Hundreds of variations and hybrids of yoga have found their way into studios and gyms around the world. As a beginning or even seasoned practitioner, how do you know if the option you’ve chosen is best for you? Our fun and revealing guide can help you pick the right class.
I had dismissed yoga as too gentle in my early twenties, based on a seniors class I attended with my grandmother. But by the time I graduated from college, my mom had convinced me to try vinyasa. I loved it. Then, 18 months later, the studio that had drawn me in closed. I had to find another teacher, and at the same time, I felt the urge to deepen my understanding of yoga. I began to take as many different classes as I could. Some were vigorous, while others were slow and methodical; some presented tidbits of philosophy, while others had spiritual elements; and some were playful and friendly, while others were stern and serious.
How to Find Your Yoga Style
Eventually I found Anusara. I reveled in its emphasis on alignment, athleticism, and Tantric philosophy and ended up teaching Anusara-inspired yoga. But in 2012, the Anusara community fell apart because of scandal. At the time, I was working on a book that researched different styles of Hatha Yoga, the practice of asana or poses. I wanted to help people find a style they thrived in just as I had in Anusara, and now I needed a little guidance, too. I interviewed dozens of leading teachers, took more than a hundred classes, read manuals and books, and watched DVDs. I had fun incorporating into my classes the new things I’d learned, and I continue to do so. But if you don’t have the time and inclination for this kind of exploration, the logical question is, where to start? Perhaps what I’ve discovered can help.
Step 1: Consider why you practice
First, consider your reasons for practicing: Are you looking for a sweaty workout, or are you attracted to yoga’s more restorative benefits? Are you searching for a spiritual experience, or relief from back pain?
Step 2: Be honest about your personal needs
Next, consider your preferences and needs: Do you want personalized attention or are you motivated by a community vibe? Do you like to be pushed or do you need a more compassionate approach? And then be honest with yourself about possible physical, financial, and time limitations.
Step 3: Shop around for your yoga style
The truth is, you may not even know what you’re looking for until you start trying on styles, but you’ll know when you’ve found the yoga that’s right for you. Be mindful of how your body feels during and after class: The pace and level of practice should feel challenging but not overtaxing, and you should feel more relaxed, open, and grounded in your body after class, not more stressed and disconnected. Pay attention to the emotional and mental shifts that take place throughout class, too. Notice what inspires you, or whether you’ve checked out and lost interest. The best indicator of a good fit: You’ll want to take the class again.
Why Finding Your Yoga Style Is Essential
“It’s important for a student to find yoga that she resonates with,” says Tim Miller, director of the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, California. “Do whatever it is that makes you want to do yoga.” Know that there’s no right or wrong, superior or inferior style. And remember that asana practice (Hatha Yoga) is just one of six branches of yoga outlined in sacred texts. If a physical practice feels limiting, explore one of the other five branches: meditation (Raja Yoga), the yoga of service (Karma Yoga), or the yoga of devotion (Bhakti Yoga), the mind (Jnana Yoga), or ritual (Tantra Yoga). If you are sticking with Hatha, all forms of the practice have three things in common: breath, poses, and the opportunity to be present. Conscious, diaphragmatic breathing performed through the nostrils is the cornerstone of most yogic practices. There’s a set of basic postures found across many styles (although how they are taught can vary widely). And, the lynchpin: All asana classes demand your presence on the mat while you cultivate a stronger mind-body connection.
“There are many schools and traditions and lineages of yoga philosophy,” says Noah Mazé, a student of senior Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Tantric teachers, and creator of Noah Mazé Yoga in Los Angeles. “There’s going to be commonality to all of them, and there are going to be many real differences, too.” So don’t feel bad if your newfound beloved yoga style suddenly no longer feels right—your needs can change from week to week, month to month, and year to year.
You Know You’re In the Right Yoga Class When...
Finding the yoga practice that works for you has as much to do with the individual teacher as it does the style he or she teaches. Next time you go to class, tune in to your inner voice and see if you notice and feel these key elements of a well-taught class:
- You feel safe and supported. Class warms up at an appropriate pace, and the teacher has clear command of the room, acknowledging new students.
- You can hear and understand the teacher’s instructions.
- The teacher customizes his or her teachings to the ability and skill level of the students present, despite the class description or level.
- The teacher respects and honors your physical limitations, but can also help you move outside your comfort zone in a safe, beneficial way.
- The teacher addresses everyone, from the most adept practitioner to the total newbie.
- You can approach the teacher, and are able to ask questions and share concerns during or after class. (You should never feel intimidated by a yoga teacher.)
- You feel inspired, either during or after class—or, better yet, both!
What's Your Style? Take Our Quiz!
Whether you are seeking, or just curious about your compatibility with your current favorite yoga, this quiz can offer guidance to find the right yoga for you. Take our yoga style quiz now.
Explore until you find a practice that resonates for you right now, and don’t forget to stay open-minded: You may find that your journey soon takes you to another style, or even branch, of yoga!
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Meagan McCrary is the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga and is a 500-hour E-RYT, having studied with Martin and Jordan Kirk, Noah Mazé, and Desirée Rumbaugh. When she is not writing or teaching yoga in her hometown of Los Angeles, she is leading international yoga retreats.