I have heard so many great things about yoga, and I would like to try it, but I am confused about what type I should take. I know I should start with a beginner class, but there seem to be so many different styles. Can you provide me with some guidance?
Yoga, which originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, is derived from the classical Sanskrit word for "union" and can provide a host of physical and mental benefits. There are many forms of yoga, but most classes available in the U.S. include breathing techniques (pranayama), postures/poses (asanas) and meditation (dhyana).
The breathing techniques can help you execute the poses, reduce stress and even lower your blood pressure. The poses will make you stronger and more flexible and burn calories. The meditation (not to be confused with prayer) was designed to keep the mind free from such things as cravings, aversion, agitation and doubt, but might simply provide quiet time to reflect on your day or life.
This combination helps the participant connect the body and mind and is unique to almost any other form of exercise, which probably explains its growing popularity in our fast-paced world.
Traditional yoga studios tend to focus on yoga as a significant part of a healthy lifestyle, and often provide resources for vegetarian eating, whole-food shopping and conservation.
Gyms or community centers offering yoga take a more contemporary approach, focusing primarily on the physical fitness benefits of yoga.
Like any other group activity, the experience is highly dependent upon the instructor, his or her personality and the type of yoga.
Here are the five most common:
- Hatha yoga, an easy-to-learn basic form of yoga, is the primary foundation for the other types of yoga listed here. Regardless of the level, classes move at a gentle and slow pace, providing a calm and quiet environment that is noncompetitive and that emphasizes control and grace.
- Iyengar yoga may be the most popular, specific form of yoga practiced in the United States. Poses are held for a longer duration, and the focus is on fine-tuning each position with accuracy and awareness. These classes often provide or allow the use of blocks, straps, belts and blankets to make it easier to execute each position, and they accommodate a variety of fitness levels and special needs.
- Vinyasa yoga synchronizes one's breathing with the poses, and participants may move from one position to the next on an inhale or exhale. This style is often called "flow yoga" because of the smooth way each of the poses runs together, almost like a dance. This style is often typified by one of the most famous yoga sequences called the sun salutation, which will almost always be included in some form or another in a vinyasa yoga class.
- Ashtanga yoga is a form of vinyasa yoga but much more athletic and challenging. Faster-paced and fairly intense, it emphasizes specific sequences, with constant movement from one pose to the next. Participants can almost always work at their own pace, but this is not the best type of yoga for a beginner. Ashtanga yoga is great for people with a bit of experience who find faster-paced activity more enjoyable or engaging. A generic version of ashtanga yoga is often called power yoga and provides a similar athletic approach but without using the same specific sequences as ashtanga yoga.
- Bikram yoga is practiced in an environment where the temperature is 95 to 100 degrees. Not for the faint of heart, this style of yoga uses the heat to promote intense sweating designed to loosen tight muscles and facilitate "cleansing" of the body. Sometimes this style is called hot yoga and does not follow the exact sequence of poses as Bikram yoga, which is unique to that name brand.
Regardless of where you take classes or the style you choose, don't be afraid to ask instructors or facility managers for guidance.
They can direct you to the best instructor and class based upon your interests, skills and abilities, and most are extremely welcoming to beginners. Some facilities even provide a free class to newcomers, or special sessions designed to help get you started.