With so many kinds of yoga to choose from and class names that sound like (or really are!) a foreign language, entering the yoga world can be daunting. So here's a little help in deciding where to start.
So you want to change up your workout routine and get more bendy, but the only thing you know about yoga is that you get to Savasana at the end. Well, this beginner's guide is for you. The practice of yoga and ALL of its endless iterations can seem daunting. You don't want to just walk into a class blindly and hope (no, pray) the instructor doesn't call out for a headstand within the first five minutes—that's an accident waiting to happen. Don't be intimated. Here, you'll find most of the types of yoga you'll find in local gyms and studios. And if you'd rather fall while attempting triangle pose for the first time in the comfort of your home, there are always YouTube yoga videos.
Hot Power Yoga
Great for: Helping you lose weight (albeit, probably water weight)
This is one of the most intense forms of yoga available. The class might be called "Hot Power Yoga," "Power Yoga," or "Hot Vinyasa Yoga." But no matter what your studio calls it, you'll sweat like crazy. The flows usually vary from class to class, but the temperature of the room is always hot, thanks to the infrared heat. "Power yoga is a fun, challenging, high-energy, cardiovascular yoga class," says Linda Burch, yoga instructor and owner of Hot Yoga, Inc. "A series of postures flow together to build strength, improve balance, flexibility, stamina, and concentration."
In these heated classes, drinking plenty of water will make or break your success, as you can quickly feel lightheaded if you aren't properly hydrated (and don't even think about attempting inversions if you're dizzy). "Heated classes are polarizing, with some people really loving them, and others, not so much, says Julie Wood, senior director of content and education at YogaWorks. "We always note in either the title or the description of the class if more than normal heat is part of the class," says Wood. "These classes can be a great way to induce flexibility and sweat, but anyone with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disorders, eating disorders, sleep deprivation, or pregnancy should consult their doctor before joining a hot class."
Great for: Increasing flexibility
For a slower flow that asks you to hold poses for what feels like eons, opt for yin yoga. "Yin yoga typically incorporates longer holds in passive poses that promote greater flexibility, especially in the hips, pelvis, and spine," says Wood. Not to be confused with a gentle or restorative class, in yin yoga you will typically hold each deep stretch for three to five minutes to lengthen beyond your muscle and into your connective tissue or fascia. Even though it is intense in its own right, Burch says it's still a relaxing type of yoga, and your instructor will ease you into each stretch. Yin yoga will help "increase mobility in the joints and relieve stiffness and tightness in the muscles, and it also helps to heal and prevent injuries," says Burch. Another plus? It's great as a recovery tool or cross-training workout. It's the perfect practice for after a more active workout like spinning or running, as it can give you a deep stretch your tight muscles crave. (Don't forget the important post-run stretch. Here's your race training game plan to prevent injury.)
Hatha Yoga or Hot Hatha Yoga
Great for: Strength training
While Wood says that Hatha yoga is really the umbrella term for all the different practices of yoga, the way most studios and gyms use this title is to describe a slower-paced class in which you can expect to hold poses longer than in a Vinyasa class, but not as long as you would in a Yin flow. Burch says that this type of yoga is all-inclusive as "students of ages 8 to 88 benefit from this total body workout." You can expect more challenging standing poses, and the option to choose a hot Hatha class if you're into that. And while you might be hesitant to try a hot yoga class (of any kind), Burch says the benefits are enticing. "It's challenging and promotes a deep sweat to help eliminate toxins and encourage muscles and joints to stretch further and more deeply with a lower risk of injury."
Great for: De-stressing
While Yin and restorative yoga both focus more on flexibility than strength, they do play very different roles. "The key difference between Yin and restorative yoga is support," says Wood. "In both, you practice longer holds, but in restorative yoga, your body is supported by a combination of props (bolsters, blankets, straps, blocks, etc.) that cradle the body in order to soften the musculature and allow prana (essential energy) to flow to the organs to restore vitality." Because of that added support, restorative yoga can be perfect for de-stressing the mind and body, or as gentle exercise to complement a strenuous workout from the day before.
Great for: Anyone and everyone, especially newbies
If you see a sign-up sheet for a class at your local gym simply titled "yoga," it's likely Vinyasa yoga. This ultra-popular form of yoga is just like Power Yoga minus the heat. You move with your breath from pose to pose and rarely hold postures for any length of time until the end of class. This flow offers strength, flexibility, concentration, breath work, and often some form of meditation, which makes it a great starting point for beginners, says Wood. "The intensity and physicality of nonstop movement can help to focus the mind of newer yogis." (Revamp your usual Vinyasa flow with these 14 yoga poses.)
Great for: Recovering from an injury
Iyengar yoga places a heavy focus on props and alignment so it can be another great option for beginners and anyone with flexibility issues, or as a way to dip your toe back into exercise after an injury. (Here: The Ultimate Guide to Doing Yoga When You're Injured) "In these classes, you will move more slowly than you would in a typical Vinyasa class," says Wood. "You'll also do fewer poses in order to follow very specific instructions for executing precise actions in the body." Iyengar teachers are typically well versed in common injuries, so this is a safe bet for when you're still in the rehab phase.
Great for: A mix between meditation and yoga
Regardless of your fitness level, if you are more interested in the mindful aspect of yoga, you might want to unroll your mat for a Kundalini flow. "Kundalini yoga is not posture based; therefore, it's accessible to everyone, regardless of age, gender, or body type," says Sada Simran, director of Guru Gayatri Yoga and Meditation Center. "It's a practical tool for everyday people." Wood adds that in a Kundalini class, you'll use chanting, movement, and meditation tap into your consciousness. You can expect a bigger spiritual workout than physical. (P.S. You can also follow these meditation-savvy Instagramers for an insta-zen.)
Great for: Advanced yogis who are ready to tackle Instagram-worthy poses
If you've watched your yoga teacher effortlessly float into a handstand and then back into a Chaturanga push-up position, you were either scared or inspired—or both. This requires a lot of core strength, years of practice, and likely an Ashtanga background. This disciplined form of yoga is the basis of modern day power yoga and, if you stick with it, those impossible-looking poses and transitions can eventually become a part of your arsenal of yoga skills, too. True, yoga isn't about impressing your followers with cool poses, but setting a goal and challenging your practice will help you build strength and confidence.
So no matter what your end goal is—whether that's to become a master yogi like Heidi Kristoffer, or simply be a regular at your local studio—there's a yoga flow for you. Try out different styles and new instructors until you find your yoga match, and know that your style may change over time. Now go forth and tree pose.