While many beginners are drawn to yoga for its physical benefits, along the road most of us begin to recognize that there is much more to yoga than merely exercise. The mind-body connection is core to a yoga practice. The Sanskrit word “yoga” actually translates as “union,” which can be interpreted many ways, including a union of the mind and body.
When seeking a good fit in a yoga class, beginners might wonder what to look for and what questions to ask. The first step is to determine how open you are to the different aspects of yoga right off the bat. One of the main teachings of yoga is satya, or “truth”—and being truthful with yourself about what you’re willing to try right now. One of my yoga teachers once said, “Begin with where you are,” and that has always stuck with me. (Thank you, Kelly McGonigal!) Recognizing where you are, what makes you comfortable and what will allow you as an individual to feel great after a practice session.
It may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I more interested in getting a good workout or having an opportunity to relax?
- Do I want a more energetic, fast-paced class or one that moves slowly?
- Am I drawn to routine (ie, a class where I know exactly what to expect) or variety and an element of surprise?
- Am I a spiritual person?
- Can I easily sit still, or is this challenging for me?
- What, initially, attracted me to the idea of yoga?
Once you’re honest about what you’re looking for as a starting point, exploring different class styles becomes a little bit easier. Should your initial focus be on the physical practice of yoga, you might try one of the styles of yoga classes described in this Yoga for Beginners article. If you are looking to begin with a more inwardly focused class, one of the following styles of yoga might appeal to you.
- ]]>Kundalini Yoga]]> “Kundalini” is spiritual energy at the base of the spine. This type of yoga focuses on the seven chakras, or energy centers, drawing the energy upward through the body. Kundalini yoga incorporates breathwork, meditation, mudras and chanting to help open the energy centers of the body.
- ]]>Sivananda Yoga]]> This style of yoga follows a traditional, prescribed practice incorporating physical exercise, breathwork, relaxation, vegetarian diet and meditation with the aim of evolving spiritually.
- ]]>Integral yoga]]> This style of yoga was founded by Sri Swami Satchidananda in 1966. It focuses on principles of peace, living a healthy and balanced life, and serving others. The goal of Integral Yoga is for all people to live peacefully together on earth. "Integral Yoga uses classical hatha postures, which are meant to be performed as a meditation, balancing physical effort and relaxation," explained Swami Ramananda, president of the New York Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan, in an interview with Yoga Journal.
- ]]>Ananda Yoga]]> Ananda yoga uses physical postures, breathwork, classical yoga meditation techniques and yoga philosophy to connect body, mind and spirit and to raise consciousness. For beginners, Ananda Yoga is gentle; the practice becomes more challenging as you progress. Regardless of your level, this style of yoga is directed inward and is not a vigorous, fast-paced physical workout. Relaxation, alignment and awareness are the key elements of the yoga practice.
Many studios offer “Gentle Yoga” or “Restorative Yoga” classes, some of which are based on Judith Lasater’s Relax and Renew. These are wonderful classes if your main focus is relaxation and stress relief.
Finding an appropriate yoga class begins with an assessment of your own personal desires and needs. Sometimes trying out a few different classes can help determine which style of yoga is right for you. Even within a specific style of yoga, different instructors have different styles and will present very different classes. Take the time to explore a few different options, and follow your instinct—once you’ve found a class you love, the benefits will be worth every effort.
Reviewed June 21, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton
Hillary Easom is a yoga teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her practice started with an Iyengar-style class, and she soon developed a love for Vinyasa yoga. She teaches Vinyasa, Prenatal, and Postnatal yoga, along with playful kids’ yoga classes.