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Intrigued by yoga but not sure where to start? For beginners, yoga’s many styles and moves might be a bit overwhelming but don’t be deterred. Yoga is a great exercise for people of all ages, activity levels and body types; it’s just a matter of finding the one or combination of styles that’s right for you.
Finding the right style of yoga comes down to assessing your current level of fitness/ability and determining what you hope to achieve by adding yoga to your fitness routine. Some styles are better suited to athletes looking to increase flexibility and stamina, while other more gentle styles are ideal for those with injuries or chronic medical conditions. But no matter the style, all yoga increases strength, flexibility and balance, while also releasing tension and calming the mind. After all, the goal of yoga is to create a bond between the mind and the body.
Polly Liontis, Yoga Instructor and Licensed Massage Therapist, highlights some popular styles of yoga and discusses the health benefits and required fitness levels of each:
Hatha yoga focuses on breathing exercises and basic poses. Its more basic approach makes it an ideal style for beginners who need to accustom themselves to yoga’s poses and relaxation techniques. Benefits: Hatha reduces stress, increases concentration and promotes a feeling of overall relaxation. It’s also great for the core. Who can do it? Anyone, regardless of age or ability, can do Hatha!
Iyengar yoga is a form of Hatha yoga that focuses on alignment and precision during movement. Often straps, blankets and blocks are used to enable beginners and those with injuries to achieve the correct positioning without putting excess stress on muscles and joints. Benefits: Like all styles of yoga, Iyengar is a mind and body exercise. It promotes balance, builds muscle and can help with recovery after an injury. Who can do it? Iyengar yoga is a gradual yoga. By including props and allowing one to progress slowly from one move to the next, it’s great for just about anyone, especially those with less mobility after an injury.
Vinyasa yoga seeks to synchronize movement with breath. The key to Vinyasa is to flow smoothly from one movement to the next, which is why it is also frequently referred to as Vinyasa Flow. Benefits: Vinyasa gets you moving more than Hatha so there’s the added cardiovascular benefit. It also builds lean muscle, improves strength and flexibility, and tones abdominal muscles. Who can do it? It’s a bit more physically demanding and fast-paced than Hatha, but Vinyasa is still great for beginners and those looking to move from beginner to intermediate level.
Ashtanga yoga is a form of power yoga that is fast-paced and intense with lunges and push-ups. The six-move sequence flows rapidly from one strenuous pose to the next and is paired with Vinyasa-style breathing. Benefits: Like with any style of yoga, Ashtanga reduces stress and improves coordination and balance. It’s quite a workout too, which means the added benefit of potential weight loss and full-body toning. Who can do it? Ashtanga yoga is best for fit people who wish to maintain or increase their strength and stamina. It would be helpful to be familiar with the six basic poses in the Ashtanga sequence before jumping into an Ashtanga class.
Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, is practiced in a humid room with temperatures kept at 95 - 100 degrees. All Bikram sessions are 90 minutes and consist of the same 26 poses and two breathing exercises. Benefits: The heat of Bikram facilitates a deeper stretch, and increased perspiration helps flush and cleanse toxins from the body. It’s a gently intense workout with weight-loss possibilities. Who can do it? The heat might make it a bit of a stretch (no pun intended) for beginners but after you’ve gotten the hang of the heat and the poses, it’s a good yoga style for intermediates looking to push themselves to new levels.