Choosing the right yoga class

So, you’ve decided to try yoga. 

You proceed to check out studios in your neighborhood and if you live in a big city, chances are, there are many options. Which option is right for you?

One of the most common comments that I hear from new students is that they are overwhelmed by the choices. They wonder, what are the differences in styles?  Which one is best for me?

Most classes are ‘open’ level which means there is an assumption that you know the basics. If you can, take a basic/beginner class prior to going to an open level class.

One thing to know about yoga is that no matter the style, you will get a good stretch. Most practices focus on opening the muscles around the pelvis, i.e. hips, hamstrings and quadriceps.

Picking a style has more to do with, how would you like your stretch packaged?

Here are some of the more popular styles, with their pros and cons respectively. Bear in mind, classes can range depending upon the teacher. I recommend trying a few different teachers out before making a decision on whether or not the style works for you.

Hatha Yoga
This is the least consistent style in that it can differ from teacher to teacher. Generally, it’s a slow moving class that incorporates breath work (pranayama), poses (asanas) and meditation. Classes start with breath work then go into the physical part, ending with meditation. Most classes take the time to open all major parts of the body, hips, back, shoulders, legs and arms.
This is a yin (mellow) style.

Pros:
For beginners: It moves slower than any of the other more yang (high energy) styles, so it can be easier to follow along.
For those suffering from lower back pain: Because this is a slow moving class, you can take the time to be aware of how each pose is affecting the lower back region.
For Type A personalities and those suffering from stress related disease: Hatha yoga focuses on creating an quiet, contemplative atmosphere. This helps relieve tension, relaxes the body and quiets the mind.
For ‘older’ people (50s & 60s): Since it’s a slower paced class you can stay more mindful of your how you’re body is moving through space so the likelihood of injury is smaller.

Cons:
Since it’s slower paced, some people get ‘bored’.

Hot/Bikram
This a practice done in a heated room, usually at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In Bikram, it’s a set series of 26 poses that focuses on back bends and hamstring opening. In hot, the sequence can vary.
They both incorporate breath work at the beginning and end of each class. This is a yang (high energy) practice.

Pros:
For beginners: Since Bikram is a set series, you can measure your progress from class to class, which is encouraging for beginners.The transitions from pose to pose are slow, so people can follow along easily.  
For Type B personalities: Since it’s very heating, it can be very energizing.
For those with wrist injuries: Most of the series is done standing so there is little to no weight on the wrists.
For those looking to cardio: Since it’s so warm, your heart rate increases.
It’s great in the winter because it warms your body for the whole day.

Cons:
People with low blood pressure have been known to faint from the heat.
Dehydration occurs often. Hydrate prior to and as soon as you leave. You can loose a lot of electrolytes when you sweat that much.
Since you’re looking in the mirror the whole practice, I find people are much more competitive and are less likely to listen to what their body needs. This is when injury can occur.
*If you suffer from hamstring injuries avoid this practice, a lot of the practice is geared towards hamstring lengthening.
I find that set series practices generates an attachment to the series and a rigidity that ‘this is the only way’. Be hip to this mindset, it can limit your spiritual practice.

Ashtanga
Like Bikram, this style is based off a set series. All classes start with sun salutations. It goes through a standing series, forward folds, back bends, twists and inversions. It’s a very yang (high energy) practice that can move quite quickly. Ashtanga incorporates the use of bandhas (locks/engagement of the pelvic floor and lower abdomen) and breath work (pranayama) throughout the whole practice.

Pros:
For Type B personalities: Since the practice is constantly moving, it is a very energizing class.
For those suffering from stress related disease: Ashtanga is a set series, repetition can be very meditative. If you know where you’re going, you don’t have to focus as much on the external shapes and some people feel it takes them deeper into a meditative state.
For those looking to build strength: Ashtanga focuses on engaging the pelvic floor and lower abdomen throughout the whole practice, cultivating a strong core. There are many half vinyasas (plank, chaturanga, up dog), this helps build biceps and triceps.  
For those looking for cardio: Since these practices are continually moving, the heart rate increases.
There’s a lot of movement at the beginning of the class but the last half is usually slower and contemplative so it give students a taste of two both kinds of meditative states (moving and stillness).

