There as many different types of yoga these days as there are hairs on my head.
What’s an aspiring yogi to do? How do you choose between Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyassa, Bikram, Yin, Iyengar, Chair, Restorative, Hot, Aerial, Gentle and all the other offerings you’ll find if you Google yoga in your area.
You don’t have to have a certificate in yoga teacher training to figure out the best match for you. Here’s an easy way to break all it all down, and get you on the path that’s best tailored for you.
First ask yourself, what are my goals?
Your goals with yoga will probably evolve over time, so this is a question you can ask yourself as frequently as you like; the key is to be honest about what you are seeking in this moment. That way, you’ll have an optimal practice for wherever you happen to be on your mat.
Some common goals are: a hard core work out, nursing an injury, relaxation, something that’s “just right” (works you out hard enough, but has the spiritual components of yoga you crave too), deep stretching, something to balance your other physical activities like running or cycling, trying something new, and just getting acquainted with yoga enough to be comfortable in any class.
Even if you don’t know what all the different styles of yoga are—and who really does any more—they can be broken down into basic categories.
Slow and steady
Stretching and relaxing
Physically challenging yoga like Ashtanga, Bikram and “power” anything is best undertaken by seasoned yogis or by people who are in good physical health. Some might argue this, saying that more intense practices reward practitioners with increased physical health, which can be true, but from what I’ve observed they are too overwhelming for those who are not already really physically active.
The danger here is two-fold: injury and risk of being turned off to yoga entirely. It’s best to start off with something lower down on the richter scale of you are just getting into shape or are new to yoga.
To discover if a class is physically challenging you can ask any teacher (or numerous teachers, since they may have slightly different opinions) in the studio that offers it, or observe the people who attend it. You will quickly get a sense of what the class is all about.
Slow and steady
Slow and steady yoga has become my preference over the years, as it is the easiest sort of class to tailor to your own needs—assuming you have some yoga experience and decent mobility. These are the level 1/2 flow classes, multi-level classes, hatha, and the typical kind of class you’ll find at a health club. They can also include beginning Ashtanga, ariel and hot.
Teachers of this sort of class are used to having students of varied levels practicing at the same time, and are more likely to offer modifications to poses, and less likely to kick your butt. You may decide to kick your own butt, which is totally fine, but you probably won’t be put in a position where you feel like it’s mandatory. Also, there will likely be more focus on alignment than in “harder core” classes, simply because everyone is moving at a pace that facilitates adjustment and correction.
Again, ask any teacher at the studio where you plan to practice (level 1/2 can mean different things at different studios) what they think the level of difficulty is, perhaps having them qualify it on a scale of 1 to 10, or take a look at the people coming in and out of a class similar to the one you want to attend. If they all look like cirque de soliel acrobats either take the class anyway and see for yourself, or think about going to another studio or teacher.
Stretching and relaxing
For anyone who has physical limitations, needs some yin to their yang in their fitness routine (and this includes yogis who tend to opt for physically challenging classes), or is new to yoga, classes which zero in on stretching and relaxing are perfect.
Some of these kinds of classes will focus more on deep stretching, like yin, some on alignment—Iyengar, and some on profound relaxation—restorative, but they are all wonderful for managing stress, opening up the body, and bringing the mind and spirit together. They are an un-intimidating and rewarding way to enter the world of yoga, and also perfect for rounding out a complete yoga practice.
For truly nervous beginners, I would always suggest either a private lesson or two, a beginner series, or a beginner workshop. There is no need to put yourself in a situation where you are out of your depth; you have your whole life to practice yoga and can take your time discovering what works for you.
The great news is, with the proliferation of studios and yoga within all sorts of places, including senior and recreation centers, schools, hospitals, and just about anywhere else you can imagine, everyone has the opportunity to explore. If you take a class and you hate it, that’s okay. Just shop around until you find something that resonates.
Good teachers understand that not every class is for every student, and will never be offended if you show up once and don’t come back. Any teacher that does take it personally, is not a teacher you should be learning from anyway.
Most of us have heard the saying, “If you can breathe, you can practice yoga.” This is more true today than ever, simply because if you take the time to look, you can definitely find the yoga style (or styles) for you.
Don’t let all the fancy terminology put you off, just ask questions and keep an open mind, and soon you’ll be unrolling your mat like a pro.
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