Yoga is no longer an esoteric ritual practiced by spiritualists in foreign countries. It has entered mainstream American consciousness BIG TIME and with that has come a proliferation of hybrids, variations, and spin-offs, all competing for your interest. So…how do you choose which class or style is right for you? An important thing to consider is what you want to get out of your yoga classes. Here are 7 common goals and some classes that might match.
1. Physical fitness
While any yoga class will help with overall physical fitness, look for classes at a gym where the emphasis is often on the physical, rather than spiritual, aspects and the programs are designed for people with a reasonable level of fitness. Some classes combine yoga with Pilates (Yogalates) or incorporate strength training using weights. If the class includes arm balances and headstands or handstands, you know you will be challenged.
2. Hard, sweat-raising workout
If you aren’t happy unless your heart is pumping and you are dripping wet, then look for a Bikram, Ashtanga, or Power yoga class. Any class that emphasizes “vinyasa” or flow will keep you moving. Classes in a warm or hot room (> 85 degrees) will ensure that you reach for your towel more than once.
3. Low-impact or gentle workout
If you want to stretch and relax without too much exertion, look for Yin classes where you hold poses for a longer time to engage the deep connective tissues. Any class that includes the word ”gentle” in its title should be okay even if it has flow elements. Also, classes that are specifically for seniors or people over 50 are typically low-impact and rarely have an age minimum.
Restorative, Adaptive, or Chair classes are designed for people who are recovering from an injury or have physical limitations for other reasons. They modify yoga “asanas” or poses using a variety of props so that people with a limited range of motion can achieve the benefits even if they cannot attain the fullest bend, stretch, or reach. In Chair classes the poses are done seated in chairs or using the chairs for balance. Restorative and Adaptive classes use bolsters, blankets, blocks, and straps to help with poses performed on the mat.
Because all yoga includes (or should include) some “pranayama” or breathing practices and a resting pose at the end, every class can reduce tension and anxiety. If stress reduction, meditation, or chanting are in the title, that is a good indication the class will be relaxing. A yoga Nidra class will be the ultimate de-stressor because its intent is to induce conscious awareness while in a deep sleep state.
Because yoga practice has an inward focus, it is not always easy to get to know other participants but, if you are a regular at any gym or studio, you will eventually connect with people who go to your classes. Mother-baby yoga classes are always uber-friendly. Some yoga studios offer a “yoga and wine” class, typically on a Friday night. Yoga first, then wine! Others have fundraising efforts or reading groups that bring people together.
7. Excitement and variety
Even those who need more adrenaline, are insatiably curious, or love to be “first on your block” can find their fix in a yoga class. For instance, there is SUP yoga on stand-up paddle boards, Snowga that combines yoga with snow sports like skiing, Doga where you exercise with (you guessed it) your dog, and even Co-ed Nude yoga. Seriously.
If you are a traditionalist or an extremist, if you need a cane or compete in marathons, or if you are somewhere in the middle of all this…you will find a yoga class to suit your needs. It’s all out there. Just remember to breathe!