Whether your goal is to find a little inner peace, develop one of those highly sought-after "yoga butts" or simply get more flexible, there's a perfect-for-you yoga class out there. I'm here to help you find it. I know your hamstrings are quaking to learn more, so let's dive in.
There are main three things to consider when choosing a yoga class:
1. The venue. Swanky studios, round-the-clock gyms, martial arts studios and even community centers and local churches have caught on to the yoga buzz. Take a little time to figure out what you do -- and don't -- want from your venue. If you don't dig mirrors all around, the gym setting is probably not for you. If you prefer somewhere that provides mats and props like blocks and bolsters, don't head to a community center. On a serious budget? Studios devoted to yoga may not be the best bet. But no matter which venue you're leaning toward, always ask if you can try out a class for free before you commit.
2. The style. There are so many styles out there. The best one to choose depends on what you're looking for. Use this guide to help you find your match.
- Hatha: This is an umbrella term used for any form of the physical postures (called asanas) of yoga. A class that labels itself "hatha" usually focuses on basic poses combined with mindful breathing practices. This style is awesome for newbies.
- Ashtanga vinyasa/power yoga: Ashtanga is a more physically demanding form of yoga, filled with many sun salutations and body-weight-bearing exercises done at a pretty fast rate (vinyasa means "flow"), making it great for athletes. Power yoga is like Ashtanga but is geared more toward those looking to build lean muscle mass and a strong core without the more mental aspects of yoga.
- Anusara: Anusara promotes proper joint alignment and muscle support within each pose along with the more meditative aspects of yoga. Anusara is an excellent choice for both new yogis and those seeking a less strenuous practice.
- Kundalini: Otherwise known as the "aerobic yoga", Kundalini relies on lots of repetitions and steady breath work to promote a sense of enlightenment and ease within the body. This is a wonderful class for those who wish to lose weight or who don't like the doing the same old thing in every class.
- Iyengar: This style is all about joint alignment. Instructors teach you to use props (think blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters) to help you get into perfect position and minimize your risk of injury. This is just the thing for people who have joint issues, are recovering from injury or who suffer from fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Bikram/hot yoga: Both are done in heated rooms kept at between 105 and 108 degrees, so you need to really like heat to thrive. In Bikram you do the same 27 poses in every class; in hot yoga, the poses change depending on the teacher and general mood. These classes are great for people seeking to lose weight or who are dealing with chronic tight muscles (heat is a powerful muscle loosener).
3. The instructor. These days, it seems like practically anyone can call themselves a yoga teacher. Don't be fooled. You want someone who has been certified by the Yoga Alliance -- they regulate teacher training and offer continuing education for certified yoga teachers. Look up instructors at the Yoga Alliance website or ask for proof of certification before you commit to a class. Beyond that, look for someone whose style -- hands-on or -off, talkative or not, insisting on background music or preferring quiet, etc. -- you feel comfortable with.
Wherever you end up, allow me to give you one last piece of advice: Leave self-judgment and the quest for perfection at the door when you arrive. Remember, yoga is a journey -- and it's meant to be enjoyed.
Once you've chosen your class, do you know how to avoid injury? Test your asana smarts with this yoga safety quiz.