Do you ever feel dizzy from all your yoga options? Understandable, given the countless offerings available. When yoga first became popular in the West in the twentieth century, there were only a few styles to choose from. But since yoga's popularity has exploded, so have your choices. Unfortunately, too many choices can leave you stuck in the planning stages and off your yoga mat. This guide will help you better understand five popular kinds of yoga and determine which style is best suited to your goals.What the Heck Is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient, eastern spiritual practice used to prepare your body and mind for meditation. If you've ever tried to meditate, you know that quieting the committee inside your brain is a colossal task. Ever try to sit in meditation with tight muscles? It can be painful and distracting. But, if you exhaust your body and loosen your muscles with yoga prior to meditation, it's much easier to sit and focus on your breath.
Understand Your Yoga Goals
The first step in identifying your style is to examine your goals. What do you hope to gain from a regular yoga practice? The physical benefits are numerous. In fact, Yoga Journal lists over 38 of them. Are you interested in the spiritual side? Yoga calms your mind and connects you with universal collective conscious. It's common for western yoga classes to skip the spiritual aspect, but classes that offer it still abound.
Assess Your Fitness Level
Next, let's quickly classify your fitness level so you can use that number to match up with a style.
- I haven't exercised in years (Level 1).
- I do a little bit of cardio a few times a week (Level 2).
- I consistently do cardiovascular workouts at least three times per week (Level 3).
- I do both cardiovascular and strength training workouts at least three times per week (Level 4).
- I'm a beast (Level 5).
Yin Yoga for Levels 1, 2 and 3
Yin yoga is a slow-moving style that holds postures for long periods to allow your muscles, joints and connective tissues to open up further. While other forms of yoga, especially vinyasa, Bikram and ashtanga, involve active postures that can be considered a rigorous form of exercise, Yin is passive and focuses on penetrating the deep connective tissues of the body. Yin is rooted in India and China where it has been an integral part of yoga for centuries. You'll start by holding poses for 45 seconds to a minute, and work up to 5 minutes or more. This can be a great option for athletes or otherwise active people to supplement their usual workout routine by relaxing tight muscles.
Vinyasa for Levels 1-5
Vinyasa is a flowing and dynamic form of yoga that was born from the Ashtanga lineage. One of Ashtanga's early gurus taught Ashtanga as a moving meditation because he felt the movement between the poses were just as important as the poses. Vinyasa means “to arrange something in a special way,” referring to how you arrange your body for specific poses. You'll also hear the word “vinyasa” in most yoga classes. “Take a vinyasa” means to move from Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog. Vinyasa yoga flows from pose to pose without stopping and uses your breath as a guide.
Bikram Yoga for Levels 3, 4 and 5
Contrary to popular belief, Bikram yoga is not a style. It's 26 Hatha yoga postures that its founder, Bikram Choudhury, arranged in a particular sequence. Then, he cranked up the heat to 106 degrees and marketed it as “hot yoga.” His marketing worked, and Bikram is now the most well-known yoga class in the West. Scientific research shows the purported benefits of the high heat may not be as advertised, however. And — you'll either love it or hate it. The heat makes the class more challenging and helps you get into the poses more quickly, which has pros and cons.
Ashtanga for Levels 4-5
If you think of yoga as tying yourself up in a pretzel, then you're probably thinking of Ashtanga. Ashtanga is ancient and dates back as early as 1000 BCE. It's also the yoga described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the central text for The Yoga School of Hindu Philosophy. Ashtanga is a challenging, highly structured class with five series and you must master each pose in the first series before moving on. The ultimate purpose of Ashtanga is to purify your mind and body. By moving quickly and powerfully, you condition the body and shut down mental chatter.
Kundalini Yoga for Levels 1-5
Shrouded in mystery, Kundalini yoga is often misunderstood by western yogis. It's based on the spiritual energy located at the base of your spine called kundalini. Kundalini is said to lie coiled like a sleeping serpent at your spine’s base. Kundalini yoga was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan, and is deeply intertwined with Sikhism. It is designed to awaken your kundalini with pranayama deep-breathing exercises, chanting, meditation and postures. It's appropriate for any fitness level. However, this is not a class to take if you’re expecting to get an intense physical workout. While many kriyas, or exercise sets in Kundalini yoga, can be physical demanding, many kriyas are more meditative in nature and focused on breathwork.
Safety and Tips
Despite the numerous benefits, you can get hurt from yoga. The best prevention for injury is proper form. Find a studio with teachers who pay attention to your form and make corrections as needed. Be patient and give your body time to open up. Check with your doctor to make there are no contraindications for your current health level, especially if you have any back issues.
Janet Ashforth first studied to become a personal fitness trainer for Gold's Gym in 1997 and currently owns her own fitness company. She uses fitness training, yoga, meditation, nutritional guidance and massage to guide her clients in health and wellness. She has held certifications from the American Council on Exercise, The American College of Sports Medicine and is a licensed massage therapist.