People tend to think of yoga as deep breathing and downward dog, but there’s actually a wide variety of yoga styles that can have all kinds of benefits for your body and fit a variety of fitness goals.
“Yoga is not about the destination—it’s about the journey,” says Melody Appel, co-owner of Honor Yoga. “You have to find what’s right for you at that point in your life. What works for a 16-year-old is completely different than what works for someone older.”
“Most westerners think of yoga in terms of the physical practice—asana,” says Appel’s partner and co-owner Maria Parrella-Turco. “But 85 percent of people approach yoga because they are looking for a way to relax and reduce stress.”
“Yoga is so much more than the physical. The goal is bliss,” says Appel. But bliss seems so far away when you can barely sit still for 5 minutes, let alone focus on your breath for an extended period of time. So, start off small—wherever you feel comfortable.
I have been practicing yoga whenever I have spare time—or when I just absolutely need to de-stress—for about a year now. I had taken yoga classes at my gym years ago, but my schedule proved difficult to shape around scheduled classes. So I turned to the Internet. After some searching, I found a YouTube yoga channel called Yoga with Adriene that spoke to me. I found that I connected with the instructor, despite her posting her weekly videos from her home in Texas, thousands of miles away from where I sat on my mat.
But others feel more at home in the group atmosphere that yoga studios offer. The quiet, timed classes ensure that there will be no interruptions to the practice. Yogis have an instructor to assist them with any discomfort or concerns. However, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned yogi, choosing the right yoga class for you can be tricky. Faced with the decision to choose from a list of classes with names like “bikram” and “vinyasa flow,” you may find yourself ready to walk out and throw your yoga mat back into the closet. But there’s no need to fear, yogis—this is your very own guide to exploring the most common styles of yoga. Armed with some basic knowledge, you’ll be ready to step onto the mat with confidence.
Restorative yoga (Iyengar)
“Restorative yoga is like peeling away the layers of an onion,” says Parrella-Turco. “In our classes, students hold a pose for 8 to 10 minutes.” This style of yoga focuses on opening up the body by holding stretches and poses, often with the help of props such as blocks and blankets. Because this style uses props to help ensure correct alignment, Iyengar is great for beginners who are looking to learn and perfect poses. By holding the stretches for extended periods of time, yogis are aiming to slip into a state of deep relaxation. If you go to one of these classes, you may run into at least one inverted pose, such as a head or shoulder stand. But don’t let that scare you away—yogis who are new to inverted poses can start with baby steps, learning the basic foundation of the inverted pose with props to help you along the way. With time and patience, you will be standing on your head before you know it.
Most westerners tend to be most familiar with vinyasa flow, explained Appel. The instructor leads the class through a repetitive flow of poses, which provides a more intense workout than styles like Iyengar. Yogis may want to try a slower style, in which they can become comfortable with and perfect poses, before jumping into a vinyasa flow.
“Kundalini is all about breathing; about the energy,” says Appel. The goal is to awaken the internal Kundalini energy, located at the base of your spine, through kriya. Kriya is a series of specific breathing techniques and movements that are performed in conjunction. This style is best for yogis who are looking for a more spiritual practice. Enlightenment is the goal of this style of practice, and is said to occur when the Kundalini energy is drawn from the base of the spine to the top of the head. This style is good for beginners, although new yogis may find themselves a little shocked at some of the components. Kundalini differs from other common styles and it’s important to have an open mind. You can expect to take part in chants, breathing exercises, a period of deep meditation, and may even be instructed to dance. The most important part of Kundalini is to just let go and get out of your comfort zone.
Bikram is the best style for yogis who are looking to sweat bullets. Practiced in a heated room of about 105 degrees, an instructor guides students through a series of 26 poses that are designed to strengthen and compress the muscles. This style is designed to stretch and rinse the internal organs and increase blood circulation throughout the body. This style is great if you’re looking to see concrete progress. Because you are repeating the same 26 poses every time, it is easy to take notice when you’re flexibility and strength are improving. However, beginners should start in a more basic class before plunging into bikram.
Westerners often assume that bikram and “hot yoga” are the same style of yoga. However, hot yoga classes often consist moving through a vinyasa flow in a heated room. This is an intense style of yoga that provides a lot of movement, and is best for yogis with experience and strength.