The number of people taking yoga classes has almost quadrupled from 2001; 4.3 million Americans to about 16.5. This growing popularity surge in yoga has taken place in part for its reputation for being a stress reliever, as well as the fact that it is an effective type of exercise.
"Virtually any type of yoga improves strength, flexibility and balance,” explains John P. Porcari, PhD, director of the clinical exercise physiology program at the University of Wisconsin. "The more intense yoga styles can also help you shape up and trim down."
Are you confused by all the yoga options? Here's a guide that can get you going in the right direction and help you choose the type of class most suited to your goals and fitness level:
If you are just BEGINNING or want the best mind/body combo, try HATHA. Poses are straightforward and the pace is unhurried. Props like blocks and bolsters are often used to help you get the right body alignment. Hatha also works on breathing, relaxation and meditation.
If you want to GET SLIM, try ASHTANGA or POWER YOGA. These two provide all the regular benefits of yoga with the fat blasting bonus of a killer cardio session. Both styles focus on flowing from one pose to the next without rest, making for an exceptional calorie burn! "The practice is meant to generate heat in your body," says Mandy Ingber, the yoga instructor behind Jennifer Anniston's amazing body. So, yes, you will sweat a lot. In Ashtanga, the more traditional of the two, you'll begin with chanting, and follow with a sequence of poses ("asanas").
In a Power yoga class, the poses vary each time and spiritual component is not present.
If you want to CHILL OUT, try YIN YOGA. Named for the calm half of yin-and-yang, this style requires you to move slowly into poses (most of them seated or lying down), then stay there for 5 minutes to allow for a deeper stretch and time to just decompress and just be. Yin yoga is particularly good at activating the part of the nervous system that helps you bounce back from pain and stress, says Sara Gottfried, MD. This style places emphasis on breathing as well as those centers of spiritual energy know as chakras.
If you're PRONE TO ACHES, try IYENGAR. The poses in Iyengar are traditional but the difference is in how the poses are done. Iyengar instructors are trained in biomechanics and understand which positions are most likely to cause injuries and how to modify them by tweaking your form and showing you how to use props to make them less intense. A pause between poses (as opposed to flowing from one to the other) allows you to perfect your position so you're less likely to strain something. Iyengar may even help you recover from an injury. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that a similar style of yoga, Viniyoga, worked wonders on chronic low back pain in just 12 weeks.
In BIKRAM, aka HOT YOGA, you practice in a steamy 105 degree room. Needless to say, it isn't for everyone. "The heat and postures (which are the same each time) build strength and get you into a deeper stretch, says instructor Mandy Ingber. This is a good thing if you're looking to blast calories and get limber, but uncomfortable if you're heat averse, and downright dangerous if you're pregnant or have heart issues.
The one essential to have when performing yoga is to have your own mat to avoid picking up germs from shared ones. Look for a mat with a surface that grips, so you don't go sliding into splits every time you strike a pose. If you have knee issues, buy a mat that's 1/4 inch thick instead of the standard 1/8 inch.
The different yoga styles outlined should be helpful in selecting the right class for you. The truth is that you can find a great instructor and class in a church basement and a questionable one in a fancy yoga studio. Just keep in mind this rule of thumb: Your teacher should be properly trained with at least 200 hour certification from Yoga Alliance, the main education organization in the U.S.
A look at some of the most common mistakes made in yoga. - Susan Arruda of the GetFitFaster.ca Fitness Motivation Network, led by Zuzana S. - Watch the video by clicking here.
Source: By Holly Pevzner, Leslie Barrie, Rozalynn S. Frazier