The term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root word yuj, meaning “yoke,” “to join” or “to unite” (Basavaraddi 2015). Yoga unites the health of body and mind; it also unites people from all walks of life. Yoga is truly for everyone, from kids to seniors, from fitness enthusiasts to elite athletes. The benefits are well-known and can include improved focus, flexibility, strength, balance, posture, breath efficiency, blood flow, bone health and more. Yoga can also be invaluable in helping practitioners manage the pressures of today’s hectic lifestyles. Simply ask those who attend classes regularly, and they will tell you themselves: They feel less stressed, they enjoy the meditative benefits of yoga, and they generally feel good after a practice.
A would-be practitioner needs only a little curiosity and patience to find his or her right yoga class style to become a believer. Yet, despite yoga’s known benefits and ever-growing popularity, it can be daunting for many people, particularly since it can involve another language, bare feet and some practices that seem somewhat esoteric until fully understood.
What’s more, there are many styles of yoga—something for everyone! Faced with so many choices, a newcomer may feel overwhelmed and unsure about what to try. Seasoned practitioners may find that, in time, they experience a change in taste, ability and preference in class styles or instructors. The best advice? Learn enough about yoga so you can help your clients and members make educated choices when seeking a class to augment or supplement their workouts with you.
Here are the highlights of five popular types of yoga, what they entail, and what one can expect from each.
Hatha Yoga: Finding Alignment
Hatha yoga focuses on pose alignment, with a great deal of emphasis placed on refining the yoga postures. Class allows for time spent holding poses, often using yoga blocks, straps, blankets and other props. Participants can expect breath work and meditation.
GETTING STARTED. Hatha yoga classes are often “leveled” (e.g., level 1 and 2, or mixed level and advanced). A skilled hatha instructor will meet you where you are, offering modifications and amplifications to enhance your experience and learning. More advanced classes will offer various inversions (going upside down), deeper backbends and more complex poses. Before attending advanced classes, participants may be required to demonstrate proficiency.
CROSSOVER RELEVANCE. This style is a good choice for participants who want to focus on creating good alignment habits for their various workouts; for practitioners who want to refine their poses; or for those who have physical limitations or previous injuries that may make flowing styles too challenging.
Seasoned practitioners may find that, in time, they experience a change in taste, ability and preference in class styles or instructors.
Vinyasa Yoga: Flowing Movement
Vinyasa yoga is a flowing style of yoga that links breathing with changes in body position. Participants will likely practice sun salutations, creative pose sequences, backbends, arm balances, deeper stretches and more.
GETTING STARTED. Intensity varies widely among vinyasa classes, which range from gentle vinyasa and slow-flow classes to fast-paced demanding practices. It is recommended that new students speak to the teacher about his or her style or find a good fit by sampling a variety of flow classes.
CROSSOVER RELEVANCE. Vinyasa classes are often a great place for fitness enthusiasts to begin a practice, as these classes tend to have a lot of physical movement and can be quite engaging! Vinyasa yoga flows, when practiced with different planes of motion in mind, can be very functional in nature and will complement many fitness programs.
Kundalini Yoga: Elevating Mind, Body and Spirit
This style of yoga unites breath, movement, mantra and meditation to engage the mind, body and spirit. Classes typically consist of a series of postures taught in various time-honored sequences to produce specific, desired effects. Kundalini aims to help students deepen their awareness; stimulate the immune, glandular and nervous systems; balance the energetic system; and connect with their creative energies.
GETTING STARTED. Classes are welcoming to all levels of practitioners. People new to this practice may find it less “mainstream” than other yoga styles. Devoted practitioners often practice in all white and may even cover their heads. Chanting is a common practice in kundalini, as is repetition of movement in series called “kriyas.” Participants open to doing a deeper dive into the practice will ultimately see that there is a valuable “Why?” to every sequence.
CROSSOVER RELEVANCE. This style is a great omnidirectional wellness regimen. The requisite discipline and ultimate unification of mind, body and spirit can serve as a strong foundation for clients seeking sustainable wellness. Those looking for a community that offers a spiritual level of support may find this style appealing.
Yin Yoga: Slow and Steady
Yin yoga is a slow, deep yoga practice designed to stretch the body’s connective tissue and increase joint mobility. Its practitioners believe that energy—prana, or chi—accumulates in the joints and dense connective tissue of the body, particularly as we age. As the body becomes less viscous with age, bodies become stiffer and less mobile.
GETTING STARTED. A yin yoga class enables practitioners of all ages and levels of experience to access the benefits of a more vital body and more vibrant flow of energy. Typically, all levels are welcome; postures are practiced near the floor and held for longer than in other styles. The moves are great for recovery and for cultivating patience in quiet stillness.
CROSSOVER RELEVANCE. In this style, perhaps even more than in hatha or vinyasa yoga, the pacing lends itself particularly well to clients whose physicality makes other styles difficult to pursue safely.
Restorative Yoga: Relax, Renew
Using yoga blankets, bolsters and props (even chairs), restorative classes include a grounding blend of supported poses, breath work and relaxation techniques. The result: relief from tension and a restoration of mind and body, effects that are very much needed in today’s “always on” world, where people say they have no time for relaxation. Designed to bring the body into deep parasympathetic nervous system dominance (relax, renew, rest and digest), restorative yoga spaces are likely to be warm and inviting.
GETTING STARTED. Restorative classes are appropriate for all levels, and participants will often experience profound stress relief from a regular restorative practice. Initially, participants may notice their thoughts racing and find they are unable to quiet their minds. They may even feel restless or agitated. These are common occurrences as students train their bodies and minds to truly rest and recover.
CROSSOVER RELEVANCE. This is the elixir for a stressed-out client or participant. Like yin, this practice lends itself to all body types, fitness levels, ages and levels of experience. It can be of particular use for endurance or elite athletes who are seeking to avoid burnout, are rehabbing from an injury or are in recovery mode during the offseason.
Body of Evidence: Yoga Is Effective!
The tools of yoga can be successfully applied to personal training sessions and group fitness classes in a variety of ways. Namely, focused breath work will help to create respiratory efficiency and improved focus; mindfulness practices can teach a client to engage fully in a workout experience and therefore reap its maximum benefits; and body awareness, strength, flexibility and balance gains can transfer easily into the fitness space, creating more powerful workouts from start to finish.
For the skilled fitness professional, personal experience, whenever possible, is invaluable. This year, why not put yoga on your continuing education list? Try a variety of class styles in person, or explore yoga styles and classes online, if necessary. Becoming better-versed in this practice will enable you to add another layer to your already-solid professional foundation. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself transforming from an inexperienced dabbler to an enlightened devotee.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
Basavaraddi, I.V. 2015. Yoga: Its origin, history and development. Ministry of External Affairs: Government of India. Accessed Feb. 7, 2018: mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?25096/Yoga+Its+Origin+History+and+Development.
United States Census Bureau. 2016. QuickFacts: United States. Accessed Feb. 7, 2018: census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045216.
Walton, A.G. 2016. How yoga is spreading in the U.S. Forbes. Accessed Feb. 7, 2018: forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2016/03/15/how-yoga-is-spreading-in-the-u-s/#75e80061449f.
Yoga Alliance. 2016. Highlights from the 2016 Yoga in America Study. Accessed Feb. 7, 2018: yogaalliance.org/Learn/About_Yoga/2016_Yoga_in_America_Study/Highlights.