It wasn’t too long ago that the process of choosing a yoga class was simple. In 2001, Health.com reported that just 4.3 million Americans were getting their “om” on. With fewer people hitting the mat, there weren’t many different types of classes to choose from.
Since then, the stress relief and improved strength associated with yoga have attracted more than 20 million participants, according to a 2012 Yoga in America study. Students can now pick from a wide variety of forms, but how does one choose a yoga class when the words, Bikram, Ashtanga and Hatha are seem foreign and meaningless?
We’ve prepared a cheat sheet below to help you learn more about these classes in addition to other types of yoga, what they involve and the benefits they provide.
Anusara: Best described as playful and challenging, this relatively new form of yoga is ideal for beginners. Anusara uses physical movements to encourage students to open their hearts and embrace feelings of goodness. Beginners will appreciate its upbeat vibe and instruction of proper alignment to prevent injuries.
Ashtanga: This form consists of six strenuous sequences of poses and is best suited for experienced yoga students. Ashtangis move quickly through each sequence, transitioning between poses with each inhale and exhale, so it’s recommended that students know the poses before class. Its rapid and athletic movements make Ashtanga ideal for strength training and weight loss.
Bikram: Perfect for those who like a sweaty workout, Bikram consists of 26 basic yoga poses, each performed twice in a sauna-like room. Official Bikram classes keep their rooms around 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity. Bring plenty of water and prepare to build stamina, because focusing in that heat is a true athletic challenge.
Hatha: Pronounced “hah-ta,” this style serves as the foundation for all forms of modern yoga. Students can expect to learn the rhythmic breathing, postures and medication found in other yoga classes. Hatha has become wildly popular as a form of both exercise and stress relief.
Restorative: These classes are more for deep relaxation than strenuous exercise. Restorative yoga students use props like blankets and blocks to prop themselves in certain poses for as long as 20 minutes at a time. This effortless form of yoga is ideal for those who are injured because students can direct blood flow to damaged limbs without additional strain. It’s also a great way to unwind after a long week of work.
Vinyasa: Those who want the intensity of Ashtanga, but with more varied poses, should try Vinyasa. Instructors often play music to maintain liveliness throughout these active but fluid classes, which focus on coordinating breathing with movement. No two vinyasa classes are alike.