If this is your first foray into yoga, Hatha is the perfect introduction. Hatha, meaning willful or forceful, is usually the umbrella under which most forms of yoga commonly practiced in the West are categorized. However, a Hatha class in particular typically refers to a calmer form of the practice, characterized by a series of poses performed in a slower rhythm and a real focus on synchronizing breath with movement.
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Think of Ashtanga as the Barry's Bootcamp of yoga, without the verbal abuse.
A modern-day adaptation of classical Indian yoga, originally created in Mysore to help focus the minds of teenage boys, Ashtanga is ideal if you're a sucker for discipline and looking for a high cardio workout that you can gradually perfect (traditionally, students are encouraged to practice 6 days a week). During a typical class, you will move through established sequences of standing and floor poses, each pose available in different variations of difficulty that you can work up to as your practice improves. As with all forms of yoga, Ashtanga emphasizes the synchronization of breath with movement, but this style is definitely a more athletic practice that moves through poses at a vigorous pace, interspersed with many a 'chaturanga' or yogic push-up to build up your stamina and strength. If it's good enough for Madonna, it's good enough for you!
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Derived from Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa (meaning the coordination of body movement with breath) is a popular form of yoga, sometimes also known as flow yoga. Here, each position (or 'asana') is also linked to the next in a progression, however conversely to Ashtanga, this progression is not predetermined. This makes Vinyasa an excellent practice for those who like variety in their workout, as the 84 asanas can be combined in an infinite number of combinations - no two classes will follow the exact same sequence. Vinyasa is a great way to develop an active practice while still learning the fundamentals of posture and breathing. For those looking to recreate those Instagram-worthy headstand pics, Vinyasa classes often give you the chance to discover arm balances and inversions, which in turn are good for draining the lymphatic system and even better as a party trick.
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Get ready to sweat in places you didn't know could sweat. Created by Bikram Choudhury himself in the early 70s, this eponymous system of yoga is very recent, contrary to popular belief. Each 90-minute class will take you through the same 26 poses in a predetermined order, in a room heated to 40 degrees with 40% humidity (think of a spirited stretch in a sauna and you're not far off - semi-nude strangers included). If you associate a good workout with buckets of sweat, Bikram is the class for you, and while there is not a proven correlation between increased sweating and increased calorie burning, you burn roughly 400 calories per class, all the while stretching, strengthening and flushing toxins out through perspiration. Make sure you stay well hydrated before, during and after class to avoid dizziness or nausea.
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Not to be confused with Bikram, Hot yoga refers to any style of yoga practiced in hot conditions, usually a room heated to 40 degrees. The heat allows the muscles to relax, which makes your body ready for a deeper stretch and takes you deeper into the poses with less chance of injury. Again, this is a class for those who like the satisfaction of a sweaty workout and will definitely get your heart rate going. Perhaps the greatest challenge here is keeping your sweaty hands from sliding around the mat!
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If the thought alone of 'om'-ing sends you into a fit of giggles, this may not be the class for you. Also known as the 'yoga of awareness', Kundalini yoga is an exercise with a side of spiritual enlightenment. Meaning 'coiled snake' in Sanskrit, this practice works from the basis that every person is born with a 'serpent' of energy that is coiled in their root chakra at the base of the spine. Kundalini yoga seeks to awaken this energy, using breathing techniques to create pressure points in the body that release and redirect it through the chakras to the crown of the head. The end goal: higher awareness and enlightenment (who couldn’t do with more of that?). In addition to postures and breathing exercises, a typical class also includes chanting and meditation, so while this form of yoga is a little bit more intense, it's great for boosting energy and clarity of mind.
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Cirque du Soleil meets yoga: because everyone looks good when they're hanging upside down. If Aerial yoga conjures up images of swinging from a trapeze, however, fear not. Practiced a little closer to earth, this newer type of yoga involves moving through positions with the support of a fabric hammock suspended about 3 feet from the ceiling. This style of yoga is a lot of fun and great for all levels: beginners can move through poses with support (especially handy for attempting inversions) while more advanced practitioners can safely explore their practice further. If you enjoy yoga in general, this is definitely worth a try and also a great way of releasing tension in parts of the body and alleviating compression of the spine. Be that as it may, take the word 'hammock' lightly: margaritas most definitely not included.
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The 'yin' to the more active 'yang' forms of yoga listed above, yin yoga is perfect for stressed out yogis looking for a meditative class that will stretch you out and improve your flexibility. Introduced to the Western world by martial arts champion Paulie Zink in the 70s, Yin yoga focuses on stretching out the connective tissues and ligaments of the body rather than the muscles: practitioners are invited to get into long-held floor poses (1-10 minutes each), to really open up the body. As indicated by the name, Yin completes yang, so yin classes are the perfect way to complement a more active practice, although Yin is an ultimate test of patience so quite the challenge for the restless.
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We raised our eyebrows at this one (see what we did there?!), but that's exactly what face yoga encourages! Face yoga promises to relax and tone the facial muscles in the same way that regular yoga practices do the body, helping to prevent and even counter fine lines and sagging. So far, the magical effects of face yoga haven't been proven, but there's no harm in pulling a few silly faces in the privacy of your home...right?
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Which one is your favorite? Feel free to share your thoughts ans stories in the comments below:)