If you’re totally new to yoga and looking for a place to start, this guide might help you navigate your way through yoga studio schedules.
In theory, all styles of yoga are suitable for beginners, as you can modify every pose and use props to make it easier. But, there are definitely some styles that lend themselves more to those just starting out, than others.
Here’s my take on the main styles of yoga you’ll find around. Hopefully it’ll help you find a class that’s right for you:
Anusara – My favourite. It’s a graceful flow with added emphasis on alignment (e.g. the subtleties of which parts of your body to engage in the pose to keep injury-free). Sort of a cross between Vinyasa and Iyengar (see descriptions below). Always has a heart-opening theme that leaves you feeling full of love and light.
Ashtanga – Challenging. You’ll be led through a set sequence (i.e. same sequence every class) known as the Primary Series. Make no mistake though, there isn’t anything “Primary” about it. It’s full on. Awesome for building stamina, strength and flexibility.
Mysore Style Ashtanga – Possibly a better option for beginners, as you learn the Ashtanga Primary Series at your own pace, one move at a time. The teacher can explain any individual modifications you need, although I’d still recommend starting with a beginner’s course if you can. It requires commitment – most practitioners practise three to six times a week.
Gentle Yoga – Always a safe bet. Awesome for beginners and those who just want to loosen up.
Hatha – Nice and slow. Another great class to get you started.
Iyengar – An awesome way to learn detailed alignment. Not much flow – they tend to just step from one pose to another – so can be good if you don’t love jumping up and down from the floor to standing and back again. They love props.
Jivamukti – A Vinyasa class with added chanting and meditation.
Power – Vigorous Vinyasa. Sweaty.
Restorative – Ultimate relaxation. Lots of cushions, bolsters and blankets to lie in passive poses that often resemble sleeping positions. Another of my favourites.
Rocket – With a tag line of: “it gets you there faster”, think handstands, headstands and a whole heap of sweat. The very first yoga class I tried was Rocket Yoga (I was attracted by the promise of a work-out). Needless to say, after failing to “float into a headstand”, I walked out vowing never to try yoga again and signed up for a Pilates studio instead. Years later, I’m now a fan, but it’s a tough class for a total beginner.
Vinyasa – “Flow” yoga that links each movement to the breath. It’s a constant flow from one pose to the next in transitions so graceful they could almost be dancing. The pace of these classes can vary massively – generally, the faster the flow, the sweatier you’ll get. Instructions might be: “Inhale, step your foot between your hands, rise up into Warrior I. Exhale open out into Warrior II”. In a slower paced class you’ll have more time to work out the difference between your Warriors.
Yin – Painful, yet relaxing (in the similar way to getting a leg-wax, or a sports massage). Stretches out the fascia (the connective tissue that holds you altogether) and is a great way to gain flexibility.
Yoga Nidra – Definitely not a work-out. It’s more of a guided meditation, while you lie on the floor. I challenge you not to fall asleep. Best enjoyed next to someone who doesn’t snore.
SO WHICH ONE SHOULD I TRY?
Whichever class you like the sound of.
Sure, if you were a dancer or a gymnast in a past life, then go ahead and try any of them. But for the less flexible, it be might be more enjoyable to start with a class that is more empowering than petrifying.
Obviously a beginner’s course is the ideal way to start out, but those courses aren’t always held at convenient times. In which case, I’d head off to a Level 1 class in whichever style appeals to you, and just do the bits that feel right and forget the ones that don’t. If you’re ever worried about the level of the class, you can always check with the teacher.
Remember, every single body is completely different. Everyone feels each pose differently and everyone is working with their own limitations. No one can do it all. So don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes – it’s more about what you learn on the way down. You’ll be great.