So you want to start doing yoga…

10 Jan

While people frequently tell me they intend to start doing yoga, one complaint I often hear is that people become overwhelmed with all of the options and don’t know “yoga speak” in order to determine which class they should take.  I also frequently hear people say that they tried one class, didn’t like it, and now don’t want to take yoga ever again. If yoga is really not your thing, that’s cool with me: to each their own and all of that. However, I think there are SO many styles of yoga and different teachers that it’s worth shopping around. Below is an attempt to demystify some of the common types of yoga so you know what to expect when looking for a class. This is NOT the definitive list but hopefully gives you some basic ideas of what to expect!

Styles of yoga:

  • Anusara: based on alignment, tantric principles, and is “heart-oriented.” In my experience, it flows a bit more than Iyengar but is more alignment oriented that vinyasa. You will probably hold poses more than 5 breaths each. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Ashtanga: an athletic style of yoga that follows a set sequence. You will hold poses about 5 breaths each. You will do a TON of yoga push-ups, jump backs and jump throughs. Expect to have very tired arms when you start. No music in class.
  • Bhakti: means devotional yoga. Typically there will be chanting in a call and response style. Often times there will be live music in class.
  • Bikram: done in a heated room (up to 115 degrees). Bring water and a towel and don’t wear much clothing. You will sweat a ton. It is a set series of 26 poses that are done the same way in the same order every time. There are no vinyasas or inverting (going upside down). You don’t hold poses for too long. A lot of people love the intense heat because it makes you more flexible. No music in class.
  • Hatha: technically, all forms of asana (the physical practice) are hatha yoga. I’ve found people use this description when they don’t necessary fall into any of the other camps.
  • Hot yoga: depends on the studio. Sometimes this means Bikram (see above) and sometimes it is more of a vinyasa-based class but in a heated room (anywhere from 85 to 115 degrees). Advocates claim the heat helps you detox, is healing, and lets you move deeper into poses. Bring a towel and water. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Inversional flow: A form of vinyasa yoga (see below) that incorporates lots of arm balances and inversions (poses where you are upside down like handstand). Expect to use a ton of arm and core strength and spend the bulk of the time on your hands. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Iyengar: very alignment based. You hold poses a REALLY long time and use a lot of props to find the proper alignment. Often you have to start at the basic level and move up when the teacher approves you. Class moves slowly. No music in class.
  • Jivamukti: a philosophy-based, intellectual approach to yoga. Classes tend to be in a more vinyasa style (see below). Classes typically incorporate music that matches the theme of the class. Classes typically include music than ranges from yoga music to trance, hip hop, reggae or rock. Classes typically start with a mini philosophy lesson that serves as theme of the class.
  • Mysore: Once you are familiar with the basic, primary series of Ashtanga, you can move to a Mysore class. The class is self-guided through the series and the teacher comes around and helps individual students wherever they are at. No music in class.
  • Power: similar to vinyasa, it’s a faster-paced, more athletic style of yoga. Typically power yoga classes will have a focus on strengthening poses that work the core, legs and arms. Typically you would hold poses around 5 breaths, but it depends a lot on the instructor. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Prana Flow:  a style of vinyasa. VERY fluid and fast-paced. You typically do not hold poses for long and often move with each inhale and exhale. Sometimes classes will involve “trance dance” which is kind of free form movement to music. Classes typically include music than ranges from yoga music to trance, hip hop, reggae or rock.
  • Restorative: a very slow-paced class where you will use lots of props to get into poses that you hold a long time. You probably won’t break a sweat. It is super relaxing and helps stretch the body out. As close to getting a massage as you can get without actually getting a massage. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Vinyasa or flow: a faster-paced, more athletic style of yoga that links movement with breath. Less alignment focused than other styles since more focused on linking the movements. Often poses are linked together in creative ways. Again you probably would average holding poses for 5 breaths but it depends a lot on the instructor. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Yin: similar to restorative in that it is slow-paced, and you probably won’t break a sweat. You hold seated poses for 3-5 minutes each. You don’t always use props for yin yoga. The idea is that the long held poses help to stretch out the fascia (the connective tissue around the muscles) whereas holding the poses for a shorter amount of time just stretches the muscle. Presence of music depends on the instructor.

Finding the right level:

  • Often times studios will either offer a workshop for people new to yoga or offer a lower level class (level 1 or 1/2) designed to be slower paced and with more explanation.
  • All levels classes mean that beginners can go but typically the class will be faster paced and the instructor will not necessarily break poses down too much. There will be a lot of options so that people from beginners to advanced practitioners can find something appropriate for their skill level.  Some beginners are fine with this, and some don’t like it. REALLY listen to your body and don’t push it too hard since there will likely be advanced practitioners in the room who have been doing yoga for years.
  • Even if you are really in shape, think hard before jumping into a class labeled intermediate or advanced (often a level 2/3). You might be strong enough and in shape enough to keep up, but the teacher probably won’t explain the basic poses or give many cues for proper alignment since it’s assumed knowledge at that point. Consider taking at least one all levels or beginner level class to learn the basic poses first.

Other helpful hints for newbies:

  • Lots of studios have special promotions if you’re new to that studio (e.g., 2 weeks of unlimited yoga for $30). Enjoy!
  • Props are your friend. Don’t be afraid to grab a block and a strap to help you find the right level of a pose.
  • Bring a towel to class, especially if you’re taking a faster-paced class or a class in a heated room. You don’t want to sweat on your mat too much because it will get really slippery and hard to balance on.
  • Most places will let you bring water to class.
  • If you don’t own a yoga mat, you can typically rent one at the studio.
  • There are usually changing rooms or at least a bathroom you can change in. Most studios do NOT have showers. Plan accordingly.
  • Most studios have a policy that  you remove your shoes as soon as you enter to keep the floors clean.
  • Also, no cell phones allowed in the room usually (or turned on silent and in a bag is ok).
  • Don’t wear strong perfume or scented anything if you can avoid it.
  • You don’t have to chant if the class chants. You can sit in silence if it makes you uncomfortable.
  • Wear something you can move in. Typically, yoga clothes are pretty form fitting so that the teacher (and you) can see your alignment and your shorts or shirt don’t flip off when you go upside down. Guys often wear board shorts or running shorts and a tee-shirt or tank. Girls wear yoga or running pants and tank tops. Just make sure they’re clothes you can bend and stretch in.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to tell the teacher if you are new to yoga and/or you have an injury. It’s important for them to know. You can always try to catch them privately instead of announcing it to the class if that makes you more comfortable.

Happy yoga-ing! :)

Dancer pose at Runyon Canyon

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