Yoga – how to choose a class.

There is a range of yoga types that people can enjoy. The range has become quite large recently, flow, acrobatic, hot yoga and so many more.

So, you have decided to finally start doing yoga, again — after looking at classes in your area and trying to find something online, your head is spinning. There is a Bikram studio down the street, why is every class 90 minutes?  What is the difference between Hatha and Vinyasa? The assortment of choices can be enough to scare someone right off the mat.
Yoga is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ practice. Different types of yoga might be better for different people. Someone who is hyper-mobile and flexible does not need the same thing as someone who is muscular and stiff.
Flexibility is not a requirement for yoga, it is a benefit of yoga! Many people can not touch their toes in their first yoga class. Over time, muscles, ligaments, and tendons lengthen, increasing suppleness increasing flexibility and increasing muscle strength.

So, with all the choices out there, where do you start?

Yoga: Just a peek at some of the yoga classes out there.

  1. Hatha : all about the basics 
    • In these slower moving classes that require you to hold each pose for a few breaths, hatha classes are considered a gentler form of yoga. An ancient form of yoga that emphasizes physical postures – can improve cognitive function, boosting focus and memory. Hatha  is an old system that includes the practice of asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises), which help bring peace to the mind and body, preparing the body for deeper spiritual practices such as meditation.
      • Best for: Beginners. Because of its slower pace, Hatha is a great class if you are just starting your yoga practice.
  1. Vinyasa : all about the flow
    • Get your flow on in this dynamic practice that links movement and breath together in a dance-like way. In most classes, you will not linger long in each pose and the pace can be quick, so be prepared for your heart rate to rise. It denotes a flowing, dynamic form of yoga, connected to pranayama (breathing exercises) in which yoga and mudrā (a spiritual gesture and an energetic seal of authenticity) transitions are embodied as linkages within and between asanas (yoga postures).
      • Best for: Intense exercisers might enjoy Vinyasa because of its faster pace. Runners and endurance athletes are also drawn to Vinyasa class because of the continuous movement.
  1. Lyengar: all about body alignment 
    • Here you will get particular about precision and detail, as well as your bodys alignment in each pose. Props, such as yoga blocks, blankets or straps will help you to work within a range of motion that is safe and effective. Unlike in Vinyasa, each posture is held for a period of time. If you’re new to Iyengar, even if you have practiced other types of yoga, it’s good to start with a level one class to familiarize yourself with the different technique.
      • Best for: Focused yoga students. If you like to focus on anatomy, movement and form, you wil love Iyengar — teachers sometimes share a wealth of information during class. Iyengar can also be practiced at any age and is great for those with injuries (though you should consult with your physical therapist or physician).
  1. Ashtanga : all about the sequence
    • If you are looking for a stimulating yet methodical approach to yoga, try Ashtanga. Consisting of six series of precisely sequenced yoga poses, you’ll flow and breathe through, you will perform the same poses in the same order in each class. Each pose, a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind
      • Best for: Type-A folks. If you are a perfectionist, you will like Ashtanga’s routine and strict guidelines. Someone going through a cleanse or detox will enjoy the detoxifying features of Ashtanga.
  1. Bikram : all about the heat
    • Prepare to sweat: Bikram consists of a specific series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises practiced in a heated room. All Bikram studios practice the same 90-minute sequence so you will know exactly what to do once you unroll your mat. Remember, the vigorous practice combined with the heat can make the class feel strenuous. If you are new to Bikram, take it easy: Rest when you need to and be sure to hydrate beforehand. Bikram teachers are taught a normalized dialogue to run the class, but are encouraged to develop their teaching skills. This results in diverse deliveries and distinct teaching styles.
      • Best for: Heat lovers, people looking to aid in their weight loss program and amateurs. Those who are newer to yoga might like Bikram because of its predictable sequence.
    • Hot yoga is similar to Bikram in that it is practiced in a heated room. But teachers are not constrained by the 26-pose Bikram sequence. While the heat will make you feel like you can move deeper into some poses compared to a non-heated class, it can be easy to overstretch, so do not push beyond your capacity.
      • Best for: Hardcore sweat lovers. If you love a tough workout that will leave you drenched.
  1. Kundalini aka Laya yoga: all about breaking through internal barriers
    • The practice of Kundalini yoga is supposed to arouse the sleeping Kundalini Shakti from its coiled base through the 6 chakras, and penetrate the 7th chakra, or crown. This energy is said to travel along the ida (left), pingala (right) and central, or sushumna nadi – the main channels of pranic energy in the body.
    • This physically and mentally challenging practice looks very different from your typical yoga class. You will perform kriyas —repetitive physical exercises coupled with intense breath work — while also chanting, singing and meditating.
      • The goal? To break through your internal barriers, releasing the untapped energy residing within you and bringing you a higher level of self-awareness.
      • Best for: People looking for a spiritual practice. Those who are seeking something more than a workout may enjoy Kundalini due to its emphasis on the internal aspects of yoga, including breath work, meditation and spiritual energy.
  1. Yin Yoga : all about finding zen
    • If you want to calm and balance your body and mind, this is where you will find your zen. This practice is designed to help you sit longer and more comfortably in meditation. Yin yoga poses are held for several minutes at a time, targeting your deeper connective tissues and fascia, restoring length and elasticity around the joints. You will use props so your body can release into the posture instead of actively flexing or engaging the muscles. Like meditation, it may make you feel antsy at first, but stick with it for a few classes and its restorative powers might have you hooked.
    • A passive practice, Yin Yoga involves variations of seated and supine poses typically held for 3 to 5 minutes, accessing deeper layers of fascia. Yin Yoga was originally introduced by Paulie Zink.
      • Best for: People who need to stretch and unwind.
        Keep in mind, Yin yoga is not recommended for people who are super flexible (you might overdo it in some poses) or anyone who has a connective tissue disorder.
  1. Yoga Nidra : all about conscious awareness
    • While it may feel like you are not doing much in a yoga nidra class…that is the point. Yoga nidra is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. This state of consciousness (yoga nidra) is different from meditation in which concentration on a single focus is required.
      • Best for: People who need to recover, rehabilitate or relax.
        Keep in mind, Yoga Nidra yoga does not involve any movement.

Fear not: Like marathon training, integrating a variety of types of yoga into your regular practice can help keep you balanced. Be open to trying a few different studios, teachers and styles. Find something you like then, stick with the one or few that resonate with you. Be dedicated to the practice, the first day you dislike a class should be no reason to leave and never give it another go.

Photo Credit: J.Rupe

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