Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or Bikram: Which Yoga Class Is Right for You?

Updated 05/13/16
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Perhaps I'm biased since it's the one form of fitness I've ever unconditionally loved, but it always bums me out when people dismiss yoga for being "too easy." (Have you tried Bikram?) Or say that it isn't good cardio. (Let's revisit that after we go to the heart-pounding vinyasa class at my local studio—after the panting subsides.) One of the reasons that yoga and I have had such a consistent relationship is that there are so many options to choose from, depending on my mood or goals. The fact that it keeps my mind clear and my body strong is just a bonus.

I get bored really easily, hence why running and I are on the outs must of the time, and why I think that the cardio section of the gym is just one of the saddest places ever. I need to be distracted by the fact that I can barely breathe and my muscles are screaming "when!", and novelty is just the thing to do it. But I can get on board with the common backbone of all varieties of physical yoga (because what we know as "yoga" in the West is just a small facet of what it actually encompasses): physical and mental balance, mind-body connection, and focus on the present moment. Meanwhile, being able to select from a menu of physical varieties keeps it interesting.

Whether you're looking to shake up your existing practice or want to give yoga another try, peruse that selection yourself: Check out eight different kinds of yoga and how they might be a fit for you.

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Try it if you're new to yoga and want to get a feel for a basic flow. 

Hatha is basically an umbrella term for all kinds of physical yoga, the "trunk" of the tree if more specific styles like Bikram and vinyasa are the branches. That means you can get a pretty mixed bag when selecting a Hatha class, but they typically tend to be a very straightforward combination of poses along with breathing basics and aren't usually the most challenging option. (Though that's not to say you won't break a sweat!)

Try it if you want to make yoga your primary workout.

By cycling through different poses at a quick pace, vinyasa offers a nice cardio boost for a complete, full-body workout. (Linking your breath to your movement is also key.) Our advice? Find a class with a sick playlist.

Try it if: You're a creature of habit who doesn't mind a challenge.

Ashtanga is similar to vinyasa or power yoga in that it links breath to movement and cycles through different poses, but the difference is that it's composed of six specific pose sequences. You flow through them quickly and deliberately, only moving on to the next sequence after you're able to master the former—and they're no picnic. But Ashtanga is also rooted in ancient yogic tradition, giving you a kick-ass connection with the past. 

Try it if to you, no workout is complete unless you're dripping sweat.

Yoga practices are typically classified as "hot" when performed in a studio that's heated anywhere from 27 to 37 degrees. The high temps are thought to aid with flexibility, and by sweating so much, you'll flush out toxins and de-stress your mind. (Just bring lots of water and be prepared for a challenge.)

Try it if you want to really push your boundaries. (Boot camp fans, this is your jam.)

Bikram is a type of hot yoga with its own very specific set of rules: Classes are 90 minutes long and consist of a repetitive sequence of the same 26 poses, the studio is heated to 40 degrees, and discipline is the chief vibe. It is very tough, but it doesn't boast a cult following for nothing.  

Try it if you're detail-oriented, or if you've already established a yoga practice and are looking to improve on balance and posture.

A relatively recent offshoot of Hatha yoga (Iyengar was created in India in 1979), this practice has earned its nickname of "furniture yoga" for its extreme emphasis on alignment and sustained poses. You'll likely stick with fairly basic poses and focus on getting them just right, but don't take that to mean that this class isn't challenging—maintaining that precise form for an extended period of time will make your muscles quake.

Try it if you're interested in exploring the more spiritual side of yoga.

Based on the belief that we all hold a divine energy coiled at the bottom of our spine, Kundalini yoga seeks to release that energy through chanting, breath, and movement. If you find yourself deeply inspired by the mind-body connection that the physical practice of yoga fosters, you might consider giving Kundalini a try. 

Try it if you need to iron out some kinks during a rest day.

Restorative yoga is all about focusing on your breath in conjunction with gentle stretching, making it a great option if you're feeling sore, need to find some balance or just want to decompress from a long day at the office (or all of the above). Classes often emphasise staying in poses for a longer period of time, so that you can really sink deeply into your stretch and meditate.

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One style we didn't cover here: face yoga, aka tiny exercises that can help sculpt and contour your cheekbones.

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