The benefits of yoga have been well documented: it can boost mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall health—not to mention give you a yoga butt. But where to begin? Looking at the seemingly endless types of classes (Music Flow 2/3? Ying & Yang? Forrest Yoga?) can feel like opening a box of chocolates, without the helpful little chart. Are those ones with the squiggles salted caramels or raspberry creams? And heading to the wrong class can leave you feeling bored and antsy—or like you stumbled into Olympic gymnastic tryouts. Eeep! Take our quiz to see what kind of yoga might fit your style.
Note: We cover six of the most common styles of yoga here, but many other variations exist.
Get ready to work your lungs and your muscles—Ashtanga links movement to breath in a set series of postures. Traditionally Ashtangis learn one series at a time (there are six total) and practice at least three times a week in a silent room, receiving hands-on corrections from an instructor. But newbies shouldn’t let the hush-hush atmosphere intimidate them; teachers are happy to work with beginners and do offer some classes with verbal instructions till you’re ready to hit “mute.”
Real talk: Bikram makes you sweat like you came down Splash Mountain. This style of yoga is a system of 26 poses performed over 90 minutes in a room cranked to 104 degrees. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it practice: Devotees crave the intensity of the workout and believe the heat flushes out toxins, boosting that post-yoga glow. Naysayers think it’s a slip-and-slide sweatfest that can lead to overstretching and dehydration. Check with a doctor before trying Bikram if you have any medical conditions that could make you sensitive to heat. A related style, Hot Yoga is, as expected, performed in a hot room, but the temperature can be lower (90+ degrees), and instructors mix it up with a more varied sequence of poses.
Here’s a little yoga trivia: In Sanskrit (the Latin of yoga), “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon, so the word “hatha” also refers to balancing sun and moon—the masculine and feminine, or heating and cooling, aspects of yoga. Hatha is an umbrella term that covers a lot of ground. All yoga that’s spread from India to the West is a form of Hatha yoga. A class that calls itself “Hatha” is usually more slow-paced and gentler than Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or Bikram, with a focus on breathing. Expect to move through classic postures and sequences like sun salutations and warriors. Yoga newbs, take note, most Hatha classes make for a solid intro to yoga.
This style of yoga comes correct. Iyengar focuses on alignment and precision. You won’t move fast, but you can be sneakily challenged—don’t be surprised if your quads are screaming the day after class. Like Hatha, Iyengar is an excellent intro to yoga. If you're working with any injuries or physical limitations, welcome to your new safe space; teachers undergo rigorous training and tend to be ridiculously knowledgeable about anatomy and modifying poses for your body. (Good form FTW!)
Restorative and Yin
Ahhhh! Just the word “restorative” has our blood pressure dropping. These styles of yoga are slow practices aimed at releasing muscles, tendons, and connective tissue. But this isn’t group naptime. Expect to hold poses for a long time—in a 90-minute class you may do as few as 4 or 5 poses, using lots of props to help your mind and body quiet down. A lot is happening in that stillness: restorative yoga focuses on calming the nervous system, while yin aims to release the connective tissues (think ligaments, joints, and even bones) that don’t get love in regular (aka “yang”) yoga practice. Some people finish class feeling like they’ve had a Swedish massage, but if you have a hard time staying still, you may find the slo-mo speed excruciating. Combo-platter classes that pair a more rigorous vinyasa flow with a restorative or yin finish are a great way to test drive these styles.
Another broad term name, Vinyasa can refer to any style of yoga in which movement is linked to breath. Classes vary a ton based on the studio and teacher: they can be fast-paced, sweaty, and set to music, or slower and more meditative. Either way, expect to flow from one pose to another without too much chit-chat. Some classes incorporate chanting and a dharma talk (a brief spiel linking a principle of yogic philosophy to daily life). Ashtanga-based vinyasa incorporates traditional Ashtanga poses in creative sequences.