Yoga has become more popular in the U.S. over the past decade. Many people try their first class at the urging of a friend, or because a class at their gym is offered at an opportune time. But others find that going into a yoga studio as a newbie is daunting, and maybe timidity prevents them from trying out something they know they would enjoy. This primer on yoga styles and sample class offerings can help yogis-to-be choose an appropriate introductory class where they will feel comfortable and confident.
Yoga actually comprises more than just physical postures, though most beginners come to class for a physical workout. The physical poses of yoga are known as asanas. According to B.K.S. Iyengar, author of Light on Yoga, asana practice helps the yoga practitioner to become healthy in body, mind and spirit. “A soul without a body,” he wrote, “is like a bird deprived of its power to fly.” Asana, then, can be viewed as a starting point for a yoga practice; therefore, we can look to different types of asana practices to ascertain which type of class might appeal to each individual.
Iyengar himself is the founder of one well-known style of yoga practice. An Iyengar yoga class focuses on alignment and precision. Poses are held for a longer period of time than in some other styles, and practitioners might use props such as blocks and straps to support them in specific postures. Because these classes move more slowly and focus on the “how-to” of each posture, they can be a great starting point for beginning yogis.
Another popular style of yoga in the U.S. is called Vinyasa. There are various types of Vinyasa classes; the term itself refers to a connection between breath and movement—for example, a teacher might cue students to “Breathe in as you float your arms up overhead” then to “Exhale as you pull your hips back and fold forward.” One style of Vinyasa yoga is Ashtanga, founded by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Ashtanga yoga follows a specific series of postures performed sequentially, increasing in difficulty as the practice grows stronger.