called Anusara, Tantric, and “yoga by [insert name here]” – which means someone has created their own style.

Vinyasa Yoga

vinyasa actually means breath with movement, i.e. a moving meditation e.g. as you inhale and raise your arms, and as you exhale you bring your arms to your sides. It can also mean, as you inhale raise up into handstand, and as you exhale bring your feet over your head to backbend. Again, very important that you ask what level the class you are looking at is rated. Vinyasa classes tend to be dynamic and sweaty. They also can be terrible for learning alignment as they move rather swiftly. Be sure to have a foundation practice before hopping into one of these.

Bikram Yoga

– um, can you say holy hell batman? When they say hot, they mean HOT. As in 105 degrees Fahrenheit with steam pumped into the room. My personal experience with Bikram classes was that I spent the first half hour bargaining with myself repeating the mantra “I will not pass out, I will not vomit” and the second half saying “I will not leave before the end.” Needless to say, this is not my favorite practice. In Bikram you repeat 26 poses 2 times in a row, every time you go. It’s hot, it’s competitive and did I mention it’s hot. As a 40-something, really, I make my own heat now but some people LOVE this as they feel like a noodle when class ends. Definitely a mind over matter practice.

Hot Yoga, Power Yoga

– [Forrest Yoga, Baptiste Yoga, Bryan Kest] Hot Yoga and Power Yoga offer different degrees of heat, typically between 80-95 degrees Fahrenheit and the class will have a different sequence each time you go. They are VERY challenging and athletic and also a lot of fun. There are also suspended yoga classes where you hang from cloth, naked yoga where you let it all hang out, aroma flow where the instructor infuses different oils throughout class, and specialized classes for sports such as yoga for golf, skiing, and tennis that focus on overtaxed and underdeveloped muscles.

If you’re interested in yoga, I guarantee there is a class out there that will be perfect for you! I have to stop here though and interject some “yoga philosophy.” Yes, yoga is a physical practice and therefore will improve strength, lung capacity, and will tone your muscles. However, yoga, in my view, is meant to bring you back to your balanced state of being – mind, body, and spirit. I believe your practice should leave you feeling calm, centered, and happy, not exhausted and drained. Most people I know are already stressed out. Picking a demanding yoga class will only exasperate that. Originally, monks practiced yoga to help them be able to sit and meditate for long hours – the physical component of yoga is only one aspect of the fullness of yoga which includes self-study and meditation as well as much more. Though yoga is all the exercise some people do, I believe it’s an adjunct to your fitness plan.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for all these types of yoga. People who are sluggish definitely improve their energy level by a vigorous practice while those type-A personalities would surely benefit from some restorative time.

Interestingly, it’s usually the opposite that occurs. The quiet slow moving person comes to the yin class when he or she really should hit a vinyasa class to bring their being into balance and the type-A should settle into a candlelight practice but instead shows up at a Power Yoga class.

I could go on for a long time on this topic, but for now, take a moment to assess your personality type and pick a class that will benefit you, not one that will increase your stress or make you more lethargic.

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