A few weeks ago my 85-year-old grandmother called me to get some advice about taking a yoga class. She’s not one of those senior yogis—in fact, she’s never done yoga before, and also recently tore her meniscus. My immediate recommendation was that she seek out a chair yoga class, restorative yoga class or a class designed especially for people in her age group. When we hung up, I hoped that she’d take my suggestions seriously, knowing that if she attempted an all levels or beginners yoga class she would have been totally in over her head!
My grandmother represents a more extreme example of the importance of picking the right yoga class for the right person, but it’s true for all of us. Even though a flexible, athletic college student could probably get away with jumping into a physically challenging class as their first yoga class, it doesn’t mean they should. And let’s face it, starting anything new can be intimidating when you’re first starting out.
The good news is that with the number of styles and teachers out there, there’s bound to be a yoga class for every student. For those of you unsure about where to begin—or for anyone wanting to change up their current practice—here are some popular styles to consider for your first or next yoga class.
Yoga for Beginners: If you’re new to yoga, the best place to start is in a beginner’s class, even if you are strong and physically fit. This may be the only time in your yoga career that a teacher takes the time to really break down fundamental poses like Downward-Facing Dog and Chaturanga that give so many students problems. It’s also a great way to get introduced to basic pranayama (breathing practices) and meditation. Even if you’re in great shape, don’t underestimate the value of starting with beginner’s classes—you’ll be glad you did.
Flow/Vinyasa Yoga: Flow/vinyasa yoga classes link physical postures with the breath, incorporating sun salutations and standing and balancing postures. Most teachers will cue movements in time with inhalations and exhalations to lead the class smoothly and rhythmically through a sequence. People who enjoy vinyasa usually are drawn to the free-flowing, almost dance-like nature of the practice. Because of the pace, it is recommended that you have some familiarity with yoga before attempting a vinyasa class.
Power Yoga: “Power yoga” is a general phrase to describe a strength-based, typically more athletic style vinyasa practice. These classes are often heated, but not always. The style was originally modeled on the Ashtanga method, and while some might be attracted to this type of class because of it’s awesome workout quality, most teachers emphasize breath work (see above on flow/vinyasa yoga), and weave in some yoga philosophy.
Gentle Yoga: Gentle yoga classes are great for beginners and just about everyone. Basic breathing exercises are often explored here, as well a variety of important, foundational yoga postures. Most gentle classes include seated postures, standing poses and floor stretches. You may not break a sweat, but with the right teacher, you’ll likely find that a slower practice can be just as transformative and healing as a challenging one.
Restorative Yoga: Ahh. Restorative yoga. Expect lots of props: bolsters, blankets, eye pillows and a darkened room. The goal of a restorative class is to bring you into a state of deep, conscious relaxation (and no one will blame you if you doze off!). Each pose can be held up to 10 minutes or more. Restorative yoga is great for people who need a little relaxation and desire a better nights sleep.
All Levels Yoga: If you’ve been to several yoga classes and are feeling feeling good about listening to the teacher’s cues—and actually knowing what the heck she’s talking about (well, most of the time)—the yoga world is your oyster! All-levels classes can be a grab-bag of the styles teachers love to teach. Typically, you’ll find multiple levels of instruction and modifications offered, and one student may not be doing the exact same thing as the next. When you’re not sure of what class you’re in the mood for on any given day, consider an all levels class as your default option.
This list is a good jumping off point, but it’s also extremely helpful to research class descriptions at local studios online, or give a call to the front desk. These days, classes vary from studio to studio, so don’t be shy about asking a teacher or studio staff member if you have questions about classes. That’s their job, and usually they’re pretty good at it!
What are your favorite styles of yoga to practice? Do you practice the same style regularly or change it up?