There are many forms of yoga and each accomplishes something different. Your local yoga studios will feature different forms and it’s a good idea to read the descriptions and sample until you find the right combination for your body. The folks at your local studios will be more than happy to talk with you about your goals, your body and help you hone in on some good types to try first. In addition, many studios offer an introductory package or sampler for new clients.
For me, the benefit of yoga is that it is a guided experience in being in your body. You learn how to breathe in ways that support your body, and you get to experience the sensations and feelings of different parts of your body as you try the different poses. I always feel amazing after a yoga class and feel connected with my inner self in ways that I still struggle to get to on my own.
As you try different types, also pay attention to the instructor. The right instructor will just feel right to you and you’ll just know that this person is a guide for you. My perfect instructor is Heather Tiddens and I knew she was right for me because she wove a different spiritual lesson into every class that was always just perfect for what I was going through that week. Like when I was having problems at work, she would be talking about how to deal with things that annoy you, or when I was grieving the loss of my kitty, she had a lesson on healing the heart. The timing was uncanny! I have learned from friends that they have the same experience with their “perfect” instructors, so keep sampling until you find yours.
Yin & Yang Practices
The many forms of yoga can essentially be divided into two main categories, yin and yang. Yin practices are more focused on “being” rather than “doing.” They will often be quiet, with long holds in poses where you are doing supported stretching rather than anything intense or sweat inducing. These practices are more gentle and therefore are really good for us “Type A” personalities who are always pushing ourselves. They are also good for people who are trying to cultivate more gentleness for themselves, either to support healing, a pregnancy, or just a general slowing down.
I have been really drawn to yin practices lately because my growing edge is in “being” – that is not my strength so I find these practices mentally and emotionally challenging in all the right ways that are good for me, dammit. Look for yin or restorative yoga.
Yang practices are more active with physical challenge and therefore sweating. These practices involve active poses and a strong sense of “doing” where you cultivate your ability to do something challenging. I have taken yang-type classes and have learned some really good tools that I use in the real world for dealing with discomfort or distraction. This type also cultivates strength and endurance so it is more of a physical workout that leads to changes in your muscle tone. You will get a rockin’ body if you develop a consistent yoga practice.
Types of Yoga
All forms for yoga utilize postures, also known as asanas, and special breathing, or pranyama. But each type has a different focus and utilizes different methods for helping the student achieve that focus. Here is a quick summary but click on each type to take you to a more detailed site.
- Ananda = this practice is designed to prepare the body for meditation so the postures and breathing move energy up to the brain.
- Anusara = connects yoga stances with spiritual opening – each class begins with a theme for reflection and then the poses are designed to be heart opening.
- Ashtanga = this practice will heat you up through flowing movement and breathing – it’s designed to create internal heat and improved circulation to rid the body of toxins so you will sweat (beginning level is called my-sore-style).
- Bikram = takes place in rooms of 105 degrees and uses the heat to boost heart rate, remove toxins and increase muscle flexibility – the heat also offers an emotional challenge as you deal with the discomfort and build endurance.
- Forrest = the four pillars of breath, strength, integrity and spirit are the center of this practice that focuses on developing core/abdominal strength and your inner truth — inversion postures are used in a playful way.
- Hatha = combining postures, breathing, meditation and energy work (kundalini), this practice creates a system for managing stress and achieving enlightenment.
- Integral = this practice utilizes meditation, mantras, spiritual discussion, relaxation and cleansing practices help reach balance in both body and mind.
- Iyengar = places more emphasis on technique and alignment so it’s a great practice to start with for learning the biomechanics of yoga or if you have an injury.
- Jivamukti = started in NY, this practice combines yoga with other elements to create a spiritual practice – the center may offer classes in meditation, Sanskrit, art, and activism
- Kripalu = this practice honors your inner wisdom and focuses on listening to your body to guide your practice – it’s a slower practice, also known as meditation-in-motion.
- Kundalini = focuses on energy work, specifically moving the energy from the base of your spine up into your other chakras – this practice utilizes a lot of repetition and chanting to raise consciousness.
- Power = this form is an aerobic workout but still focuses on the strength and flexibility that is uniquely yogic – you will move through the asanas more quickly and sometimes, the room is heated.
- Restorative = this yin-style practice uses passive stretching poses where the body is supported with props to disengage the muscles – all “on the floor” in seated or lying postures.
- Sivananda = the most holistic of all the practices, this form uses exercise, breathing, diet, positive thinking and relaxation to achieve centeredness and peace – this practice builds over several classes so a longer term commitment is required.
- Viniyoga = this practice takes a therapeutic approach to address an individual’s specific needs – a variety of yogic methods are used to create a customized experience.
- Yin = this form uses passive and supportive postures to work the connective tissues of the ligaments, fascia, and joints as well as the energy meridians – poses are held for several minutes creating a meditative journey.
You can easily find yoga studios in your area using an online search engine. Many offer a range of yoga classes and some focus solely within one of the types listed above. You can find a list of registered yoga teachers in your area by visiting the Yoga Alliance website. RYT means that an instructor has completed the minimum number of hours of teacher training and is now a “Registered Yoga Teacher.” Numbers after the RYT, like 250 or 500, tell you how many hours she or he has fulfilled. Not all great teachers are registered with this site so be sure to ask around and find out who has a committed following.
For your first class, you will need comfortable clothes that are not too loose, water, and a yoga mat (although many studios can loan you one for your first class or two). It is a good idea to first choose an introductory or beginner course. It is very important that you begin by learning the correct stances in poses and introductory courses are designed to do just that. Once you get the hang of it, you can then sample the different “flavors” of yoga until you find the one that works for you. Ana Forrest, of Forrest Yoga, recommends that you do at least 8 classes with any type because it takes that long to get past the awkward stage and really start to see the benefits of that practice. At that point, if you still don’t like it, try a different type. Overtime, you will know yourself better and will gain confidence in when you are ready for the next level of intensity or to switch to a different type of yoga.
in addition to the type-specific sites above, both of these sites have great information on the history and types of yoga, poses, articles, recommendations, and other information you will appreciate as your develop your practice.
I recommend starting with in-person classes but sometimes, it’s hard to get there. So it’s nice to have videos that you can do at home.
- For beginners, the 2-disc DVD set by Max Strom, Strength, Grace, Healing is an excellent choice.
- Sara Powers’ Insight Yoga is perfect for a wide range of people because it contains a selection of 3 vinyasa and 2 yin sessions plus a meditation.
- Folks interested in something more intense or who want to express their own creativity will appreciate Fluid Power. Shiva Rea shows you how to piece together a range of intense yoga sequences in an improvisational style.
Books & Magazines
- Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga by Iyengar
- Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing by Timothy McCall and Yoga Journal
- The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health by Sparrowe, Walden, and Lasater
- Yoga Journal magazine
If you really get into it, you might enjoy some yoga retreats at the following amazing centers:
- Esalen Institute in California
- Kripalu Yoga Center in Massachusetts
- Omega Institute in New York
- Shambala Mountain Center in Colorado