If you're just starting your yoga practice, you might be feeling overwhelmed by all the different styles of yoga and various class offerings available. It can be very confusing to know where to start. If you are just beginning your practice, it may be helpful to know more about your options and find a class and style of yoga that suits you.
I highly recommend starting out in a beginner-level class that boasts itself as Hatha, Iyengar, “Gentle”, or “Slow-Flow” to familiarize yourself with the postures and correct alignment before embarking on more challenging classes, like Hot Yoga or Power Yoga. Consider calling the studio or instructor to discuss their classes and which class they recommend you starting out in.
What is Yoga?
Yoga isn’t about being able to achieve impressive headstands or perfect down-dogs. Yoga is about connecting your mind, body, and breath. It’s about calming the constant chatter in your mind and learning to live in and appreciate the present moment, even in the midst of chaos. It’s about establishing, reestablishing, and strengthening the neurological connections that help us navigate our lives in a meaningful way. That can be achieved simply by sitting and being present. It can even be accomplished from a hospital bed.
It’s important to recognize that every yoga teacher, studio, and class are different. Where one teacher may offer a class that caters to individuals seeking a higher intensity and faster paced practice, others are tailored toward restoration and relaxation. There are a variety of classes and styles of yoga to choose from that cater to every level of ability.
Ashtanga Yoga is a type of Vinyasa that flows through a specific series of postures that are repeated with every class. It is usually very intense and vigorous and requires a lot of stamina.
Bikram Choudhury established this style of yoga in the 1970's. It features a set of 26 yoga poses repeated over and over for 90 minutes. Often the temperature of the room is raised to 105 degrees. This is not the same as "Hot Yoga", which refers to any yoga in a hot room. This is a very challenging style of yoga not recommended for beginners. There is some controversy over Bikram, himself, as he has repeatedly been accused of (and charged with) sexual battery, rape, and false imprisonment, among other things.
Hatha is a catch-all term that encompasses most styles of yoga. It can be difficult to know exactly what will be taught in a Hatha class due to its broad interpretation.
If you are new to yoga I highly recommend a beginner-level Iyengar class if you can find one. B.K.S. Iyengar taught and trained his students in a style of yoga that focused on very precise alignment using props and modifications. This style of yoga is extremely mindful of varying abilities, difference in body structure, and contraindications (things to avoid with specific conditions).
This style of yoga focuses on meditation, dynamic breathing, chanting, and mantras. It is designed to awaken the energy at the base of the spine and draw it upward through the 7 chakras.
Is a very vigorous and demanding yoga practice. I think of it as the “Cross-Fit” of yogas. It’s best to familiarize yourself with correct alignment before tackling a Power Yoga class.
Ready to let go and relax? This yoga may be for you. Commonly considered to be interchangeable with “Gentle Yoga” (though not always), these postures usually require the use of blankets, bolsters, and blocks to support you in a series of postures that are designed to restore and relax the body. Also see “Yoga Nidra” if you’re looking for something to help you sleep!
Instructors who lead trauma-informed yoga classes have been trained to be mindful of things that could trigger traumatic memories and emotions for their students, and in how to address those emotions when they arise. They have in depth understanding of how trauma manifests in the brain and the body, and how to gently guide survivors through the practice to foster recovery and reconnection.
This is the most popular style of yoga at the present moment. In these classes you will focus on a series of yoga poses linked together that almost seem like a dance. Many beginners will shy away from this kind of yoga as their first experience with it tends to be a “hot yoga” or intermediate-level class. In hot yoga, the instructor raises the heat in the room (sometimes in excess of 100 degrees) and usually flows through the postures very quickly. Other classes might be listed as “Slow Flow” or “Beginner Vinyasa”. These classes will usually slow down the pace and dive into alignment, offering props and modifications to help you achieve the postures safely.
Yin Yoga is a very slow-paced style of practice during which practitioners hold poses for several minutes at a time to passively open the body. I recommend starting out at a beginner level or speaking to the instructor before-hand if you’re new to yoga as some of the postures can be very challenging to hold for such long periods.
-Yoga For Diverse Abilities-
Instructors trained to offer yoga to populations with diverse abilities have knowledge and experience in modifying postures and creating practices that are accessible for those with both cognitive and physical differences. This style of yoga incorporates practices and movements to improve muscle tone, address behavioral and emotional issues, and promote greater body awareness and well-being. Yoga taught by an instructor with such training can be practiced from a wheel chair or even a hospital bed.
Yoga therapists are highly trained individuals who have gone through years of training to achieve such a designation. While the designation “Yoga Therapist” could mean a year or more of training, a C-IAYT indicates that someone has completed several years of training and certification processes that include traditional yoga trainings and Ayurveda as well as in depth anatomy and kinesiology training. These instructors are qualified to assist with a variety of issues and abilities and are often employed in hospitals and physical and occupational therapy settings.
While there are many, many more styles of yoga out there, these are some of the primary techniques you may find in your area. I highly recommend reaching out to any studio or teacher prior to taking a class to discuss any concerns and disclose any limitations you might have. It is always advisable to speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise, as well.