With so many styles and benefits of yoga available, sorting out the yin from the yang and the power from restorative can be pretty daunting. Looking for a little guidance on finding the right fit for your first class? Here’s an overview of some of the benefits of yoga as well as the styles that will emphasize these benefits, so you can select the yoga practice that’s right for you.
Overall Fitness. For the fitness-minded person who is just looking for a well-rounded approach to cross-training, yoga can offer benefits in the three areas of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. While you need to keep moving to get your heart rate up, recent studies demonstrate that the cardiovascular benefits of yoga can be in keeping with those of brisk walking and exercise, resulting in increased fitness and decreases in LDL Cholesterol and body weight. If this sounds like your type of practice, look into a Power, Flow, Core, or Vinyasa yoga classes. You might also see this type of offering billed as Baptiste or Forrest yoga. These classes are offered in both traditional and heated studios and you can expect to sweat even at room temperature.
Strength and Improved Mobility: Whether you’re looking to prevent injuries, improve your balance, or increase your functional flexibility, yoga can assist you in becoming stronger and moving in a healthier fashion. A classic Hatha yoga class, such as those provided by Iyengar trained instructors, or a traditional “Hot” yoga class, as made famous by Bikram Choudhury, will likely emphasize alignment and balance. If you’re intimidated by the quick transitions between postures found in the Power and Flow styles of yoga, you’ll find the slower pace and deliberate instruction comforting, while even advanced students will benefit from the precise alignment cues and opportunities for continued progression. You might also benefit from an Ashtanga approach, a demanding athletic practice that combines movement between postures with an emphasis on proper technique.
Restoration and Improved Flexibility: If you’re primarily looking for a mind-body connection, stress relief, or an introduction to meditation, along with an emphasis on opening the joints and connective tissues of your body, a slower paced class deemed “restorative” is likely to meet your needs. There are many varieties, including Yin Yoga, which includes long holds of supported postures, Kundalini Yoga, which emphasizes connecting to your sacred energy, and even Yoga Nidra, which is directed at improving your meditation and sleep. While the approaches of these classes differ, they will all result in improved awareness of your ability to observe and change the reactions of your body and mind to stress and daily demands.
While there are many more approaches to yoga than can easily be summarized, having an idea of the benefits you’d like to receive from your practice can help you to narrow down the right fit. Many classes combine one or more of the approaches described here and offer practitioners multiple benefits within a single class. Additionally, many yogis draw from different schools of yoga and different approaches when developing their own unique schedule. Whatever approach you choose, yoga offers enormous benefits when combined with your home fitness program for cardiovascular and strength training and can improve your function both in athletic training and daily activity.
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.