1. Understand your own personal goals and motives for wanting to try yoga.
While most practitioners come to yoga with the goal of de-stressing and relaxing, that is not the case for everyone. Today, yoga is being recognized for its amazing and powerful healing benefits. It seems as though there is not one condition that the practice of yoga cannot at least alleviate in some way. But because of this, before you choose a yoga class, you should sit down and really think about what it is you would like to achieve with yoga. Are you recovering from an injury or fighting a disease? Are you interested in meditation, spirituality, or Yogic philosophy? Or are you just interested in adding another type of workout to your fitness regimen? Maybe it’s a combination of all three. Whatever your reasoning, keep it in mind because it will be important when determining what type of yoga may be best for you.
2. Choose your preferred yoga style.
With so many yoga class options out there today, one could go insane trying to decide which ones to try! Though the postures in each style are all essentially the same, the sequence, speed, and temperature of each style varies.
Here is a basic rundown of the different styles of yoga:
Hatha Yoga: Hatha yoga is a slower, more meditative type of yoga that focuses on moving the breath and building heat and prana (life force energy) in the body by holding the poses for several beats before moving. This class is best for someone who is looking to quiet the mind and get more meditative in their practice.
Vinyasa Yoga: Vinyasa yoga focuses on dynamic movement and flow sequences. The poses are not held for very long at all; in fact, the classes usually move pretty quickly and you will definitely feel an increase in your heart rate. Vinyasa yoga is best for people who are really looking to get a workout in their yoga class. Typically, runners, HIIT trainers, and other high intensity exercisers can be found in a vinyasa class.
Ashtanga Yoga: Ashtanga yoga consists of six series of yoga poses that are performed in the same order in every class. Each pose is specifically sequenced to build heat in the body.
Bikram Yoga: Bikram yoga is a type of yoga which focuses on the same 26 postures in every class, similar to Ashtanga yoga. The postures are practiced in a room that is heated to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity in an effort to clear toxins from the body. This type of yoga can get pretty intense and it’s pretty common for first time practitioners to become dizzy during the class, so remember to stay hydrated and to take breaks when you feel like you need to. It’s best to practice this type of yoga if you don’t mind extreme temperatures, and if you are new to yoga because the classes are open level and easy to follow given that it is the same sequence every time.
Yin Yoga: Yin yoga is an extremely slow, extremely gentle type of yoga. Each pose is held for a few minutes and uses props to fully support the body so that you can release into the pose without tension. Yin yoga promotes lengthening, elasticity and stretching of the muscles. This class is best for people who may be stiff and need to stretch out all the muscles.
Restorative Yoga: This type of yoga is essentially like taking a nap, but its benefits are so wonderful. In each pose, the body is fully supported by blocks, blankets, and bolsters to encourage complete relaxation of the physical and mental aspects of your being. You’ll hold each pose for a long while as the nervous system relaxes completely. This type of yoga is best for everyone!
Iyengar Yoga: In this type of yoga, alignment, precision, and detail are the focus. You’ll use a lot of props and hold the poses for a longer period of time. This class is best for people who are very detail-oriented and who may be fascinated with human anatomy and movement. It is also very beneficial for people who may be recovering from injuries (though, as always, it is important to check with a physician before beginning any type of exercise regiment).
Kundalini Yoga: The goal of Kundalini yoga is to release the Kundalini energy, which is the energy coiled at the base of our spines. Once that energy is released, it is said that the practitioner can reach a higher level of self-consciousness, perhaps bringing him/her in closer contact with the divine. In a Kundalini class, there is more chanting, kriyas (a series of postures, breath, and sound), and meditation. This type of yoga is best for those who are looking to learn more about or increase their own spiritual practice.
Chair Yoga: Chair yoga is a system which adapts the postures to a chair for people who have mobility issues, are wheelchair bound, or simply have a hard time getting down on the floor.
3. Determine Your Ability Level
Beginner: Being a beginner at yoga simply means that you have never practiced, or are very new to practicing. You might not know the postures by name and will still probably need help with alignment in class. If you are a beginner, you may want to stick with beginner (or level 1) classes.
Intermediate: As an intermediate student, you have a working knowledge of yoga. You recognize some of the postures by name and are familiar with alignment and modifications. You may be working on nailing your inversions and arm balances at this stage. If you are intermediate, you may still find comfort in going back to a level 1 class every now and again, but for the most part, you may be practicing in a level 2 class.
Advanced: As an advanced yogi, you are very familiar with yoga and have a solid foundational practice. You can flow through a class easily just by listening to the instructor and you feel secure when going up into your headstand or forearm stand. Advanced practitioners would do best in a level 3 class.
Of course, all types of practitioners may also attend an open level class.
4. Find a local studio that aligns with your goals/ideas & budget
Most towns have at least one place to practice yoga now-a-days, but in the big city or places where there are many options, how do you determine which studio is the right studio? Well, as a fair warning, you may need to start by trying a few different classes in different locations and at different times before you find the right one for you; you can try a spiritual yoga studio, a gym, or a community center. Each place has a different vibe and different benefits, so it’s important to keep your goals in mind as you search for the place that you can best achieve them.
A few things to keep in mind when looking for a new studio are: 1- the class times. Don’t let a packed out class deter you from practicing. Most studios/yoga facilities get packed in the hours after work (6:00PM-7:30PM). If that’s not appealing to you, you can try a morning or mid-afternoon class; 2- equipment. If you don’t own any yoga equipment, you may want to find a facility that does. Most yoga studios and gyms have yoga mats available to rent for $2 or $3; they will usually also supply blocks, bolsters, and any other props you may need. However, some of them do not offer equipment, and as a practitioner, you must decide if you are willing to invest in it.
5. Find an instructor
Next, and perhaps the most important part of choosing a yoga class is finding the right instructor for you. You may want to be aware of their teaching style: are they mostly verbal or do they do a lot of hands-on adjusting? Which one do you feel more comfortable with? If you’re going to a studio, keep trying all of the different instructors. If your budget allows, try private and group glasses; private classes have a much different dynamic than group. An instructor you might not enjoy as a group teacher may have much more to offer you as a private client.
Though each instructor is amazing in their own right, there are a few things they should never do. For instance, a teacher should never be too pushy. You are aware of your own body and its limits, and it is not another person’s right to push you past that. If you find an instructor is being too pushy, stand your ground. If you feel very uncomfortable, you may totally leave early. They should, however, make you feel safe and supported. They should offer different variations and/or modifications for each pose to make it accessible for all students in the class, and they should make you feel welcome by encouraging you to do your best and follow along.
Remember, when choosing a class, the most important thing is that you learn a lot, and that you start working towards the goals you had originally set for yourself. The beautiful thing about group teaching is that in a class of 30 people, there can be 30 different outcomes. Everyone is different, and yoga really is an individualized practice, so it’s important to put your needs ahead of anyone else’s.