Which Yoga Class Is Right for You? 10 Types of Yoga, Explained
If you’re new to yoga, the staggering number of choices out there—from the studio to the teacher to the style—can be intimidating. But even if you’ve been taking the same yoga classes for awhile, you may not be getting the most out of this rich, multifaceted practice.
To help determine which types of yoga classes are right for you, here’s a breakdown of 10 styles offered at many studios, ordered loosely from easiest to most challenging. (It should be noted, however, that this is only a sliver of the many yoga practices out there. If your studio offers one you’ve never heard of before, ask about it! There’s a chance it could be your perfect match.)
Difficulty: Very easy
Good for: Working stiffs, desk jockeys, and anyone else who could use some R&R
What to bring: A mat and an eye pillow
The fact that some call restorative yoga “adult naptime” should tell you all you need to know. This slow, calming class focuses on four or five poses that students hold passively for up to 20 minutes each, using blankets, bolsters, and blocks to get into the poses without overworking muscles. Restorative yoga is often held on Friday nights, so nine-to-fivers can shake workweek stress. Props are usually provided, but bring your own eye pillow.
Good for: Those with anxiety, trauma, or simply a need to reconnect with the self
Most Westerners are familiar with yoga’s “yang”—that is, the muscle-building, physically focused style of classes. “Yin” is in opposition to that, a Taoist discipline in which students hold poses passively, letting their muscles soften and their bodies relax. Not only does this allow students to access deeper connective tissues and fascia to increase flexibility, it also instills a meditative state that helps center the minds. It’s no wonder this style is often used in recovery programs for addiction, eating disorders, and other such issues.
Good for: Yoga newbies
Consistency: Varies from studio to studio, teacher to teacher
Hatha isn’t a style in and of itself, but more of an umbrella term for any class that teaches physical postures—that is, pretty much every yoga style taught in the West. When you join a hatha class, you know you’ll get gentle instruction in yoga’s most basic poses (or asana), along with its disciplines, purification procedures, breathing exercises (or pranayama), and meditation. This makes it a splendid choice for those who have never tried yoga before.
Good for: Women in all stages of pregnancy, including postpartum
Pregnant women have unique needs when it comes to yoga. Prenatal yoga classes tailor what are usually hatha-based poses to these unique needs, using a slow, gentle process to help women open their hips, stretch their lower backs and shoulders, and strengthen their thighs. Many also include pelvic-floor exercises to make labor an easier process. The best part? No judgment for leaving class to use the bathroom.
Difficulty: Easy to medium
Good for: Anyone who’s ever said “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual”
Consistency: Seven different formats for the seven different chakras
Kundalini unites the eight limbs of yoga—its physical, spiritual, mental, and meditative benefits—into a singular practice aimed toward total transcendence. Students often wear white (the color believed to expand the aura and guard against negative projections) as they chant and breathe through constant movements. While the poses change from day to day, every class includes a chanted mantra, breathing warm-up with sun salutations, chakra-focused exercise sequence, meditation, relaxation, and blessing song. The spiritually focused practice is revered by celebrities such as Russell Brand and Demi Moore.
Good for: Perfectionists and those with injuries or chronic conditions
Consistency: Poses progress according to class level
Nicknamed “furniture yoga” for the many props it requires, Iyengar yoga is all about precise alignment and deliberate sequencing. Students use blocks, straps, harnesses, and incline boards to more perfectly position their bodies, then hold the poses for an increased physical challenge. Because Iyengar teachers undergo comprehensive training, they’re especially good at suggesting modifications and offering other guidance for students with nagging injuries or chronic conditions.
Good for: Nonconformists
Consistency: Varies, but always begins and ends with chanting and meditation
One of the newest forms of yoga out there—it only dates back to 1997—Anusara yoga is all about goodness, grace, and heartfelt acceptance. In that spirit, students are encouraged to express themselves through each asana as best they can rather than attempting perfectly formed poses. Even so, classes usually present a decent physical challenge.
Consistency: Fixed—same poses in the same order, every time
What to bring: A mat, a mat-sized towel and a hand towel, water, and synthetic yoga attire
Crank the heat to 105º F, throw in 26 moderately challenging poses, and you’ve got the 30-year-old practice of Bikram yoga. The heat isn’t just a gimmick—it can help your body achieve a deeper, more effective stretch, and the buckets you’ll sweat are detoxifying. It’s challenging for even experienced Bikram practitioners, so if you get lightheaded, feel free to sit quietly for a pose or two. Some studios offer “hot yoga,” which is usually identical to Bikram except for the order of the poses.
Difficulty: Medium to hard
Consistency: No two classes are the same
You should bring: A mat, water, and a mat-sized towel if the studio is heated
Also known as “power” or “flow” yoga, Vinyasa comes as close to cardio as yoga gets. After all, it was adapted from Ashtanga yoga in the late 1980s to tap into the aerobics craze. With a quick pace and flowing rhythm, it keeps heart rates elevated with smooth transitions from one pose to the next, each linked to a breath. Classes often feature an energizing soundtrack, and instructors keep things interesting by changing up the sequence for every session.
Good for: High-energy, athletic types, such as runners and cyclists
Consistency: Fixed—same poses in the same order, every time
You should bring: a mat, a water bottle, and a towel if class is held in a heated room
Though some use Vinyasa and Ashtanga terminology interchangeably, Ashtanga is the more ancient of the two. It, too, uses constant, flowing movement, which keeps muscles warmed up for a deeper stretch. But instructors follow a rigid structure, leading groups through the same six sequences each time. Experienced yogis should adapt well to this style, but take heed: a particular variant known as Mysore Ashtanga is self-led, for those who know the six sequences by heart.
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