Yoga classes seem to be everywhere, from the local gym to boutique studios. But what is yoga exactly, and why is the practice so popular? Check out this yoga guide for answers that will help you decide if a yoga class might be right for you.
What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient method of exercise, stress-relief and meditation that has been practiced for around 5,000 years. As ancient Eastern medical practices have continued to become more popular in the West, yoga classes have become more accessible, with a growing number of choices. Increasing flexibility, strength, lung capacity, relaxation and mental clarity, yoga offers an arsenal of health benefits. It can also lower blood pressure and help inhibit heart disease, while decreasing the risk of stroke.
Most Western presentations of yoga focus on a set of poses. You may have heard of yoga postures such as the downward facing dog or the child’s pose. Once you learn the basic poses, you can practice them whenever and wherever you want — at home, on the road, with or without a video to follow.
Different Types of Yoga
Though based on the same general poses, yoga varieties differ in their intensity and emphasis.
Hatha yoga is slow-paced and gentle, and provides a great introduction to yoga principles and poses.
Vinyasa yoga generally focuses on breath-synchronized movements. Encompassing a number of movements called sun salutations, this method is more rigorous than Hatha.
Ashtanga, usually the basis of a power yoga class, is one of the most strenuous kinds of yoga. In Ashtanga, the same series of yoga postures are performed in a specific order, one after the other. The rigorous flow between poses makes this method physically challenging.
Iyengar yoga is most focused on body alignment, the precise way your body should be held in each posture to avoid injury and get the most benefit. This method emphasizes holding poses, rather than moving quickly between them.
Bikram yoga, known as hot yoga, is performed in a room that is 95 to 100 degrees, which helps loosen tight muscles and promotes sweating, part of a cleansing process. Bikram usually uses 26 yoga postures, though not every class makes use of them all.
Kundalini yoga focuses on freeing the energy of the lower body and moving it upward, while using controlled breathing.
What to Know Before You Start
First, choose the style of yoga that is right for your level of physical fitness. If you’re a beginner, Hatha or Vinyasa are good places to start. Then begin researching a convenient and reputable yoga studio. You can search online or in health magazines. If you already see an alternative health practitioner, such as a massage therapist or acupuncturist, that person might also be able to recommend a particular yoga class. Many studios will offer a free introductory class, so be sure to ask.
Each class will begin with a warm up, so be sure to make use of it and ease into the postures. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re feeling any awkwardness or discomfort in a yoga posture. Be prepared to be a little sore after your first class, and be sure not to push too hard. Yoga is about ease of movement — nothing jerky or sudden.
What to Bring
Check with the facility where you’ll be taking your yoga classes to see what they’d like you to bring. You can buy yoga-specific clothing, but non-binding, comfortable exercise clothes will work fine. You can bring your own yoga mat, or use one at the studio, sometimes for a small rental fee.
Ready to see if yoga is right for you? Don’t be afraid to experiment, trying different facilities and types of yoga to see which one is the best fit. Then get ready to reap the benefits of this powerful tool for healthy living.