The physical aspect of yoga has obviously been emphasized as a form of exercise or a physical therapy routine, but the overall benefits are directly related to the mind and spirit, too.

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o you  practice yoga?  Do you get “encouraged” (a.k.a passive-aggressively pressured) to practice yoga? Maybe you’ve never taken a yoga class in your life. Still, you probably know that yoga has many connotations these days, now that it has grown immensely popular amongst all kinds of people.  You know them: the wealthy, stay-at-home mothers who wear Lulu Lemon all day, the holistic healers, the hippies, the hipsters, the injured athletes. Practicing yoga could mean you’re enlightened, you’re fit (or flexible) as hell, you’re rich, that you have a bad back, or that you just enjoy it.  

Yoga is a part of Hindu philosophy.  It is a meditation practice based on breathing.  Historically (and we mean waaay back in the day; yoga has been practiced since 3000 B.C.),  yoga was practiced as a way to  heal the body, mind and spirit, and connect the three in order to reach enlightenment (the ultimate goal).  Today, the reasons for practicing yoga are more or less the same.  The physical aspect has obviously been emphasized as a form of exercise or a physical therapy routine, but the overall benefits are directly related to the mind and spirit, too. They can alleviate health some problems, reduce stress, and “lighten your load,” so to speak.According to a number of yoga-related organizations, including NAMASTA and Yoga Journal, more than 15 million Americans practice yoga, and that number has grown significantly over the last five years.  So what are all these people doing in their hour-and-a-half-long classes that (often) cost upwards of $15 per class? Don’t ask them, they’ll likely talk at you for 20-plus minutes about vinyasas, ujjayi pranayama, and ajapa mantra. (I guess they don’t know you don’t speak Sanskrit.)  Instead, let us tell you here what you need to know about the different kinds of yoga and where it all came from.

yin
A yin yoga practitioner in action.

There are many different kinds of yoga practices, and as yoga becomes more and more popular, different classes and “types” of yoga are being offered (yoga specifically for seniors, children, pregnant women, etc.).  We’ll give you basic descriptions of the most widely practiced and offered yoga classes.  The premise of every yoga class is to be aware of your breath and to regulate your breathing as you go through the poses or postures.  The breath is the tool used to connect the body to the mind and spirit so that all of your physical and non-physical components become one.  Below are some of the most common classes you can find in your neighborhood yoga studio, listed from moderate/beginning classes to more intense/advanced.  

Restorative Yoga is a very relaxed class where you hold postures for extended periods of time (sometimes up to 10 or 15 minutes) and is focused on restoring your alignment.  You’ll be stretching, but are supported in your stretch with props (blankets, blocks, bolster pillows, etc).  Restorative classes are great for anyone on the yoga spectrum and are often used as supplemental classes if you are an advanced yogi. 

Yin Yoga: is another yoga practice where poses are held for a longer amount of time—five or 6 minutes.  These classes are supposed to be still and calm.  They are similar to restorative yoga classes, but have fundamental differences. The pre-determined goal of yin yoga is relaxation, which is not the official goal in restorative. 

Iyengor Yoga is named after B. K. S. Iyengor and is very similar to restorative yoga and focuses on precision of poses, alignment and breathing.  It’s also a slower-paced class.

Hatha Yoga is the physical practice of yoga.  Essentially all yoga classes offered in the U.S. will be a hatha class of some sort.  Generally, when you go to a hatha-labeled yoga class, it will be a slower-paced class that’s good for beginners, but more physically demanding than the previous three.  There will be some breathing exercises, meditation, basic poses and postures.

Vinyasa Yoga is movement synchronized to breath, so it will be a physical class, similar to a hatha class. It is usually paced slightly faster than hatha classes, and more connected through fluid movement between each posture.  

Ashtanga Yoga: is a more strenuous yoga practice.  There are six series of poses associated with Astanga yoga and in the majority of Ashtanga classes you’ll be doing the first series. There are about 75 poses in the first series, which you hold for five breaths each.  Between each pose there is a movement flow called a “vinyasa” (yes, same as the class mentioned above), which connects the whole practice.  Astanga classes are generally for more experienced yogis.  

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Bikram yoga has been criticized by some health experts, but its popularity continues to expand.

Bikram/Hot Yoga is named after its founder Bikram Choudhury and is a hot yoga class. The temperature in the room is turned up to 105 degrees.  It involves 26 poses and a few breathing exercises.  Bikram, because of the extreme room temperature, is controversial among health experts.  Some claim the intense heat puts Bikram students at risk of overheating, dehydration, nausea, and that it puts extra stress on your heart.  Also, many yoga practicers don’t feel as though Bikram is true yoga because it too largely emphasizes physicality and lacks spiritual teaching.  Bikram—the man—was controversial himself, and has been involved in sex scandals with his students. Obviously, this type of yoga can be very intense, so if you’re a more experienced yogi, the heat doesn’t intimidate you, and you’re okay with the Bikram reputation, try a class!  You’ll be sure to find plenty of Bikram students who find it to be the most preferable kind of yoga.   

As you become a more advanced yogi, you’ll find more classes that will help you in your own specific practice.  Everyone can benefit from yoga, and studios are quite common in almost every city.  Namaste!