Now that the practice of yoga has become mainstream — it’s offered everywhere from workplaces and recreation centers to gyms and private studios — it seems like everyone wants to try it. Yoga’s benefits are proven and provide men and women stress reduction, more flexibility and even inner peace.
But don’t just grab a mat and head to any old class. “The best advice is to listen to your body and follow guidelines from your physician. It’s a great idea for beginners to get a handle on the basics with a beginners’ series or basics course,” says Justicia DeClue, owner of Maha Yoga in Philadelphia.
“There are almost as many styles of yoga as there are instructors,” says Gloria Baraquio, yoga and wellness director at The Springs in Los Angeles. “With the migration of yoga from India to the West in the last two centuries, yoga has taken on a variety of meanings and flavors. None of them are wrong. All lead to the same path if the practice is founded on the breath.”
Before choosing a yoga class, it’s important to know what the different types are, what they offer, and what ones you may need to avoid.
Six Branches of Yoga
According to Dr. Stephanie Marango, a holistic health physician and educator based in New York, there are six branches of yoga that represent different approaches to its philosophy. One branch, Hatha Yoga, emphasizes care of the physical form and is the type with which most people are familiar.
Before choosing a yoga class, it’s important to know the different types, what the classes offer and which ones you may need to avoid. While the following by no means cover all types of yoga, you’ll get an idea of the most common. Baraquio and Marango provided the information:
Popularized by Sri Pattabhi Jois, this is a rigorous style of yoga with a set series of postures, which can be beneficial for people who have wandering minds, since it promotes focus. Ashtanga’s great for creating heat and focus, toning the whole body, flowing from one posture to the next with deep breaths.
Good for you if… You’re a Type A personality, since it’s helpful for those who need fire and discipline in their lives. It’s also good for people who are, or want to be, well-rounded athletes.
Caution: Ashtanga’s not the best for beginners unless they are patient and practicing daily with a professional teacher. Also, don’t do this type if you are injured.
Also referred to as “hot yoga,” Bikram was created by Bikram Choudhury and is performed in a room heated to 105 degrees, with a set series of postures.
Good for you if… You like hot, humid weather and your body responds well to it. Bikram also works well for those with joint conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, since it can often result in decreased pain and increased mobility.
Caution: If you are dehydrated or don’t do well with heat, this is not the type of yoga for you. Know that the heat may give you a false sense of flexibility, which can result in overstretching and strain.
Created by BKS Iyengar, this type of yoga focuses on alignment. The style can help increase strength and stability in a safe and supported way.
“Iyengar’s approach not only emphasizes individual alignment — and, hence, custom-tailored modifications to the poses — but also a targeted approach to strengthening,” says Marango. “Taught properly, this type is a safe and effective approach, inclusive of individuals with health conditions or advanced age.”
Good for you if… You’re a left-brained, analytic person or free-spirited. While still challenging, because the poses are held for longer periods of time, this style can be good for beginners.
Caution: If you’re a beginner, check with the teacher and your doctor to make sure that this type of yoga would be good for you.
Restorative yoga is very passive and involves resting poses on the floor with the support of props — everything from blankets and blocks to bolsters and sandbags. This type is designed to help restore the nervous system and brings those who practice it to a place of feeling safe, instead of feeling the fight-or-flight response.
Good for you if… You are holding on to stress, since Restorative yoga is really relaxing. It’s also good if you have depression, insomnia or an injury.
Caution: No real cautions other than checking with your physician and the teacher before beginning a class.
This style of yoga comes from Ashtanga. “It involves flowing from one posture to the next, linked with the breath,” says Baraquio. This type doesn’t have a set sequence of poses. As a result, there’s more creativity in Vinyasa and less rigidity than in Ashtanga.
Good for you if… You want to sweat and relax in the same class. It’s good for people who want to feel like they’ve gotten a workout while doing yoga. Works well for strength trainers and athletes/runners.
Caution: As with Ashtanga, don’t do this type if you are a beginner or are injured.
This type of yoga has been made popular in the last century by Yogi Bhajan. It uses repetitive movements, cleansing breaths, meditation and chanting mantra.
Good for you if… You want yoga to add a spiritual practice or seek a deeper meaning in your life. It helps those who want to use their bodies to increase consciousness.
Caution: Because Kundalini focuses on the spiritual, it’s usually practiced by those who have done other types of yoga first. As always, check with your doctor or teacher before beginning a class.
Broga — Getting Guys Involved
Although yoga benefits women and men, it’s sometimes tough to get guys involved. “The biggest barrier for men coming to yoga class is likely their unfamiliarity with the practice, which can make yoga studios intimidating,” explains DeClue. “We offer a Yoga for Guys class, which sometimes is just the right environment for a guy beginning yoga.”
She says men can do any type of yoga that feels comfortable for them and meets their needs — spiritual, athletic or alignment-oriented approaches.
Baraquio suggests men who are uncomfortable trying yoga seek out a strong male teacher, go to a class with a friend or sign up for a private yoga session first. “All yoga is good for men who are willing to try it,” she explains. “Many men are tight and lack fluidity in their hips and shoulders. Yoga brings awareness to all parts of the body and opens them up.”
Marango says there is an entire style of yoga devoted to men — Broga, which according to BrogaYoga.com, teaches classes “from a man’s point of view.” Broga also offers classes for everyone from beginners to professional athletes.
All the sources stress that you check with a physician before beginning yoga, especially if you have a serious medical condition. In addition, they say, if you’ve had a brain injury, don’t do upside down poses and if you’ve had neck or brain issues, don’t do headstands in more advanced classes. Finally, if you have problems with your wrists, don’t do low planks or pushups.
It’s worth giving yoga a shot — your body and mind will thank you for it.