Which type of yoga is right for you?
By Jessica Faulds

It’s not just a spiritual practice, but exercise, and it’s meant to get your heart rate up.

It’s ironic: yoga is all about simplicity and clearing the mind, but there are so many different approaches and varieties that beginners are often overwhelmed before they can even start. Nevertheless, it’s worth pushing yourself through the learning curve to try out this ancient spiritual and physical practice.The benefits of yoga are well documented: increased flexibility, strength building, improved posture, stress reduction. With all that and more going for it, yoga is worth trying out at least once. Not sure where to start? Here’s a quick overview of some of the most popular forms:

Hatha

What’s the story?

When newbies think of “yoga” as a broad concept, they’re probably thinking of Hatha. Hatha is really a bit of an umbrella term, encompassing many types of yoga that focus on physical poses, and it can incorporate elements from all the other types listed below. A Hatha class is usually slow-paced, stretching-focused, and good for beginners, without a lot of intense flow between poses, and often ending with a brief meditation. It’s the dinner buffet of yoga — perfect for those who know they’re hungry but don’t know exactly what to order.

What’s it for?

Hatha is a good for those who are just being introduced to yoga, though popping into a Hatha class is an option for people at all levels of practice. The focus on achieving poses correctly makes a good opportunity to learn about the basics.

How advanced is it?

Hatha helps people get down the fundamentals of poses, so if you’ve never tried yoga before, trying out a beginner Hatha class is probably a good first step.

Vinyasa

What’s the story?

Vinyasa is a dynamic form of yoga, and an intense one. In a Vinyasa class, students flow continuously from one pose to another, incorporating breathwork and getting their heartrate up. A Vinyasa class isn’t just a meditative experience, it’s a workout. And unlike most classes, Vinyasa sessions may pump music with an actual beat.

What’s it for?

Put simply, Vinyasa is about working out. It’s not just a spiritual practice, but exercise, and it’s meant to get your heart rate up. However, like all yoga, Vinyasa does incorporate a spiritual element. The constant flow of poses is a reminder of temporality, and the focus on breath keeps practitioners centered.

How advanced is it?

Vinyasa may not be the ideal yoga for beginners, because it moves fairly quickly from pose to pose. This constant flow can lead to injury or incorrect technique if done incorrectly, so it’s good to take a slower class and nail the basic poses before taking on Vinyasa.

Iyengar

What’s the story?

Iyengar is a form of yoga that takes its time. Some forms of yoga move quickly from pose to pose, providing more of a traditional workout, but Iyengar is all about taking it slow. This form was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014), who was considered the father of modern yoga, and who developed Iyengar to help people to develop flexibility and strength, and to unite mind, body, and spirit. The goal is to achieve perfect alignment, finding poses and breathing into them, often using blocks and proprs. Iyengar has been called “meditation in action,” so it’s all about peace.

What’s it for?

If you’re trying to heal an injury or increase your flexibility, Iyengar is good for a few reasons. For one, it’s all about taking it slow and finding the right pose, so you aren’t at a high risk of straining or hurting yourself. Also, Iyengar instructors are highly trained, so you’re at less risk of amateur mistakes. Iyengar’s focus on peace and breath is something anyone living in the modern world can use, so this is a great option for most people.

How advanced is it?

Like all yoga, Iyengar challenging in its own way, but it is a good option for beginners, as it gives them a chance to focus on the subtleties of their poses and alignment.

Bikram

What’s the story?

This is it, the famous “hot yoga” you’ve heard so much about. Bikram yoga was developed in the 1970s and combined various yoga techniques while adding a new element: heat. It’s generally practiced in a room heated to 35-42 °C, the idea being that the heat will facilitate sweating, which is believed to be detoxifying.

What’s it for?

A heated room facilitates sweating and increases heartrate, so Bikram is definitely a workout. There are 26 poses, which are run through in a sequence over 90 minutes, making for a predictable routine and allowing students to focus on their technique. Basically, Bikram will appeal to you if you want to get sweaty.

How advanced is it?

Bikram can be a bit tough for beginners because of the heat, but all 90-minute Bikram yoga classes use the same poses, so the repetitiveness can be a helpful learning tool. If you have the most basic poses down and want to get sweaty, give Bikram a shot.

Yin Yoga

What’s the story?

Yin yoga is a Taoist practice, focusing on presence in the current moment. Many of the poses are passive and seated, stretching the deeper connective tissues like ligaments and joints. While it may sound easy, poses are held for a long time, which many find quite challenging. Yin increases flexibility while also encouraging spiritual reflection and groundedness.

What’s it for?

Yin is great for helping muscle tightness and unwinding from the fast pace of everyday life, and it also increases flexibility. The founder of Yin yoga, Paulie Zink, has said it helps "open the heart and invoke the primal self."

How advanced is it?

Yin yoga is good for beginners in that it involves floor poses and allows you to take your time. However, the poses themselves can be difficult, particularly when held for a long time. Also, mastering your mind is just as difficult as mastering your body, and remaining meditative poses for extended periods can be challenging for many.

Goat Yoga

What’s the story?

As yoga classes have soared in popularity, all kinds of novelty classes have been popping up, including goat yoga. Farmer and yoga enthusiast Lainey Morse started goat yoga on her organic farm, inviting people to take yoga classes in a pen full of goats. She says that it really incorporates nature into the practice, and considering that you may end up in child’s pose with a goat standing on your back, we can’t disagree.

What’s it for?

For fun, of course!

How advanced is it?

As in many novelty yoga classes, the pressure is off in goat yoga. Just have fun, try to hit as many poses as you can, and pet a goat when you get the chance.

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Jessica Faulds

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