You’ve finally decided to give yoga a chance. You’ve heard about all its benefits, from increased flexibility to strength-building and beyond. But upon searching for classes in your area, you quickly find that not all yoga is the same. That’s right; yoga is not just yoga. There are types of yoga made to make you sweat, get you in alignment and relax. And then, there are types that seek to exercise your third-eye.
Here’s a quick primer on six common types of yoga to help you navigate your new passion for the mind-body connection.
The Sanskrit term “hatha” actually refers to any yoga centered around physical postures. Clearly, the definition of hatha yoga is pretty broad and all-encompassing. That said, many yoga studios will offer yoga classes called hatha yoga, and in these classes, it’s all about the basics. Instruction is typically slow moving, and poses are gentle. Hatha classes are a good option for beginners who want an introduction to the practice and aren’t committed to a specific routine. Since hatha is such a broad term, you’ll find that each class has a different routine.
Vinyasa is a dynamic form of yoga characterized by synchronizing a series of poses with the breath. Vinyasa classes differ from class to class and help you build strength and work up a sweat. This form of yoga is a popular option, as the practice combines movement and breath in a fast-moving manner reminiscent of a dance class. Sometimes instructors will even put music on to increase the mood. The fast pacing works to increase your heart rate, and you’re sure to build strength in the process.
The controversial yoga instructor Bikram Choudhury developed this form of yoga back in the 1970s. The series of 26 postures is performed in a hot room, cranked up to about 110 degrees. You’ll sweat like crazy as you work through each stage.
Much like Ashtanga, Bikram classes follow the same sequence each time. Interestingly, Choudhury has trademarked his signature routine, and studios that don’t use the name Bikram are not permitted to teach the series.
A word to the wise: you’ll also want to make sure you bring your own water, mat and towel. While most studios allow you to rent gear, you’ll sweat a ton—and using communal mats might gross you out just a bit. These hot yoga classes can feel overwhelming to newcomers, and you’ll want to drink plenty of water before, during and after your class.
Kundalini yoga provides a combination of spiritual guidance and physical movement. The practice teaches dynamic breathing techniques, meditation and chanting.
As you can imagine, Kundalini is vastly different from a Bikram class or a Vinyasa flow. Instead, you’ll chant mantras and perform kriyas, a repetitive exercise that combines motion and breath work. You’ll even sing. The goal here is to knock down the spiritual walls holding you back, breaking through to an energy that lives within. But if you’re just looking for a workout or a means of becoming more flexible, this might be a little outside of your expectations.
Yin yoga is challenging in a way that your average vinyasa class is not. Instead of focusing on quick, energizing motions, yin seeks to help you find inner calm and balance. With this type of yoga, you’ll stay in poses for several minutes at a time. The meditative series works to rejuvenate fascia and connective tissues, but slow practice is designed to target your deeper connective tissues and fascia, restoring length and elasticity.
You’ll use blocks, straps and blankets to help you work through the poses, allowing your body to slowly, gently release into the posture. You’re not engaging the muscles. Instead, you might find yourself lying on the ground for long stretches. It’s challenging for the antsy types, but the restorative nature of yin may leave you feeling more centered than ever.
Ashtanga and vinyasa are quite similar styles of yoga. The difference is that vinyasa isn’t committed to a specific routine, while ashtanga relies on a specific series performed each time you practice.
This rigorous form of yoga links each movement to breath, and poses are performed in a specific order each time. Like vinyasa, ashtanga classes will make you sweat, so be sure to bring a towel.
One of the best things about yoga is that you don’t have to commit to a single type. And aside from beer yoga, there are benefits to all kinds of yoga practices. You might love Bikram classes and be bored to death staying in a yin pose for 20 minutes. Experiment. Try them all; there’s bound to be a class that works for you.