Between strange pose names like "utkatasana" and mysterious-sounding classes like "vinyasa" and "iyengar," yoga lingo can start sounding like a foreign language. (Fun fact: it is! A lot of the names of yoga classes and poses are in Sanskrit.) But don't let all those vowels intimidate you! Yoga is a worthwhile practice, and with a little yogi lesson, you'll be ready to start posing and stretching your way to a leaner bod and calmer mind.
Here, Kathryn Budig, author of The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga and contributing editor to Women’s Health magazine, helps break down the various yoga classes at your disposal.
YOGA CLASS: VINYASA (“vin-ya-sa”)/YOGA FLOW
Vinyasa is probably the most influential style of yoga in our Western culture. When you think of yoga, you probably picture people standing on mats, flowing gracefully from one movement to the next in a sequence. Well, that’s vinyasa. “Vinyasa flow is a quicker-paced practice where movement is linked to breath,” says Budig. This means that every move occurs on an inhale or an exhale. Don’t be discouraged if you find the breathing is tricky—it can take practice.
Budig points out that it’s important to pay attention to levels. She recommends a level 1 or beginner class for newbies, regardless of athletic ability: “Upper level classes are going to be for the dedicated practitioner who knows the moves,” she says.
Vinyasa newbie tips:
- When an instructor reminds the class to watch the tension in your neck or face, listen to his or her suggestion. If you realize you’re hunching over or are too tense, you can always come out of the pose a little bit (or entirely).
- Some instructors come around to correct your posture, either verbally or by physically touching your arms, back, or legs. It’s really helpful, but if you know that you can’t stand someone touching you, tell your teacher before class starts.
- Make sure to bring a mat that won’t slide around, or bring a skidless towel to prevent slipping
YOGA CLASS: BIKRAM (“bee-krahm”)
Have you ever thought of doing yoga in a sauna? Well Bikram Choudhury did in the 1970’s and now Hot Yoga is a super-trendy workout. Performed in 105-degree heat with 40 percent humidity, Bikram is not for those who are sensitive to heat, have high blood pressure, or heart disease. Talk to your doctor before signing up for a Bikram class if you’re pregnant or unsure if it’s right for you.
But Bikram is a great option for people who want to burn more calories, build stamina, and detox the body. The other benefit of the high humidity is that it lubes up your joins, allowing you to stretch deeper. Also, unlike a vinyasa flow, Bikram always repeats the same movement pattern from class to class.
Bikram newbie tips:
- Bring water! (Did you read the part about 100+ degrees?!)
- This is not a class for the modest. You’ll be sweating a lot so wearing very little clothing is the best way to keep your core temperature down. A sweat-wicking tank top or sports bra and yoga shorts are appropriate for women, and a fitted, sweat-wicking gym shirt and fitted shorts or swim trunks are appropriate for men.
- Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of mirrors in Bikram yoga rooms.
YOGA CLASS: ASHTANGA (“ah-sh-tahn-ga”)
Ashtanga is a vigorous, disciplined style of yoga. This practice is based on established sets of strenuous poses that flow quickly with every breath. Once you’ve learned the sequences, it’s great if you want a practice you can do on your own, since every class will always take you through the same sequence of poses. Budig recommends attending a few vinyasa classes before you jump into an ashtanga class. “Vinyasa flow will help you prepare for Ashtanga, since it shares many of the same poses,” she says. You can look up the poses online before class and often studios print out the sequences as well.
Note: A “Mysore” ashtanga class isn’t “led” by an instructor like a typical yoga class—people practice at their own pace and a teacher walks around the room helping students in their own practices.
Ashtanga newbie tips:
- Be patient and keep showing up. It’ll take time to learn the moves, but that just means you need to keep going to class, not quit.
- Don’t be surprised if there’s waiting between moves during a mysore class. The teacher gives you the sequence and only adds on poses when you’re ready.
YOGA CLASS: IYENGAR (“eye-young-are”)
If you’re looking to learn the right way to execute your postures, take an iyengar class. This class uses a lot of props to help you achieve that textbook yoga pose. “This style focuses on detail and slow movement, so it’s great for the intellectual type,” Budig says. It’s appropriate for any skill level because it’s really just about learning the postures. This practice is for patient people who can work on a pose for several breaths without getting bored. While it might not be a fast-moving class, it’ll certainly give your muscles a work out.