Find Your Perfect Yoga Class.

Via Erica Leibrandt
on Nov 14, 2013
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Photo: Lululemon Athletica

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.

Physically challenging

Slow and steady

Stretching and relaxing

Physically challenging

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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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Lululemon Athletica


About Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a licensed mental health clinician, certified yoga instructor, and mother to six heathens who masquerade as innocent children. If she occasionally finds herself with a fried egg on her plate or dancing until dawn, she asks that you not judge her. Life is short, she knows the chicken that laid the egg, and we can never dance too much. Connect with Erica on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr. And visit her website.


6 Responses to “Find Your Perfect Yoga Class.”

  1. Cece says:

    Perfect! I forwarded this article to my sister, who will be taking her first class soon. This is what she needs to help her sift through the various studios in her neighborhood. Thank you for a helpful article.

  2. I had a teacher that pretended to not teach power yoga, just so he could blend in to an intergenerationally friendly but fast-yuppifying and muppifying neighborhood. What could have been a big fail if I would have been a regular attendee for long (they had–just because I had been slightly overweight at the time–and that was up for contention, tried to shunt me into a gentle yoga class they also taught, which met DAYTIME and I didn't want to and couldn't get there if I HAD been interested! because I have an actual job a long commute away), became a sustainably challenging and invigorating home practice with some alignment re-instruction and remediation at a nearby REAL Slow and Steady place

  3. Erica says:

    ugh! Trial and error is invaluable, but stressful. I hate that people are "shunting" anyone anywhere. Glad you found your happy place 🙂

  4. HJCOTTON says:

    In my opinion, you have lumped Iyengar and Yin yoga under stretching and relaxing. Both types of yoga can be as physically challenging as vinyasa Ashtanga Style yoga. Learning proper alignment in asanas takes a long time to master as it is simply not mere stretching, and holding an asana for an extended period of time can be as challenging as jumpings in vinyasa. Every style of yoga has its own challenges.

  5. Erica says:

    Yep, I did lump them together. Of course all styles of yoga have their challenges, and I love them all (well, not hot, but anyway). I was just trying to simplify things for people who are unfamiliar with the whole program so they could feel more confident getting started. Yin and Iyengar are deep and beautiful practices, but they do move more slowly and do focus more on stretching and relaxation, thus my inclusion of them in the stretching and relaxing categories of yoga.

  6. That's so true. I took from a more alignment-oriented interpretation of The Himalayan Masters style. Alignment is so important to getting the actual noetic effects from yoga. And holding those poses is quite a challenge–so different from the mis-identified power yoga studio I'd been a grateful refugee from … Even Baptiste Power Yoga recognizes the importance of alignment better than the power yoga-martial arts hybrid that first place had taught …