Yoga Pose

You probably have at least one friend who touts the benefits of yoga—how it lowers blood pressure, releases stress, builds strength, relieves aches and pains and increases flexibility. As yoga has become more mainstream, you may have wondered whether you should give it a try. But where to begin? So many types of yoga exist—all with exotic names and enthusiastic fans. How do you determine which style is best for you? Here are some of the top varieties of yoga and their characteristics:

Vinyasa

(“vin-yah-sah”)

This is a style of yoga in which participants move quickly through a series of poses while attempting to synchronize their breathing. If you like to keep moving versus holding a pose for an extended period of time, Vinyasa is a good choice. You may also have heard this term used to describe a sequence of three poses: Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog.

Hatha

(“hath-ah”)

In Hatha yoga, physical postures are held in an effort to calm the mind, along with the body and spirit, and prepare the practitioner for a meditative state. Most of the yoga classes are in the Hatha style, which is a broad category under which many yoga styles belong. For example, Iyengar is one subcategory of Hatha yoga. If you want to ease into yoga with a class you can follow relatively easily, Hatha yoga is a good choice.

Bikram

(“bick-ram”)

Get ready to sweat. Traditionally, Bikram yoga classes take place in a room at 140 degrees with 40 percent humidity, and run through the same sequence of 26 postures over a 90-minute period. Bikram Choudhury created this style in the early 1970s. His intent was to stretch and strengthen muscles throughout the body while encouraging the release of toxins. Theoretically, you should be able to take a Bikram class anywhere in the world and be led through the same 26 postures.

Hot Yoga

This is pretty much the same as Bikram, but instructors are given more lenience over the sequence of poses they use in class. The heat factor helps you stretch muscles and prevent injury, and increases circulation. Yin Yoga Got lower back pain or hip pain? Yin Yoga targets those very muscles through a series of seated postures, stretching and relaxing muscles around connective tissue. Your pelvis, hips and lower spine will thank you. Poses are as long as 10 minutes and are designed to increase flexibility in those often tight areas.

If you want to ease into yoga with a class you can follow relatively easily, Hatha yoga is a good choice.

Iyengar

(“eye-yen-gar”)

This style focuses on precise body alignment, posture and breathing techniques. Get ready to hold poses for some time, and probably with blocks, straps or other aids. It is believed that the poses must follow a particular sequence in order to be effective. Benefits may include stress relief, strength, flexibility, stability and a stronger sense of physical and emotional well-being.

Restorative

You’ve had a tough day at the office, and you’re ready to unwind. Or maybe you’ve just completed an event you were training for, and you need a bit of recovery. Restorative yoga is just the ticket. This isn’t going to provide you with a workout per se; these classes move slowly to help you relax. Participants often use props (blocks, straps, blankets, etc.). You’ll run through five to six poses and hold each for as long as five minutes or more.

Ashtanga

(“ash-tang-ga”)

This Sanskrit word means “eight-limbed.” Practitioners of Ashtanga follow a specific sequence of postures in the same order, every time, to build internal heat. Breathing and movement are synchronized, and transitions are relatively swift; each pose is held for five breaths. You’ll either be led through the postures by an instructor, or be challenged to complete the series by yourself, without cues (this more freeform and traditional style is called Mysore). You’re going to sweat, but it’s intended to detoxify the body, improve circulation and relieve stress while strengthening your core and toning your body.

Anusara

(“ahn-you-sah-rah”)

American John Friend developed this modern Hatha practice in 1997. Anusara means going with the flow, following your heart or flowing with grace. Friend created this style of yoga based on his belief in the goodness within all of us. Yoga, he theorized, could help participants open their hearts and release that inner goodness. Friend devised his own vocabulary for his style of yoga, which can be hard for newbies to follow at first. Classes are based on Friend’s “Universal Principles of Alignment” and can be challenging.

Power Yoga

Power yoga is a fitness-based subset of Vinyasa yoga. Teachers have leeway over how they design their posture sequences. The practice builds internal heat, strength and flexibility, and is designed to calm frazzled nerves while you gain endurance.

Now That You Know

Most yoga centers and gyms will let you try a free class before you jump in with both feet. Start with a general class that’s welcoming to beginners. You’ll want to find a teacher whose style you enjoy, and who will challenge you, albeit slowly at first. If you decide to make yoga a regular part of your life, shoot for about three classes a week. As with anything in life, moderation is wise. Mix it up with other forms of exercise to build strength throughout the body and lower your odds for overuse injuries.

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