Yoga is kind of like sex. (And not just because of the interesting positions.)
For a practice rooted in simplicity, it has become a tad bit complicated…and intimidating. There are a jillion types of yoga, ranging from specific (like Bikram and Jivamukti) to general (like flow and restorative). “With the increasing number of choices in the yoga world, new students could definitely be overwhelmed,” admits Desiree Rumbaugh, a yoga instructor in California.
But also like sex, the endless options mean you never have to settle for a lackluster session or the same variety every week. After all, sometimes you want it fast, other times slow, sometimes you want a lot of talking, sometimes you want silence. Here, we help you find the right practice for your mood so you walk away satisfied.
In the yoga world, classes abound for women (and men) looking to move quickly, slim down, and maybe fast-forward through most of the chants and meditations. Classes in this group—which tend to have names like Dynamic Flow and Power Yoga—are heavy on speedy sequences, keep the music modern (think Adele and Prince remixes, not Enya), and take more creative liberties with their poses and sequences.
Some of the boom on this end of the spectrum can be considered good for those who want to add yoga into their routine but crave an equivalent to the sweat-drenched endorphin rush that they get from their cardio-kickboxing class.
If you love the heart-pumping, muscle-building benefits but want something more traditional, Bikram may be more your style. It always flows through the same 26 postures every class—but in a steaming-hot studio (upwards of 105 degrees!). It should be noted that “hot yoga” is not synonymous with Bikram. Other heated varieties are typically a bit cooler and take more freedom with the poses. (Some people say they are a cheap imitation of Bikram, while others say they’re a passable alternative. You decide.)
If you can’t stand the heat, look for vinyasa-based classes, which move through sequences at various speeds but focus more on your body position. So instead of just calling out poses, your teacher will actively adjust you and stress different cues (like “inner thighs back and wide” or “active hands and feet”).
The reason some teachers are so hands-on: It can often be hard to understand which way to bend or twist by just listening to verbal cues. This way, teachers are able to place you in exactly the right position so you know how it’s supposed to feel. (If you prefer not to be physically adjusted, you can always tell them before the class starts.)
While still focusing on mindful meditation, instructors also zero in on helping you understand why certain poses are difficult and finding individual solutions, says Rumbaugh—one reason alignment-focused vinyasa sessions are great for beginners. (But Rumbaugh cautions: Plenty of classes don’t focus as much on alignment instruction, so beginners should check with the instructor.)
Look for names like Anusara-inspired yoga and vinyasa yoga, and keep in mind that with alignment-based classes, feeling comfortable with the instructor is key.
Of course, yoga is not only concerned with what your body is doing. Mental strength and serenity are just as fundamental.
A great example: Ashtanga yoga, one of the godfathers of the yoga world. Also called Mysore style (for the city in India where it began), it is serious—like, six days a week, early morning, in a quiet room serious. Often, a teacher will walk you through a series, with set “asanas” (a.k.a. postures) that remain mostly the same from day to day. The whole practice is about breath, movement, and discipline, says Kathryn Budig, author of Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga. Yes, you build muscle and burn calories, but the real reward comes from the dedication and consistency this practice requires. (In other words, people looking to do yoga two or three times a week need not apply.)
But when you’re new, being surrounded by Ashtanga regulars can be intimidating. Beginners can find comfort in the alignment-based Iyengar style, not because it’s easy, but because it’s taught in levels. Students work their way up through careful, focused instruction. “Iyengar assesses its teachers before they can be trained,” says Bobby Clennell, author of The Woman’s Yoga Book. “If they’re not committed and prepared, they are advised to practice more and reapply.” (Many yoga certifications merely require a credit card.) So breathe easy: Even if you have no clue what you’re doing, your teacher will.
That sense of ease is a yogi’s main goal and the reason meditation is so crucial to the practice. “Meditation is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” says Jai Dev Singh of Nevada City, California, who teaches Kundalini yoga, which focuses on building spiritual strength. “If you don’t exercise your body, what results can you expect? You can’t expect an extraordinary shift in your mind without meditation.” Kundalini makes it a big part of the show—as in, up to 11 minutes of it at the end of each class. Your thighs may not burn, but you’ll feel a whole new type of high.
By Sarah Miller
Women’s Health Magazine