New to yoga? Not sure what style or school is right for you? Portland, Maine-based Yoga teacher, Margo Rosingana, will help you decide where to start.
By Margo Rosingana
According to a study published last year by Yoga Journal, there are an estimated 20 million Americans practicing yoga. Committing to a regular Yoga practice will increase strength, balance, and flexibility. It will also make you feel more relaxed and in tune with a greater sense of ease and well-being. Are you ready to get in on this trend, but don’t know how to decipher what all the styles entail? Before you attend your first Yoga class, I think it’s best to consider what you hope to get out the class. There are all kinds of styles and philosophies and if you know what you want then you can weed out those styles that don’t appeal to you. Once you have figured out a style you like, it might take attending a few different teachers’ classes in that style to decide who resonates with you.
The following list is far from comprehensive. As I was doing a little research for this article, I stumbled across several styles of Yoga I had never even heard of and I consider myself pretty well-versed on the subject. Apparently, not. To make this list a little bit easier to understand I used 4 umbrella categories to help you distinguish the differences right away. These categories include: vinyasa, alignment-based, hot and gentle
Vinyasa means to place in an intentional way. The term has become a blanket description for any Yoga practice that moves from one pose to the next in connection to the breath. You will find various teachers who incorporate varying degrees of alignment cues and some not so much. A Vinyasa Flow Yoga sequence will build heat internally and you may find yourself sweating in these classes. Some of the styles that are considered Vinyasa are Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Kundalini and Prana Flow.
An alignment based style of yoga is characterized by a deep study of alignment and teachers are often very methodical and precise in their instruction. These classes will build strength and stamina. These styles of yoga incorporate props so that students can feel fully supported and aligned in all families of asana. The most popular and well-known alignment focused styles are Iyengar, Anusara and Hatha. (Although Hatha, may incorporate elements of Vinyasa).
You may see general gentle yoga classes that are appropriate for those recovering from an injury or those you have limited mobility, such as the elderly. Some classes that are considered gentle are Restorative, which incorporates blocks, blankets, and bolsters to fully support the body. There is an emphasis on relieving tension by following the movement of breath. This has a deep, meditative quality, where students are asked to calm the mind and to enter into a state of intentional rest. Oftentimes, soft music will be playing and the teacher may guide you through a meditation or imagery. In addition, Yin Yoga is a gentle style that seeks to target the connective tissue in the body – the ligaments, bones, joints and fascia. These poses are held for a very long time, sometimes up to 20 minutes.
Hot Yoga seems to be all the rage. I think it’s because the room is heated, sometimes to 100 degrees, and people feel wrung out at the end of class. Usually, these hot classes have elements of a vinyasa class. However, Bikram, a popular style uses 26 poses in a sequence and each set is completed twice. You will not find a Downward Facing Dog anywhere in sight. Other hot Yoga styles include Baptiste Power Yoga and Power Yoga.
If after reading this you still feel confused and overwhelmed, all studios offer really great deals for new students so that you can try different styles and different teachers. Once in a class, you can ask your fellow students their opinions on their favorite instructors.
Your First Class
If it’s your very first Yoga class, you might feel like a lost, uncoordinated, fumbling mess. Be patient with yourself. With continued practice, those feelings will go away and you will start to feel stronger and more at ease on your yoga mat. The connection between breath and movement will become seamless. It won’t happen all at once, but slowly over time. Another thing to remember is the most popular styles of Yoga usually offer a Beginner’s series, specifically designed for those who are new to Yoga. These course are meant to build confidence, so that you can step into any All Levels class.
Some people go to Yoga purely for the physical benefits of the practice and others, purely for the spiritual aspects. Regardless of what your intention might be, I believe you receive all the benefits of a Yoga practice whether you realize it or not. All styles incorporate a form of Savasana (Corpse Pose) at the end of class and this relaxation period is where the real magic happens; probably the primary reason people return to their yoga mats again and again.
Margo Rosingana, RYT is a yoga teacher, writer and beginning surfer based in Portland, ME. She seeks to empower her students with soulful and heartfelt rejuvenation through alignment – based Vinyasa flow and Restorative Yoga.