The Most Popular Types of Yoga

Do you know what you're getting into when you sign up for a yoga class? Among the many popular styles offered in gyms and studios these days, one might make you break a sweat in a super-hot room, while another might be mellow and cool.

The word yoga means to yoke or unify the mind, bod,y and spirit. In most parts of the world, it's considered a spiritual, rather than exercise practice. Most Americans practice Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga integrates movement with meditation and breathing (called pranayama) through a series of poses, called asanas. There are many Hatha yoga styles practiced in studios today. Vinyasa, Bikram, Inyengar, and one simply called Hatha are among the most popular. 

Hatha. If a yoga class is called "Hatha" it's probably going to have a slower pace than other styles of yoga. This is a good place to learn yoga's basics, like asanas (poses used in all yoga styles) and asana sequences like Sun Salutations and Warrior poses. Poses are held for several moments to emphasize posture, stretch, and controlled breathing. Some classes are more vigorous than others while some are custom-made for beginners, people with injuries, pregnant women and other yogis who need special accommodation. 

Vinyasa. Sometimes called core power, yoga-flow, or power yoga, Vinyasa is a fast-paced style that flows from one pose to another, quickly. Each movement is coordinated with one breath and asanas are performed in specific sequences. It's athletic style is popular because the vigorous pace and sequence of movements turn it into a total-body workout that includes cardio, strength, and flexibility/balance training. Vinyasa classes are sometimes (not always) held in a heated room.

Bikram. Also called "hot yoga," Bikram is among the newer styles of yoga, developed and copyrighted by Bikram Choudury, a yoga guru.  A specific sequence of 26 poses is practiced for 90 minutes in a room heated to a temperature of 105 degrees and 50 percent humidity.  The heat is intended to warm muscles and ligaments to increase flexibility, detoxify the body, improve cardiovascular function, concentration, and spiritual experience.  Bikram is intense and not for the faint of heart or anyone who has a hard time tolerating heat.

Iyengar. Technique, sequence, timing, and alignment are key elements in Iyengar yoga. With more than 200 different postures to choose from, practitioners can design asana sequences for specific purposes. Props like pillows, blanket rolls, blocks, and straps are recommended to ensure correct alignment and technique. 

Yoga is a practice, not a sport. Every person's practice is unique and should accommodate her individual goals, needs, and body type. If you're new to yoga, try a class designed for beginners. If you've been practicing for awhile, try another style or a more vigorous class.  Be sure your instructor knows if you have any injuries or require special assistance.