Know what you’re signing up for before you unroll that yoga mat.
Even the most devout exercisers have probably given up on a type of fitness class because their first experience wasn’t positive. Maybe that barre class was just way too intense for you, or spin class hurt your knees, or the instructor of that Pilates class just rubbed you the wrong way. You might have lost motivation to sign up for class #2, so you switched to something else.
That’s why it’s important to know that one yoga class probably isn’t enough to make a good judgment about it. You might have attended Bikram yoga when you would have liked vinyasa, and you might have been in a class of 30 yogis when you would have appreciated a class of five. Finding your fit can motivate you to stick with it so you can experience all the health benefits of yoga.
“There are many different styles of yoga and each instructor plans each class differently,” says Alexandra Bernal, fitness instructor in New York City. “There are a lot of familiar and standard poses we all tend to use, but yoga does allow creativity.”
Yogis often say that yoga is for everyone, and there’s some truth to that. But the trick is to find the style of yoga that works best for you, your body, your fitness level, and your goals. Here are some of the most common types of yoga you might find in the United States:
1. Vinyasa Yoga
This is potentially the most common type of yoga offered at fitness studios because it provides a pretty good workout. Vinyasa yoga is all about movement, so each pose flows into the next and is aligned with your breathing. When practicing vinyasa yoga, you can expect to gain both flexibility and strength over time.
While vinyasa can be demanding, it’s actually great for anyone at any level. “Everyone can go at their own pace and modify if needed. It’s good for the mind and body as you keep both busy with movement,” says Bernal. “It’s easy to forget about the real world outside the room.”
Want to try it out? Check out this 10-minute vinyasa routine you can do at home.
2. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga moves much more slowly than vinyasa yoga. Many of the poses are done while sitting, and they’re held for one to three minutes. The focus is to stretch and gain flexibility, as well as “improve circulation and energy flow through the body,” says Bernal.
It might also make a good introduction for beginners who are intimidated by the fast pace of vinyasa yoga, or be ideal for those looking for a meditative practice.
3. Restorative Yoga
The name says it all: This style of yoga helps restore—not strain—the body. “Very gentle resting poses are held for long periods of time to rest and relax the body and mind,” says Bernal. To support the body, restorative yoga commonly incorporates props like yoga blocks, straps, and cushions.
This is a good practice for anyone, but especially those who might have injuries or health problems and need a more gentle yoga style. “If you are an active person and need more movement, this may be too slow for you,” says Bernal.
Want to try it out? Here are 5 great restorative yoga poses to try at home.
4. Bikram Yoga
Yes, Bikram refers to hot yoga, but be advised that not all hot yoga is Bikram yoga. Bikram refers to a very specific practice and has strict rules. Sometimes, “hot yoga” is merely vinyasa yoga done in a heated room, around 84 degrees, according to Bernal; true Bikram yoga has a specific regimen for poses and is done in a room that’s 104 degrees and 40 percent humidity.
The point of Bikram yoga, if you’re brave enough to try it, is to sweat a lot, with the goal of removing the body of spiritual toxins (if you believe in that kind of thing). Bikram is a physical and mental challenge, forcing you to “move and relax the muscles” and “to surrender the mind to the heat,” says Bernal.
As you might expect, Bikram might not be safe or enjoyable for everyone. People who have a heightened risk of overheating or dehydration are advised to avoid Bikram yoga, according to the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, Bernal advises against Bikram yoga for those with blood pressure problems, asthma, or a history of fainting.
“If you are able to withstand the heat, your muscles will feel nice and loose afterwards,” says Bernal. She suggests skipping your usual yoga leggings and wearing shorts and tank tops instead, and packing a couple water bottles to keep yourself hydrated.
Moral of the story: Try a few yoga styles to find the best for you before ditching your downward dog completely.
To use this guide, keep in mind that studios don’t always use the exact names to label their yoga classes (for example, they might say “Sunrise Flow” for an early morning vinyasa class), so read the class descriptions or talk to someone at the studio to get the rundown of the yoga classes. Here are more tips to know before attending your first yoga class.
Hewett ZL, Cheema BS, Pumpa KL, Smith CA. The effects of bikram yoga on health: critical review and clinical trial recommendations. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:428427.
Yoga: in depth. Bethesda, MD: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health. (Accessed on March 1, 2019 at https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm.)