Yoga is an ascetic Hindu discipline involving controlled breathing, prescribed body positions and meditation with the goal of attaining a state of deep spiritual insight and tranquility. It’s also so popular that it’s becoming a growth industry. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that some yoga classes are becoming so overcrowded that peace-seeking yogis are getting into fights over mat space. Lululemon, which stocks flattering yoga pants for women, is now opening stores just for men. Then there’s this: More than 24 million adults practiced yoga in 2013, making it nearly as popular as golf.
- Hatha Ranging in intensity from gentle to vigorous, hatha yoga classes weave postures (asana), breath-work (pranayama), and meditation into each session. This approach offers practitioners a well-rounded assortment of techniques for both physical and mental relaxation. Each class explores a different posture sequence and sometimes incorporates a theme.
- Vinyasa Also known as flow yoga, vinyasa classes are sequenced with each yoga posture flowing into the next one. To enhance focus and concentration during this energetic full-body workout, practitioners coordinate breath with movement while exploring invigorating posture sequences. It’s a great style for improving circulation, balance, and coordination, while toning the body and clearing the mind.
- Bikram Also known as hot yoga, this practice takes place in heated rooms that range in temperature from 75-105 degrees. “The heat encourages tight muscles to relax faster, allowing for deeper stretches,” says Larissa Hall Carlson, dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. “Bikram yoga focuses mainly on postures, and each class follows a specific sequence that is always taught in the same order.”
- Iyengar Iyengar yoga emphasizes proper alignment in postures to strengthen the muscles, support the joints and build flexibility. “Instructions are very clear and precise, and props are often used to ensure good alignment,” says Carlson. This style is often recommended for athletes working with an injury, as classes are taught with extreme safety.
- Ashtanga Ashtanga provides challenging sequences for dedicated yoga practitioners who want to build strength, balance and focus for advanced yoga postures. “It’s best to dedicate several days per week to this focus-, strength- and flexibility-building style,” says Carlson. Many practitioners are committed to daily practice, as repetition is key to progress.
- Yin Yang Yin yang classes move at a slower pace and hold postures longer than most other styles of yoga. With emphasis on proper alignment and relaxed breath, long holdings invite the body to deeply relax into the stretches and open up meridian lines to support healthy organs and systems. Yin provides grounded, static and deep stretches to revitalize the whole system.