A Beginners Guide to Yoga

When it comes to health benefits, yoga is an overachiever. The practice can increase flexibility and prevent injury, increase muscle strength and tone, improve cardiovascular and circulatory health, and help you lose weight. It also fosters mental focus and emotional balance.

However, at first glance, yoga may look intimidating. You might spot uber-fit people bending themselves into pretzels while somehow maintaining Zen looks on their faces. It may appear unapproachable, unattainable, or just not your style. Yoga isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” practice. There are as many methods of yoga, as many types of studios, and as many personalities of teachers as there are students. To help you find the right yoga practice for you, let’s count down the eight most common varieties.

1. Hatha

Hatha is an umbrella term that refers to yoga that incorporates physical postures. (There’s a deeply spiritual aspect to yoga, and some branches don’t involve a physical side.) In the Westernized version of yoga, most classes can be described as hatha since they involve movement. However, some classes specifically bill themselves as hatha. For these classes, expect a classic approach with gentle movements and basic poses. You can expect to leave class feeling looser and more relaxed.

Who it’s right for : Beginners who aren’t interested in working up a sweat.

2. Vinyasa

Vinyasa (pronounced “vin-yah-sah”) can also be used as a generic term to describe different styles of yoga. Any method that synchronizes breath and movement in which people flow from one pose to the next falls within the vinyasa category. However, in its truest form, vinyasa was adapted from Ashtanga yoga. It’s an athletic form that keeps students moving. Often, instructors teach the classes to music, which creates a lively environment with choices ranging from Queen to DJs remixing mantras with hip-hop beats. No two classes are the same. Plan on breaking a sweat and leaving the class invigorated.

Who it’s right for : People who like to keep things moving and embrace change.

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Over time, yoga will do wonders in increasing your flexibility.

Mark Zamora

3. Ashtanga

Like vinyasa, ashtanga is a rigorous style. It links movement with breath and encourages flowing fluidly through postures. However, unlike vinyasa, ashtanga classes follow a precise order of poses. They begin with two variations of sun salutations, then move into standing and floor poses. The series increases in difficulty over the course of the class. Expect a physically demanding and fast-paced workout.

Who it’s right for : This style fits experienced yogis, who are both familiar with yoga poses and are physically fit.

4. Bikram

Named after Bikram Choudhury, the teacher who developed this school of yoga, this variety holds classes in artificially heated rooms. If you’re in the mood for doubling up your sauna session and a yoga class, this is the style for you. The rooms are typically set to 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity. Classic Bikram classes follow a precise sequence, with students flowing through a series of 26 poses, each one done twice. (This differs from generic hot yoga classes where the order of the poses may vary by teacher and in each class.) Heat and humidity help students deepen poses, flush toxins, and lose weight. Expect a sweaty session, so be sure to dress appropriately and bring a towel and water bottle.

Who it’s right for : Students who are ready for the mental and physical challenge of practicing in the heat.

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While it can be intimidating, yoga classes are great for anyone willing to put in the work.

Rima Kruciene

5. Iyengar

Taking its name from creator B.K.S. Iyengar, this style emphasizes musculoskeletal alignment. To encourage correct positions, Iyengar yoga also uses props, including blocks, belts, bolsters, chairs, and blankets. Expect to stay in each posture longer and to work diligently on the subtleties of each pose.

Who it’s right for : Beginning yogis who want to develop a solid foundation and understanding of poses before moving into faster-paced classes. People with injuries, medical challenges, or structural imbalances (like scoliosis), or extreme tightness or inflexibility.

6. Kundalini

This variety combines the spiritual and physical by coordinating movements with dynamic breathing, chanting mantras, or periods of meditation. The practice is said to awaken the kundalini energy, which is thought to be trapped at the base of the spine, and move it upward through the seven chakras. Expect a class that repeats postures multiple times and involves plenty of breathwork. You should expect to leave the class physically and spiritually fortified.

Who it’s right for : Students searching for mental/spiritual results as well as the physical, and who don’t mind chanting and saying mantras in a group setting.

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A good yoga class combines both the mental and physical elements of the discipline.

kike vega

7. Yin

In this school of yoga, slow and steady wins the day. Practitioners hold poses between 30 seconds and 5 minutes. Long-held postures apply pressure to connective tissue (tendons, fascia, and ligaments) with the goal of improving flexibility.

Who it’s right for : Beginner yogis who are looking to increase flexibility—slowly.

8. Restorative

Closely related to yin yoga, this variety emphases relaxation. And similar to Iyengar yoga, it uses a range of props, especially bolsters, blankets, and eye pillows, that allow practitioners to feel fully supported and relaxed in each pose. These classes help students completely let go. Practitioners hold poses for long periods, which enables them to move in and out of meditation as well. These classes can have restorative effects on the mind as well as the body.

Who it’s right for : Yogis seeking relaxation and restoration.

What to Wear

To get the most out of your yoga experience, choose clothing that uses 37.5 Technology, which moves moisture away from the body to help maintain the optimal core temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius and the next-to-skin relative humidity of 37.5 percent. It dries incredibly quickly—and it doesn’t get stinky like some other technical fabrics. Most importantly, it is not a coating or a treatment—it’s permanently embedded within the fiber so it never washes out.

Some good options for yoga include the Mid-Rise Ankle Length Regulate Legging from Free People or the Wi-Thi Crop leggings from Handful. For men, the Level Tee from Fourlaps and Tights Raw Athlete from Dahlie make a good combination. Clothing with 37.5 Technology will help keep you comfortable and focused as you find the yoga style that fits you best.

Written by Ashley M. Biggers for Matcha in partnership with 37.5.

Featured image provided by Dave Contreras