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08 Sep

Yoga 101

Posted by Bikini Owner

yoga triangle pose

You know you should be doing yoga. It's good for your body, lowers stress and cortisol levels, and has incredible soul-soothing properties.

So why aren't you on your mat right now? Perhaps you're flummoxed as to what style of yoga is best for your life/body/mind, and we get that. With more than six major styles that are widely practiced — and many, many more small branches of yoga on top of that — it's easy to be overwhelmed or intimidated.

While nearly all yoga styles focus on pranayama, or breathwork, and physical postures/poses, the way they incorporate these into the flow of a yoga class can differ widely. If you're fit and curious, you can probably jump into any open-level class and find your footing, but we recommend doing a bit of research about what's available in your area to link up with a teacher and a class that will fit your needs and style perfectly.

Finding the perfect yoga class is a bit like finding your soul mate: It takes time!

Below is a primer on the five most widely practiced styles of yoga, and what you can expect from a class. If at first you don't succeed, try again! Your practice is a very personal experience, and it can be tricky to click in to exactly the right scene. 

1. Hatha: Virtually every yoga class in the United States is rooted in Hatha yoga, which is a basic term that means a physical yoga practice using postures — you've probably heard of Sun Salutations, a series of standing and poses that flow into one another. Not hugely vigorous, but incorporating a nice amount of movement and breath-based work, Hatha yoga is approachable for people of all fitness levels. 

2. Vinyasa: Also known as "power yoga" or "flow yoga," Vinyasa is a type of yoga that links postures with the breath, forming a flow of inhaling and exhaling as you move from pose to pose. Its level of intensity depends on the instructor, as no two vinyasa classes are alike. Many teachers use music to up the energy level of the class and further the flowing sensation of the postures — depending on where you take a class you could hear Amy Winehouse while you downward dog, or more traditional yogi tunes like Krishna Das, an American singer known for his recordings of Hindu chants.

Levels of vinyasa classes can vary. An open-level class might just focus on basic sequences of poses, while an advanced Vinyasa class will include inversions and challenging arm balances, as well as longer holds of the poses that can seem easy when you hold them for 15 seconds, but crazy-hard when the clock is ticking for a minute or more.The sweat factor here varies, but you will probably feel sweaty and challenged. 

3. Mysore Ashtanga: A form of Vinyasa that was brought to the United States by Pattahi Jois in the '70s, Ashtanga classes follow a very rigid sequence of the same postures at every class. If you're looking for a lively community and sense of solidarity with your fellow yogis, keep looking. While you're all doing the same postures, everyone moves at their own pace, which can feel disjointed. It's a great workout, but doesn't have the same sense of collective movement and connection that a hatha or vinyasa class does. 

4. Bikram: This yoga is hot. Literally. Classes in the Bikram style are performed in rooms heated to 105 degrees Fahreinheit, guaranteeing a good sweat, even before you start moving. Bikram classes follow the same 26 postures and two breathing exercises at every class, similar to Ashtanga. The heat helps to get your body pliable, which means melding your limbs into the poses becomes a bit easier, but beware: for beginners, the ease can be dangerous, as the heat can trick your body into thinking it's more flexible than it actually is, resulting in injury. 

5. Iyengar: Another precise school of yoga, Iyengar was developed by B.K.S Iyengar, whose book Light on Yoga is a yogi must-read. Alignment and meticulous attention to placement of all parts of the body are the focus here, which makes it deceptively challenging. Props, like ropes, blocks, blankets and chairs are utilized to help achieve optimal positioning, and of course, practice makes perfect. Even though this form of yoga isn't the most rigorous, the striving for precision can create just as much of a challenge as a more physical practice.