If you’ve never tried yoga (what are you doing here?), odds are that you will at some point. But whether or not you’ll keep at it after the first couple of sessions depends a lot on whether you’ve stumbled into the ‘right’ class. For any other health or fitness activity, things are usually pretty simple: you can basically walk into any gym and be confident that there will be a treadmill and some weight training equipment – by and large a gym is a gym.
But yoga is not like that. Yogis (and yoginis) are very particular about the kind of yoga they enjoy – not just any will do. It’s not surprising, considering what differences there are not only between all the different yoga styles, but the levels, the instructors, the facilities, the amount of chanting, music… you get the idea. You wouldn’t go to a cinema and blindly buy a ticket to watch any movie, would you? Probably not.
Yoga can look and feel very different, depending on what style of yoga we’re talking about. A lot of new and interesting yoga styles have popped up just in the last few years! And you, the yoga community, are a highly diverse crowd, with a broad range of interests, likes and dislikes, goals and priorities. So, the word ‘yoga’ can mean totally different things to different people. For some, it can mean grueling, sweaty contortions in sauna-like temperatures, to others yoga suggests quietly sitting cross-legged in front of a candle for an hour.
The practice of yoga, in whatever shape or form, is a wonderful thing, and it brings with it tons of benefits for the body and mind. If you’re new to yoga, you should definitely try it out, find your style, and then practice it regularly. But, with so many different yoga variants out there, it’s important to find a style that you are comfortable with and one that suits you.
Although the flow chart at the top of this article is to be taken less than seriously, it actually does suggest some yoga styles that you might find fun, if you follow the chart faithfully (go on, give it a try). In the following, I’ll try to provide some descriptions of some more common yoga styles. Note that there are many, many more, and also remember that I’m no expert. Please don’t get upset if I’ve left out your favorite yoga style, or written something that’s not right (but say something in the comments). Here then are some yoga styles to consider:
Examples of fast paced yoga styles with nearly pure physical content include: Bikram Yoga (a series of 26 specific poses performed in a room that’s at 105°F), Power Yoga (variable traditional yoga poses with little focus on meditation, geared towards delivering an athletic workout and usually found in health-clubs), and Vinyasa Flow Yoga (a ‘flowing’ series of poses linking movement to breath). For the real athlete-types, there are even yoga competitions, such as the recently held World Asana Championships in New York, and there is a strong and growing movement to bring yoga as a sport to the Olympics.
More ‘traditional’ yoga experiences that include some meditative component, while still presenting a fitness challenge, can be found in Ashtanga Yoga (a prescribed set of physical and breathing exercises performed at a fairly rapid pace), or Iyengar Yoga (where the concentration is on body alignment and technique, known for its use of props). In both of these styles, the practitioner also works to clear the mind of stress and distraction. There are also several other yoga styles that provide this kind of experience.
For those of you interested in a stronger integration of the spiritual aspects with a physical intensity, there are also several options. One example is found in Jivamukti Yoga (essentially like Ashtanga, but with an additional focus on meditation and spiritual teachings).
Beginners, or those who are less inclined to perform impressive contortions and feats of strength, are perhaps better served by yoga styles that are a little slower and less physically demanding. Many such styles abound, and once again their flavors run the gamut from a clinical, health and fitness-type activity to very mystical practices. Although Hatha Yoga technically refers to all the styles mentioned in this post, classes that are called “Hatha Yoga” typically involve a basic all-physical yoga experience, while one intermediate hatha style that incorporates a good deal of tantric philosophy is found in Anusara Yoga (postures with meditation and spiritual mantras, many “heart opening” positions).
If minimal exertion is really what you’re after, there are styles of yoga where all the poses are of the less strenuous variety. Restorative Yoga (restful and calm, most poses involve lying down) is an example of a style that is generally without a big spiritual bit. A popular example of a very mildly physical yoga with strong meditative elements is known as Integral Yoga (gentle and holistic practice). Kundalini Yoga (mantras, meditation, visualization, and a lot of time in cross-legged positions) is maybe the best example of a hatha style that essentially views yoga as a spiritual practice containing a small physical component.
Which type of yoga is the right one for you? Only you can answer that question, and to find your way in yoga, you may have to do a little research. Maybe some styles mentioned above pique your interest? That’s cool, now go find a place where they offer them! Bear in mind that two classes with the same name even in the same studio can be very distinct from another if taught by different teachers – because often it’s the teacher that makes a yoga class what it is.
A great way for people to find their yoga is to rely on a recommendation from a friend – so ask the people you know that are into yoga what they think you might like. If you’ve tried one or two yoga classes but decided that it’s not for you, you were probably just unlucky and didn’t try the right yoga class. Lastly, a message to those of you that already enjoy your regular practice: it can’t hurt to try out some different classes with different yoga styles – you might be surprised, discover something new, and come away feeling not at all like what you were expecting.
What about you? What’s your yoga style? How did you end up finding it?