Whether you're looking to gently stretch your body or put it through a vigorous workout, yoga delivers. That flexibility (pun intended) is part of the appeal of this ancient Indian form of movement, which links breath and balance-challenging poses.
With more than a dozen types of yoga practiced in nearly every city and small town in the country, there’s a match for every mood and fitness level. But reading between the lines of a class schedule can be confusing — it’s hard to tell one style of yoga from the next. Read our yoga cheat sheet below and choose the style that best fits your ability and disposition. Then roll out your mat and get ready to bend, twist and stretch your way to weight loss.
NOTE: Yoga classes are offered at gyms as well as private studios. Bring your own mat or borrow one at class. Wear comfortable, easy-to-move-in-clothes; remove your shoes and socks before class.
It's for you if... you rate your workouts by how much you sweat.
The gist: This new form of yoga is quite literally the hottest: Bikram studios are heated to a perspiration-inducing 105-degrees Farenheit. No wonder practitioners of all shapes and sizes show up in barely-there shorts and swimsuits! Throughout a typical 90-minute class, an instructor will call out various movements — from Bikram-specific arm stretches to more traditional backbends — offering guidance on alignment, breath and pace. If you have a hard time mastering the 26 poses the first time through don’t fret — you’ll repeat the exact same sequence in the second half of the class. Despite the sweltering heat students are encouraged stay in the room for the full session and to also limit water breaks. It’s these strenuous conditions that make the challenge of Bikram yoga mental as well as physical.
It's for you if... you like a fast-paced workout with a beat.
The gist: Attention Zumba fans and salsa buffs: Vinyasa yoga (also called "flow") has been called “dance on a yoga mat.” In a “flow” class you can expect to move constantly, flowing from standing tall to a pushup position and back up again. To set the mood and keep an up-tempo pace most instructors play energizing music, ranging from top-40 tunes to Indian hip-hop. But there’s no time to add in extra toe-taps: classes typically move quickly enough to boost your heart rate into the cardio zone. Because of this speed, you’ll want to try this style only after you’ve mastered the basic postures. Without a working knowledge of poses like Warrior 2, you may have a hard time keeping up.
It's for you if... “slow and steady” is your workout motto.
The gist: Iyengar yoga focuses on building muscular strength and endurance. Students hold each pose for up to a few minutes at a time while an instructor offers coaching on position. You might be asked to make subtle changes to your form, such as really straightening your elbows in Downward Facing Dog. Because Iyengar instructors are sticklers for alignment, this class is appropriate for beginners who want to learn poses as well as experienced yogis seeking a refresher on form. Iyengar is also a good choice for exercisers with limited strength or flexibility — props like foam blocks and fabric straps are used liberally in Iyengar classes, making the twists, balances and stretches a little easier to master.
It's for you if... you shy away from group exercise.
The gist: In a typical Ashtanga session yoga students share a studio but there’s no instructor leading class. Instead, you’ll find exercisers of all abilities moving at their own pace through the traditional Ashtanga sequence of yoga poses. An instructor is on hand to teach students new postures as they progress, but it’s up to the individual to remember the order of the routine. Although the pace of Ashtanga is ultimately quite fast — the goal is to move for the entire 90-minute session at a cardiovascular pace, doing one pose per breath — learning the postures and the sequence can take years. You might add one new pose only after several sessions; in the meantime you’ll keep repeating the poses you know, which means you might do a few dozen Downward Facing Dogs in a clip.
It's for you if... you want a basic yoga class without all the bells and whistles.
The gist: Hatha is the most common yoga style, and for good reason — it’s middle of the road compared to many of the more specialized options. In a typical class, traditional yoga postures like Cobra and Upward Facing Dog are strung together at a moderate pace; expect occasional pauses throughout class to focus on a certain pose. Other class extras, such as music, temperature and meditation time vary greatly from class to class and are up to individual instructors. If the first class you take doesn’t wow you, don’t write off the style — simply try another instructor. Most sessions are open to all abilities; because of the moderate intensity it can be a good place to learn poses and also get in a workout.
It's for you if... you prioritize mental clarity over physical exertion.
The gist: Restorative yoga is like to a trip to the spa: You may not burn many calories, but you’ll sure walk out feeling refreshed. Part stretch class, part restful meditation, this type of yoga steers clear of challenging poses and instead focuses on relaxing the body and mind. With the support of padded bolsters and cushions students are led through a sequence of gentle lying-down postures that are each held for several minutes. The instructor may play relaxing music or talk students through a guided meditation; studios are often candle lit or completely dark to set the mood. This may sound more nap-time than actual exercise and it is, but a restorative class can complement more challenging forms of yoga or serve as an inexpensive (calorie-free!) treat.