The YogaJunkie Blog :: Which kind of yoga should I do?

“Which kind of yoga should I do?” is a question I’m often asked by folks who are interested in exploring but have never done any yoga.

One thing I always stress to people is that yoga is first and foremost a philosophy. Everything in the practice is about refocusing you into a more grounded, spiritually-centered state of mind. In other words, you move around like crazy mostly so you can reach a place where you can sit still and look inward.

That said, the ways of practicing physically are extraordinarily varied. Here are some broad outlines of different kinds of yoga classes (and some thoughts on what kind of persons would respond best to each.)

VINYASA — that’s what I teach mostly. Basically, Vinyasa could be thought of as a creative version of ASHTANGA. Ashtanga offers a prescribed series (six series actually, progressing in difficulty) of poses that flow into one another in a specific order with an emphasis on connecting breath to movement. In a Vinyasa class, the teacher can adapt this, weaving different poses in and out of a sequence. Vinyasa classes have a dance-like, movement-oriented flow to them. Almost any yoga class can be vigorous, but a good vinyasa class can definitely make your sweat. In my opinion, these are the most traditionally athletic classes. My personal attraction for vinyasa is that it is always changing––no two classes are ever exactly alike––and I must stay alert and focused to follow the flow. IE, I have to check my problems at the door inorder to keep up with the teacher’s sequencing.

IYENGAR — These classes are the polar opposite. Whereas in a Vinyasa or Ashtanga class, you will be flowing through many different shapes, in an Iyengar class you will usually explore only a handful of poses, holding them longer and learning about them in great detail. For many, this kind of fine-tuning is a powerful way to focus one’s mind. In addition, for either total beginners or for students wanting to refine their practices and go deeper, the level of detail in an Iyengar class can be a perfect match.

BIKRAM — Famous for their heat, Bikram classes are guaranteed to make you sweat. Bikram classes are also a specific series that never changes, something that I’ve found both comforting and frustrating. Once you’ve done a few classes, you know exactly what you’re going to get. Bikram devotees swear that the heat helps themopen up the body more easily. In addition, there’s something cleansing about the sauna-like feel of the room (the flip side of which is that it could also feel like a unique form of torture). Bikram is very much its own brand––Bikram actually entered several messy lawsuits about copyrighting his series and instruction––but if you survive the heat, you will definitely sweat like crazy and feel more limber.

KUNDALINI — Kundalini is a kind of yoga that’s really focused on releasing energy in the body, specifically the chakras. Kundalini classes vary considerably, but you’ll often be doing a repetitive motion for several minutes, often while repeating a sanskrit phrase. Some of these sets (called kriyas) might not be difficult in and of themselves but become so when held or repeated over time. I’ve taken Kundalini classes which involved extraordinarily difficult ab exercises and ones where I held my arms up in a V and chanted for eleven minutes. Again, you’ll have to explore first-hand if these are the yoga class for you.

HATHA — Technically, all physical yoga practices––from poses to breath work––fall under the broad category of Hatha Yoga. In other words, all of these styles above are aspects of Hatha Yoga. Usually, however, when someone says they are doing Hatha Yoga, I take it to mean they are doing some moderate form of yoga exercises in these traditions, rather than a more “hard core,” single-style approach.

HYBRIDS — In our modern, marketing-obsessed society everyone is obsessed with branding. Various yoga centers will brand their own style even if it’s very grounded in an established tradition. Individual instructors will also trademark their method, particularly if they have a strong focus such as core-strength. And provocateurs often go in different directions such as incorporating something completely different (spin classes for example) or eliminating all spiritual tradition entirely.

CONCLUSIONS — In a way, it’s a lot like dating. Some people instantly know what they want and are attracted to while others need to sample around a bit more, or may in the end, be drawn to lots of different types.

I love a great vinyasa class and its ever-changing flow but there were winters in NYC where I just wanted to be in a hot Bikram studio, knowing exactly what poses were going to be offered and in what order. Kundalini classes have driven me crazy and also totally revitalized my energy.

What I as a teacher always want to communicate is that don’t let one yoga class turn you off of the practice. Whatever your objection was –– it was too difficult/easy/fast/slow/spiritual/non-spiritual –– there is a class that is exactly opposite out there, one that will completely fit your needs. And even if you fall madly in love with the first class or studio you attend, I still recommend venturing out a bit and trying something new. In an increasingly diverse world of yoga offerings, this almost becomes a metaphor for the practice itself, one geared to expand the body and the mind.

By Edward Vilga - Writer, spiritual teacher, and — according to Bloomingdale’s 1/2 page ad in the New York Times for his most recent event — a “legendary yogamaster”. His last yoga DVD hit #1 on after he was on Regis & KellyCBS Early Show, and featured People Magazine. Edward has had six books published which have been translated into a dozen languages. His most recent book is UPWARD DOG: Seven Secrets from My Chocolate Lab for Having an Awesome Life (available now; national release 11/1/11). Edward is a Yale graduate. © 2013