If you've looked at a fitness class schedule lately, you've likely seen several types of yoga listed—vinyasa, ashtanga, bikram, power, iyengar, and hatha (just to name a few). Let's decode these mysterious titles and introduce you to the most common yoga practices in the United States. Whether you're into deep breathing or love to feel the burn, there is a likely a form of yoga out there you'll enjoy.
Think about your primary fitness goals, and use the guide below to discover which type of yoga suits your exercise needs. You may find that some days you're in the mood for a more vigorous, vinyasa yoga, while other times you just want to mellow out and focus on alignment—whatever you decide, the important thing is to find the best fitness routine for you.
If your main concern is relaxation and proper alignment, try:
Hatha. If you need to unwind after a stressful day, hatha yoga is what you want. One the most common yoga practices in the U.S., hatha emphasizes breathing while moving slowly through a variety of postures. Hatha is safe for beginners and can help you stretch, strengthen your muscles, and relieve stress. Some gyms and yoga studios advertise "restorative yoga," which is usually a variation on traditional hatha techniques.
Iyengar. Iyengar is a type of hatha yoga that emphasizes body positioning and alignment by holding postures for extended periods of time. Unlike faster, vinyasa styles, iyengar encourages mind/body connection without an intense, cardio workout. It also makes use of props like foam blocks, blankets, and belts to adjust for students' different ability levels.
If your primary goal is a sleek, toned body, try:
Vinyasa. Vinyasa yoga is fast-paced with postures that change constantly, so it's good for athletes and others who find hatha yoga too slow. Other than sun salutations at the beginning, vinyasa classes don't follow a set series of postures, so you're less likely to get bored. Vinyasa postures challenge every major muscle group, so don't be surprised if your entire body is sore the next day.
Power. Power yoga is becoming increasingly popular at gyms, perhaps because of the way it blends the spiritual aspects of yoga with serious strength training. Like vinyasa, power yoga takes students through a fast-paced series of postures that require both strength and control. At the end of a power yoga class, your muscles should be tired, but you should also feel energized and less stressed than when you came.
Bikram. Bikram yoga is often called "hot yoga," and for good reason—classes are held in rooms heated to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Ten minutes into a Bikram yoga class, sweat should be dripping from your elbows. Bikram instructors believe this excessive sweating cleanses the body by removing toxins, but some physicians worry the risk of dehydration is too high. With 90 minutes of nonstop poses, a Bikram class scorches calories while building lean muscle, which makes it a great way to tone up. People tend to either love or hate Bikram, so, assuming you have your doctor's permission, give it a try and decide for yourself.
If you're interested in trying yoga, ask around and research the studios and gyms in your area. Often, studios have special introductory rates or packages to make classes more affordable. There are also a host of yoga DVDs available, though in-person instruction is preferable. Whether you decide to sweat it out in a Bikram class or unwind with iyengar, yoga can be a positive addition to virtually any fitness routine.