A friend called the other day to share that she wanted to go to a yoga class and had no idea which style to try. “Would you help me?” she asked. She said that she had looked at a few studio schedules online and couldn’t make sense of them.
Sound familiar? I get this question all the time — it’s super common! The good news is that getting a handle on the styles and labels that are used on class schedules goes a loooooong way to getting started. Allow me to explain….
First, “Hatha Yoga” is the umbrella term over all yoga styles that refers to the practice of classical yoga poses. Hatha Yoga is considered the most general, non-specific label. Within Hatha Yoga, there are three broad sub categories of practice that are fairly distinct and deserve their own explanation: Hot Yoga, Vinyasa, and Restorative (see below).
Hot Yoga – This form of practice takes place in a room with artificially elevated temperatures. These classes are typically Vinyasa style classes (see next). A branded style, called Bikram is one exception to this.
Vinyasa – The Sanskrit word “Vinyasa” means to connect. In these classes, the poses are connected from one to the next, much like a choreographed dance. In my opinion, some experience or familiarity with the poses is helpful before attending a Vinyasa class.
Restorative – The purpose of a Restorative Yoga class is to deeply relax the physical and visceral bodies. In a class of this kind, students practice supported poses for extended periods of time, which allows for deep relaxation.
I shared these style options with my friend and then discussed her goals. Defining the results that you want from the practice will help to reverse engineer the decision entirely. Why are you interested in practicing yoga? What makes you curious to try it? Getting clear on how you want to feel leaving the practice can be very helpful. Knowing, for example, that you want a calming class, versus an energizing athletic practice, will eliminate some options.
In my friend’s case, she was looking to reduce her symptoms of stress and had no physical limitations. This goal can be met by any style of practice. Therefore, I advised her that she could choose a class based on convenience of day, time and location. Problem solved!