Cons:
The practice generally moves at a faster pace, so if you have a hard time learning new things I would recommend taking a Hatha class or beginner workshop prior.
If you are dealing with lower back pain and are new to the practice, I don’t recommend this style. Since it is more fast paced, you cannot move with as much integration.
This practice is very hamstring lengthening focused, if you are looking to for more quadriceps and outer hips openers, so this may not be a beneficial practice.
I find that set series practices generates an attachment to the series and a rigid mentality that ‘this is the only way’. Be hip to this mindset, it can limit your spiritual practice.

Vinyasa/Power
These two styles were born out of Ashtanga. They flow through poses as Ashtanga does but the sequence varies depending upon the lineage of teacher. Most classes create sequences based on a peak pose that is done at the end of the standing series. Power tends to be a more fiery style since it usually has you holding intense poses while vinyasa flows through poses more. These are both yang (high energy) practices.

Pros:
For those looking to build strength and cardio: As it’s predecessor Ashtanga, these two focus on using the bandhas throughout the practice building core strength. There are also many half vinyasas (plank, chaturanga, up dog), helping to build biceps and triceps.  Since these practices are continually moving, the heart rate increases.
For Type B personalities: Since the practice is constantly moving, it is a very energizing class.
For those with tight hips, lower back and hamstrings and no pain: The standing series focuses on opening and strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings while weight bearing. The floor sequences usually have hip openers, twists and hamstring openers that are a bit more passive.
There’s a lot of movement at the beginning of the class but the last half is usually slower and contemplative so it give students a taste of two both kinds of meditative states (moving and stillness).

Cons:
The practice generally moves at a faster pace, so if you have a hard time learning new things I would recommend taking a Hatha class or beginner workshop prior.
If you are dealing with lower back pain and are new to the practice, I don’t recommend this style. Since it is more fast paced, you cannot move with as much integration

Yin/Restorative Yoga
This practices differs from most other styles in that it focuses on stimulating the connective tissue (ligaments, bones and joints) versus muscles. The poses are held for 5 minutes each and the point is to soften into each pose, which takes time. The whole practice is done on the floor, sometimes with the help of props. Yin differs from Restorative which uses props throughout the whole practice. The idea of restorative is to be supported in each pose so there is no ‘work’ being done. This has a very calming effect.

Pros:
For Type A personalities and those suffering from stress related disease: Generally it’s taught later in the day and it’s a great way to unwind from the day and prepare for sleep. The slow movements are great for those who are new to body mind practices as well as for those who are used to moving very quickly. It also creates a more meditative state for the mind since there isn’t too much physical activity.
For those suffering from lower back pain: Most people who suffer from lower back pain have tight hamstrings, hips and a weak core. Yin yoga focuses on opening the the pelvis and strengthening the core.
For those with shoulder and wrist injuries: Most of the poses are done on the ground so there’s generally very little pressure upper body.

Cons:
This is not a great practice for those who are very flexible, they need less stretching and more strengthening of their muscles. If you are flexible and take a Yin class, focus on drawing in and up versus down and out.
Since it’s slower paced, some people get ‘bored’.

A few things to keep in mind when you go to class:
1)Let your teacher know of any injuries you may be working with
2)Let your teacher know if you are pregnant and what trimester you’re in
3)Sit in the middle of the room. We don’t always face forward and if you’re sitting in the back you won’t be able to see the transition or how to do the the next pose. Sit in the middle so you have people on all sides of you.
4)Keep an open mind and be patient with yourself.
5)Rest whenever you need to. Never feel pressured to do anything that you think may hurt your body.
6)If a teacher physically adjusts you and it hurts, let the teacher know. If you’re uncomfortable, write an email to the studio. Feedback is so important.

 

 

PS.

Practice yoga online with me or catch me at my next yoga event

 

 

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