Numerous studies have shown the myriad health benefits of yoga. Regular yoga practice can help you get fit, lower stress and even manage chronic health conditions such as heart disease and insomnia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
With more than 20 different yoga styles available, however, figuring out where to start can be daunting in itself. Below, you'll find a description of five of the most popular styles. This guide will help you choose the practice that best fits your needs.
Bikram is the ideal practice for anyone who loves to sweat or who likes structure. Created by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury, this style includes a series of 26 yoga poses (also known as Asanas) done in a room heated to 100 degrees. Every Bikram class—no matter where you are in the world—follows the same series of poses. Fans of Bikram say it stretches and strengthens muscles, and the heat helps promote flexibility and detoxification. Make sure to bring plenty of water, a yoga mat and a towel.
Although “Hatha yoga” originally meant the physical practice of yoga (as opposed to the breathing exercises or adherence to the yogi philosopy), today the term has evolved. Hatha yoga classes are particularly good for beginners or someone in need of a more gentle practice. Most often, a Hatha yoga teacher will combine a few different yoga styles to create a simple class that teaches the basic poses and introduces students to Pranayama (regulated breathing), meditation and other yoga fundamentals.
Ashtanga moves at a faster pace than most other types of yoga and takes participants through a set series of poses. These positions are designed to create heat in the body to help burn off toxins, focus the mind and release tight muscles and joints. Ashtanga is also unique for its specialized breathing technique, Ujjai. In Ujjai breathing, practitioners synchronize their breath with their movement, adding another level of difficulty to the yoga practice. Ashtanga classes are ideal for students who are athletic and already have some yoga experience. The practice promotes circulation, flexibility, stamina and relaxation.
For the most challenging workout, Power Yoga is your best bet. Although based in Ashtanga, it doesn’t follow Ashtanga’s set series of poses. For this reason, classes can differ with each teacher’s style. Positions are held longer but move faster through the poses than in Ashtanga. The practice is designed to build strength, discipline, balance, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. This type of yoga is best for a more experienced practitioner, and may also be called flow yoga or vinyasa yoga.
For the ultimate in relaxation, try out a restorative yoga class. In this style, you’ll use props such as blocks, blankets and yoga bolsters to move into poses designed to relax the mind and body. You’ll hold positions much longer and spend much more time lying down than in an average yoga class. This is an ideal practice for encouraging a good night’s sleep.