Which yoga class should I be going to?
There are so many varieties of yoga, and depending on your level of fitness/yoga experience/injury it might be a little challenging to sort out which is best for you. Let’s begin with an overview of the types you’ll most likely run into at your local yoga studios.
This type of yoga is characterized by moving from one posture to the next in an always changing sequence, using the breath to flow through the poses. Inhalations are usually linked to upwards postures and exhalations to downward postures or twists. Vinyasa classes are frequently based on a series of movements called sun salutations. Power yoga is a type of vinyasa that moves quite quickly, often in a heated room. Ashtanga is technically another type of vinyasa, characterized by a vigorous series of challenging set movements. I’d recommend a vinyasa or ashtanga class to those who have a some yoga experience, are in good health and are looking for a dynamic rigorous class.
Hatha is a general category that includes most yoga styles. It is an old system that includes the practice of asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises), which help bring peace to the mind and body, preparing the body for deeper spiritual practices such as meditation. Today, the term hatha is used in such a broad way that it is difficult to know what a particular hatha class will be like. In most cases, however, it will be relatively gentle, slow and great for beginners or students who prefer a more relaxed style where they hold poses longer. It can vary a lot, so it’s a good idea to call the studio before attending the class.
Bikram yoga will always be the same, no matter where you go. It’s a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing techniques. Class is held in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity. This form of yoga is meant to flush out toxins and allow students to move deeply into poses. You’ll sweat as the class is both physically and mentally challenging. Recommended for those who are in good health and can tolerate exercise in a hot environment.
Yin Yoga is a slower-paced, more meditative version of the popular physical and spiritual discipline of yoga. In Yin yoga, the poses are held for a long period of time (typically three to five minutes or longer) to target the connective tissues rather than focusing on the muscles. As a result, the asanas are more passive holds, with little muscular engagement. The yin poses are performed while seated or in a reclining position. The goal is to move into a deep stretch slightly outside of your comfort zone. This is a good class to attend if you’re looking to improve your flexibility and are relatively healthy. It may not be the best class if you have a current injury or recent history of injury as the poses may put some stress on areas of the body that are compromised.
Restorative yoga is a bit different than yin yoga. This style will typically include 5 or 6 poses per class, performed on both sides of the body. Similar to yin yoga, the poses are held for a longer period of time and lots of props including pillows, bolsters, blocks, straps and blankets are used to ensure the postures are comfortable and pain free. The hold times are usually 5 to 10 minutes but may go up to 20 minutes. The idea is to get as comfortable in the pose with props as possible to be able to hold the entire time. There are few contraindications for performing restorative yoga, and so it’s recommended for beginners and those with injuries. Also recommended for anyone trying to recover from other sports/exercise as part of a balanced wellness routine.
In conclusion, I’d recommend checking in with your instructor if you have any injury or history of injury that may flare up during your practice so modifications can be made as necessary. If you’re a beginner, start with a hatha class or any class listed as slow flow, beginner friendly or all levels. Another option for beginners or those who prefer to practice in their own homes is online videos. This way you can take the class at your own pace and practice the poses prior to attending a class. I like www.doyogawithme.com as you can choose your class based on level of experience/yoga type/length of class etc. Call ahead to the studio if you feel like you need to check in regarding the level of instruction in a class. During some classes an instructor will demonstrate all moves and in some the instructor will only verbally call out cues. Always steer clear of pain with yoga as it’s an indicator that you’re pushing too hard. Also, try not to get competitive in your classes! Pay attention to your body and what’s appropriate for you instead of trying a headstand because the person next to you can do it.
– Dr. Kim
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