Finding a Yoga Class That's Right for You
"Yoga is open to anyone who's interested in it. You can start at any stage of life and, contrary to what some people think, you don't have to be particularly flexible or strong in order to begin a yoga practice," says Cybele Tomlinson, author of Simple Yoga. "The beauty of yoga is that it responds to the needs and interests of the individual. It can be used simply as a means to better health, or it can be pursued with more passion as a whole way of life." All yoga improves flexibility, increases strength, reduces stress and develops a mind/body connection.
Now that yoga has become more popular, it's easy to find all kinds of classes, and not just in studios devoted exclusively to the practice. They're also offered in dance studios, gyms, health clubs, community centers and senior centers.
"What's important is to find the right yoga style for you and a teacher you like," says Ms. Tomlinson. "Be aware that you really can't know what a class is like until you attend it. Even when two teachers use the same names to describe their classes, the classes may be quite different."
Types of yoga
Depending on your interest, you may be most comfortable in one of the following yoga classes. If you haven't been exercising regularly, be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any yoga or other exercise program.
This form of yoga, the most popular in the United States, involves physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama). These two practices form the bulk of Hatha yoga -- the yoga of force -- which emphasizes strengthening and purifying the body.
This style of yoga concentrates on alignment and is fluid and dance like. It uses props such as wooden blocks, straps, chairs, bolsters and blankets to help students achieve postures they otherwise could not assume.
"This practice is very precise and requires attention to the details of the postures," says Ms. Tomlinson. "It's one of the most popular forms of yoga in the United States."
This kind of yoga is sometimes called Ashtanga Vinyasa or Power Yoga. It is is intense, designed to build endurance and strength Participants perform a series of postures in one continuous, flowing movement. The motions are linked with breathing patterns.
One element that distinguishes this form of yoga from many others is that it is done in a very hot room.
"Typically, the windows are closed and the heat is turned up high," says Ms. Tomlinson. "Because it requires a lot of energy to do Ashtanga, it works best for people who already enjoy fairly good health."
Bikram Yoga, like Ashtanga, is done in a hot room. It also involves a set sequence of postures that are usually practiced twice per session. Standing and balance poses come first, followed by back bends, forward bends and twisting postures.
"Bikram classes can be intense and tend to attract men," Ms. Tomlinson says. "But Bikram is open to everyone, whatever their sex, age or health."
Restorative Yoga is different from other practices because it eliminates the active postures, instead focusing on the relaxation part of yoga.
"It's great for people who are recovering from an injury or an illness or for anyone who needs to reduce the effects of stress," says Ms. Tomlinson. "It can also be an especially appropriate form for older people or for those who are undergoing intense medical treatments such as chemotherapy."
This type of yoga is attractive to people who want a gentler, slower-moving style of yoga -- something between restorative yoga and the more vigorous forms.
"In Kripalu Yoga, the postures evolve in a more flowing, spontaneous way, and this creative approach is very appealing to some people," says Ms. Tomlinson.