How to Choose a Yoga Style

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Posted December 11, 2013 by Sara Hauber in Life After Five
different styles of yoga

Ever wonder how to choose a yoga style?

As you Career Girls start imagining your 2014 New Year’s resolutions, you may place the option to “start taking yoga classes” near the top of the list.

In an effort to help you, the would-be yoga student, select the right yoga style for your goals, I’ve put together this little list of descriptions for you. It, in combination with my step-by-step action plan for choosing the right yoga class/teacher, will help you start your yoga journey right so it doesn’t get derailed.

Great for Beginners or for Stress Relief:

Hatha yoga, restorative yoga classes, yoga nidra

Technically, all styles of yoga are Hatha yoga. Hatha is simply the set of exercises, or asanas, that you perform in a physical yoga practice. But when a class schedule says a class is “Hatha yoga,” it likely means that the class is designed more for beginners or those people mainly interested in learning postures.

Restorative classes are generally designed to cater to folks with little or no experience with yoga, or athletes who are really tight, or people are just really stressed out. The focus here is on poses, usually supine or reclining, that take you off of your feet and encourage you to release tension in your muscles and joints. Restorative classes are not usually about “learning” yoga poses, but are more about relaxing.

Yoga Nidra is an amazing phenomenon that I encourage everyone to try. It’s a systematic relaxation, usually achieved by listening to a monotone voice specially trained in getting students to enter a “conscious sleep state” that is incredibly refreshing. You will never experience an hour that passes so quickly as it will in a yoga nidra class.

Great for Folks with Joint/Back/Stability Issues:

Anusara-style, Iyengar, alignment-based

Because people with back pain have bodies that are literally crying out for stability (as I explain here), Anusara classes are typically a good option because of the focus on alignment. I have to say, I am not too keen about a lot of the cues Anusara teachers use, because their metaphors can be easily misinterpreted. But overall, an Anusara class will be slow-paced, thoughtful, and stabilizing.

Iyengar classes are like nothing else: strict attention to form, no frills, lots and lots of adjusting until things are “just right.” Perhaps unfairly, I think of Iyengar classes as “military for yogis” because of its sometimes off-putting instructional style. But, you do learn to get into postures exactly as Iyengar intended. Whether that’s a good thing for your particular physical issues remains to be seen.

Remember that if you have chronic back pain, I always recommend strength training first, then yoga. I always say “yoga was not designed to fix your back,” and it’s true!

Great for People Who Want Yoga to Be a Cardiovascular Workout:

Flow or “Vinyasa” yoga, Forrest yoga, Bikram yoga

Probably the most popular style of yoga class in the U.S. right now is Flow or “Vinyasa Flow” yoga, sometimes in a hot room, sometimes not. This style of class involves a rapidly moving sequence of poses in which breath is matched to each movement. It’s highly invigorating, and precise form is almost impossible to maintain unless you have years of experience and lots of flexibility and strength. I don’t recommend any flow classes for people with back pain or anyone with hyper mobile joints, as explained here. But for a fun cardiovascular workout that will really make you sweat, Flow is one option.

Another option, albeit less well known in some areas, is Forrest yoga. This style, pioneered by Ana Forrest, combines aspects of Flow and Hatha, along with Forrest’s deep rooting in Native American philosophies and her experience with abuse, body-image issues, and disordered eating. Since almost 100% of women can relate to the body-image issues, I recommend trying Forrest yoga (with an experienced Forrest-trained teacher) and seeing what you think. My over-achiever friends get great benefit from Forrest’s wise practice.

And then, of course, there’s Bikram yoga. Personally, I think Bikram has designed the most balanced sequence of poses one person could select for a class. I can see why he’d try to copyright or patent the sequence, despite the fact that that’s just a silly thing to do. The fact remains that Bikram’s series hits all major joints, includes aspects of pranayama as well as asana, and is really a knock-out workout if you can stand the 105-degree heat. I recommend trying Bikram only after getting a little fitter—and acclimating to extreme heat.

Great for People Who Really Want to Study the Traditional 8 Limbs of Yoga:

Ashtanga, Kundalini

If you already know you want much more than just the typical physical (Hatha) practice of yoga, two styles of yoga instruction stand out. The first is Ashtanga, known as the “8 Limbs” of Yoga. It’s much too involved to explain here, but know that Ashtanga classes are organized into series, and asana practice is only one small aspect of what you’ll learn. It’s intense and takes years to become proficient, because many postures are extremely advanced. And the emotional/philosophical parts of the practice are equally strenuous (and rewarding).

Kundalini yoga also takes into account all 8 limbs of yoga, rather than just physical asana. Breathing is a crucial part of Kundalini, as the goal in Kundalini practice is to make the dormant energy force within us (called “kundalini”) rise and unite with the greater universal energy. It is a fascinating, if intense, practice. You can recognize Kundalini teachers by their white turbans and robes, and kundalini students must wear all white.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive, and I have inserted my professional opinion (based on 13+ years of fitness and yoga experience). I encourage you to do some searching in your area and talk to local teachers about the style of yoga they teach. Then pick some classes and see what you like!


About the Author

Sara Hauber

Sara Hauber, M.A., is a certified wellness coach, yoga teacher, and functional-fitness specialist whose mission is to help you overcome obstacles to achieve radiant health and vitality. Since undergoing complete spinal fusion for scoliosis, Sara has been empowering others to transform their bodies, eliminate pain, and embrace joy, love, and life. In 2012 she introduced The Hauber Method™, her signature at-home method for eliminating back pain: haubermethod.com.

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