by Katherine Oakes
So you wanna do yoga, huh? The number one question that always gets asked is where should I start if I’ve never taken class before? I should mention that this is tied for first place with the question “how do you get your leg/arm/foot around your neck/between your toes/on your head like I saw on Facebook?” but I think the first question is the most important for now.
Before you begin searching for a studio and a class there are a few things to consider:
a) do you have an injury or health condition?
b) do you want a fast-paced class? rigorous? athletic? gentle? slow? restorative? heated?
c) what is your budget?
Let’s start with injuries and health conditions. Many people with aches, pains, and existing or healing injuries will come to yoga looking for relief. However, as a beginner you run the risk of aggravating or re-injuring your body simply because your practice is new. My first suggestion is not to avoid yoga but first seek out a studio that offers a therapeutic class or a beginner series. Therapeutic classes are designed especially for those who would have trouble going through the motions in a regularly paced class and cater specifically to people whose bodies need more attention, but remember every studio has different names for their classes so keep your third-eye peeled! *chuckle*. If therapeutics doesn’t interest you, start with a beginner class! Take the time to get to know your body. To reacquaint yourself with your aches and pains and give them a better language, instead of “I have a bad shoulder or bad ______” say “I modify vasistashana (side plank pose) by putting my top foot out in front of me because too much weight on my shoulder is painful” and start from there. This way the road to recovery and to other classes is a safe and responsible one.
There is a lot of yoga out there. No, really. I mean A LOT. However, fads and trends aside, there are several methods that have been popularized and around for a while. These are what you are most likely to find in studios, although a lot of times many offer a variation of classes:
Hot Power Vinyasa/Hot Yoga: The most popular of them all is hot yoga and hot power vinyasa. The premise of vinyasa is to link movement with breath. Most vinyasa classes are fast-paced, are physically challenging, and as of late, done in a heated room (95-105) with humidity.
Take vinyasa if you enjoy a challenge, if you are a dancer (many enjoy the choreagraphed sequences), and if you want variety. Every vinyasa instructor has their own style.
Tread carefully in hot power yoga if you have heart or other health conditions like high or low blood pressure or serious injuries. Consider non-heated classes. See Brenda’s article on how to be safe in hot yoga here!
Bikram Yoga: Founded by Bikram Choudhury this 26 posture series is done in an extremely hot room (105 degrees) and has a very regimented dialogue with a militant-esque style. The postures are not done in a flowy sequence and each are held twice, the second time being longer and more intense. The class is always 90 minutes long. If you ever see a class called “hot 26” it is Bikram inspired.
Ashtanga Yoga: This is a very athletic and physically challenging practice. Originally, Ashtanga was created thousands of years ago to interest young boys who were gymnasts in India. I know most of you aren’t young Indian boy gymnasts but if you are feeling up to the challenge and enjoy a more regimented practice with precise sequences and levels of difficulty Ashtanga is a great class to build strength. Also, it is not heated.
Anusara Yoga: Anusara is now most commonly referred to as alignment-based yoga meaning that the class focuses primarily on anatomical structure in every pose. This practice can be more gentle, is slower-paced and done in no particular order. It is not heated. Anusara is wonderful for people with injuries or health conditions because of their alignment based principles.
Iyengar Yoga: Similar to Anusara in terms of its focus on alignment and structure Iyengar yoga was popularized by BKS Iyengar for its extreme focus on detail in postures. Props like blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters are frequently used to help structural alignment. This practice is also very good for injuries, health conditions, and beneficial for older practicioners. It can is slower-paced, can be gentls, has a particular sequence and is not heated.
Kundalini Yoga: Kundalini yoga is a very spiritual and at times physically intense practice. Classes focus on mantras, on deep meditation, and the concept of rising energy from the base of the spine up through the seven chakras (energy vortexes) in the body. It is not done in a heated room.
Hatha Yoga: Hatha now has come to be an overarching term for yoga postures without any particular method in mind. If you see a studio offering hatha classes you will be sure to get a variety of classic asanas (poses). It is typically unheated and can be great for injuries or health conditions because of its non-specific nature.
Finally, budget. When you are first starting and have chosen your studio ask for an introductory rate. Sometimes the first class is free, other times new students are offered a discount. Or you can pay for a “drop-in class”.
If you do have the means you can always contact an instructor for a private lesson.
If money is still an issue, www.yogaglo.com is a fantastic online resource with plenty of classes, including: Yoga for Beginners! for a very inexpensive monthly fee (but psst, it comes with a free trial!).
Always be safe. Be authentic. Do what feels right for you. Be respectful of yourself as a beginner and take beginner’s classes to build up a strong foundation for the rest of your practice later on. So that, at the end of your first class as you are rolling up your mat you can say “Nahhh-I’m-a-stay”. Namaste;)
Katherine Oakes is a writer and yoga instructor based in the Greater New York City Area. She currently manages, edits, and writes for the blog (Sense)story Perception in addition to other freelance work. She teaches at One Love Hot Yoga in Bergen County, NJ, Soul In Motion Yoga in Cliffside Park, NJ, and Garden State Yoga in Bloomfield & Glen Rock, NJ. She is an avid traveler, singer, dog lover, and Taco Tuesday Fanatic. Learn more about Katherine at http://about.me/