What do you think of when you think of yoga?
For many people, when they hear the word “yoga,” they probably immediately think of one of two extreme stereotypes: The completely peaceful guru sitting barefoot and cross-legged atop a mountain, or the fitness junkie hopping from the studio to the sauna with a green smoothie in hand. While both of these types of yogis do exist, yoga can really be accessible to everyone.
The benefits of yoga are extensive (toned muscles, balance, and relaxation, to name a few), but, beginning a yoga practice can be intimidating at first if you’ve never done it before; there are so many different types of yoga and different ways to practice. This little starter’s guide is here to help you understand a few of the most common practices out there.
Hatha is your basic catch-all term for any yoga practice that teaches physical postures. Hatha classes will move through basic poses at a gentle pace, teaching you to connect your breath to your movement. Usually classes that call themselves Hatha classes will move at a slightly slower pace than others, and so they’re a great option for beginners!
Vinyasa practices move through the same poses as hatha practices, but at a faster pace. Sometimes these classes will be called power yoga or flow classes, and for good reason: You’ll move pretty quickly through each sequence and break a bit of a sweat. This type of practice is great for burning a few more calories, while also feeling centered and connected to your breath.
Named for the guy who developed this style in the 1930s, this practice focuses on proper alignment, and the use of props like blocks and straps to help you get aligned. An Iyengar class is all about precision and detail, and each pose is held for a long period of time. This practice can be great for people with back and neck pain, although always consult with a doctor first.
In an Ashtanga practice, you’ll repeat the exact same poses over and over again. It’s a pretty orderly approach to yoga, and so it’s great for people who thrive with routine and love to test their endurance over longer periods of time.
This kind of yoga is exactly what it sounds like: you practice in a very hot room (about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, specifically). Between the heat and the vigorous practice, be prepared to sweat in this kind of class. The heat loosens your muscles so you can move deeper into poses and stretch a bit more. If you like both heat and routine, you might want to try a Bikram class, which features the exact same 26-pose sequence every time, in every studio.
Kundalini combines yoga, chanting, and meditation for a truly all-encompassing spiritual practice. It might seem a bit “out there” for people who are new to yoga, but it can help you to tap into energizing your mind, body, and soul.
If all these other practices are the active yang, then this calmer, slower practice is the more meditative yin. Other practices work to build muscles, while Yin practices are designed to target connective tissue by having you do the same postures you do in other practices–but here, instead of flexing and moving quickly, you’ll release into the postures and hold them for minutes at a time. This can be a great way to stretch, take things a little slower, and relax.
At first Restorative might seem really similar to Yin, since it’s another slow-moving, relaxing class. However, Restorative yoga does not usually involve the same postures that you’ll do in other practices, and it includes the use of props like blankets and blocks. Restorative is an extremely slow-moving practice, so slow that you might feel like you’re not really doing anything. But, it’s great for relaxation and meditation.
While it’s helpful to understand the different types of yoga and how to do them, don’t worry about getting too caught up in the specifics of it. A lot of classes will combine different types of yoga, and some instructors will invent their own styles! Really the most important part of any practice is tuning into your body and doing what feels good for you. Yoga helps you to connect to your body in healthy ways, and so hopefully you practice in whatever way helps you to reach that goal best.