According to the 2014 “Yoga in America” study, more than 20 million adults in the United States practice yoga, and that number continues to grow. This popularity may be linked to the many physical, mental and therapeutic benefits of the practice, such as strength, flexibility, balance, stress reduction, improved circulation and more. While all forms of yoga impact mind and body, the specific benefits realized often depend on the type of yoga practiced, and there are many to choose from.
The five most common types of yoga include:
- Hatha : is basic yoga and is easy to learn. It is a foundation for the other types of yoga listed here. Classes move at a gentle, slow pace, with an emphasis on control and grace so this type of yoga is ideal for stress relief. According to “Yoga Journal,” hatha is the most popular branch of yoga taught in the United States.
- Iyengar : focuses on precision and alignment. Poses are held for a longer duration, so it helps develop strength and balance, as well as flexibility. The use of blocks, straps, belts and blankets are often used to make it easier to execute each position. Classes accommodate a variety of fitness levels and special needs.
- Vinyasa : synchronizes one’s breathing with the poses, encouraging a transition from one move to the next on an inhale or exhale. Vinyasa is also known as “flow yoga” because of the smooth way each of the poses runs together. The physical exertion of Vinyasa stimulates the metabolic process that leads to weight loss and toning, while the controlled breathing encourages blood flow and relaxation.
- Ashtanga : a much more athletic and challenging form of Vinyasa yoga, Ashtanga is faster-paced and fairly intense, with constant movement from one pose to the next. Ashtanga yoga is great for people with a bit of experience who enjoy a faster-paced activity. The physical benefits include improved flexibility, strength, stamina and endurance. “Power yoga” is a generic form of Ashtanga that provides a similar athletic approach without the specific sequences of Ashtanga yoga.
- Bikram : practiced in an environment where the temperature is 95 to 100 degrees, this style of yoga uses the heat to promote intense sweating designed to loosen tight muscles and facilitate “cleansing” of the body. Because of the intensity and high temps, this yoga type is not for novices or people with certain health conditions ( i.e., pregnancy, heart problems).
To determine which yoga class is right for you, Parnell recommends the following tips:
- Know Your Goals . Think about what you hope to gain from a yoga regimen, whether it is flexibility and balance, toning and weight loss or stress relief and improved concentration. This will allow you to select a program that will help you meet those objectives.
- Pick a Location. Yoga classes are offered at many gyms today, but if you’re looking for a more meditative or spiritual experience, you might prefer attending class at an ashram or studio dedicated to yoga specifically.
- Ask Questions. Before you begin a class, talk to the instructor about his or her experience and expectations. Explain what you hope to achieve and discuss any physical limitations you may have.
- Experiment. There are no rules that say you can’t try a variety of classes until you find the right fit so try any that interest you.
- Be Aware of Your Limitations. Yoga is not competitive. If a class or even a pose is too challenging, don’t force it. Know your limits and make modifications or stop and rest to help keep you free from injuries like tears and strains. “As a general rule, you should avoid doing whatever causes any type of joint pain or other discomfort,” says Parnell. “Seniors, beginners and people with special conditions should avoid more intense, or strenuous, types of postures. Most poses can be modified and still provide benefits.”
- Start Slowly. If you’ve never tried yoga, start with two to three times per week, for half an hour to an hour each time.