According to a recent survey, close to 40 million Americans practice yoga every year.
And that number is growing fast!
Yoga is extremely popular and it’s easy to see why. The health benefits are numerous, proven, and appealing to a wide range of people.
One of the best things about yoga is that it’s so versatile. There are so many different ways to practice and so many different types of yoga classes.
You can really make it your own and use yoga to achieve anything you want, depending on your personality and fitness goals.
If you’re just starting out, it helps to understand the different yoga styles and which ones might apply to you.
- Yoga for stress and anxiety relief
- Yoga for strength and muscle
- Yoga for flexibility and mobility
- Yoga for fun and community
- Yoga for weight loss
- Yoga for older folks and rehab
Your own personal yoga style will influence how you practice and which classes you take.
So if you’re not sure which one is right for you (and you can choose several!), let’s take a closer look with the help of some real yoga teachers.
To clear your mind, destress & deal with grief or trauma
A lot of workouts are great for boosting your mood and reducing stress.
But yoga just might be the best of them all.
Not only will you exhaust your body and release endorphins that put you in a better mood, yoga has been shown to reduce the presence of the stress hormone cortisol, according to Healthline.
In fact, yoga has actually been shown to be an effective treatment for stress and anxiety disorders. It can even help improve symptoms of trauma and PTSD, depression, and more.
So if you’re looking to get started working out primarily for the mental health benefits, yoga is a great choice.
But not all yoga workouts are created equal when it comes to stress and anxiety relief.
If this is your yoga style, try taking a Hatha or Vinyasa class at your local studio.
Hatha classes will be physically challenging, but not overly fast-paced. You’ll work on mindfulness, breathing, and static poses — which are excellent for calming the mind and spirit.
Vinyasa, or flow yoga, is similar but ups the pace a bit and will be more physically exhausting.
Yoga teacher Christina Maldia says both of these styles are great for people dealing with trauma, grief, and stress :
“People that have overcome certain underlying conditions (ie cancer), loss of a loved one, disease (ie HIV), etc will often come to my Vinyasa and Hatha yoga classes. Yoga helps calm their minds and relieve stress.”
To get strong and build a toned body
People don’t necessarily think of yoga as a great muscle-building workout, but it can be!
When you get down to it, yoga isn’t all that different than calisthenics — or strength training using your own bodyweight instead of free weights.
The key is to choose the right style of yoga. You’ll need to quickly move beyond down dogs and deep stretching if you want to get that lean, toned, and most importantly, strong body.
Push yourself to master extremely challenging and advanced poses over time, and the strength will come.
Your best bet for strength-style yoga workouts is power yoga. Look for classes like Ashtanga and Vinyasa for the best results.
Both are “flow” practices, where you quickly string different poses together in rhythm with measured breathing. The pace is fast and the poses get more and more challenging as you go along.
Ashtanga has more consistency from class to class than Vinyasa. Vinyasa classes will vary more depending on the instructor and class level.
You can also work toward some muscle-building yoga poses at-home separate from structured practices in a studio like:
- planks & side planks
- crow pose
To promote flexibility and mobility, or help your body recover from other workouts
Yoga is likely the best form of workout to increase your flexibility and balance.
It can also be extremely restorative, which makes it a great addition to other workouts like lifting weights, CrossFit, running, and more.
You can utilize yoga on your off days to recover and get even better results.
But the key is choosing the right style of yoga and taking the right classes.
A tough power yoga workout can burn calories and build strength, but it might leave you a little sore and beat up if you’re hoping to lift weights the next day.
For greater flexibility, mobility, balance, and workout recovery, try restorative classes like Yin and Hatha.
Yin yoga focuses on long holds that stretch your body’s connective tissue. In turn, these muscle fibers will strengthen and lengthen over time.
You’ll feel better, be more flexible, and can even experience strength gains from regular Yin yoga classes.
Yoga teacher Amanda Webster also recommends DDP (a specialty form of yoga created by former professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Page) and Iyengar:
“I have seen amazing results from people of all levels and body types during my time as a DDP Yoga instructor,” she says. “It offers a lot of options and modifications to meet you where you are with flexibility, mobility and balance.”
“Iyengar is a great slower paced and less fitness oriented option because it focuses on proper alignment and long holds with the gratuitous use of props.”
To make your workouts as fun as possible
Yoga is often meditative and encourages you to reflect inwards.
Much of practice will be done in silence or to soft music. You’re encouraged to master your breath, clear your mind, and enter a flow state.
But it doesn’t always have to be so serious!
If you’re interested in the health benefits of yoga, but are looking to keep your workouts fun and engaging, there are tons of unique yoga classes you can try.
Look for a studio near you that offers a lot of variety. Theme nights (80s, 90s, hip hop, etc.) are fun, and if possible, see if your local studio offers:
- Dance yoga
- Aerial yoga
- Paddleboard yoga
- Naked yoga (!)
- Animal yoga
- Broga (yoga and beers!)
Yoga studios have some of the best and most welcoming communities of any type of fitness class around.
There’s no reason you can’t try a bunch of different practices and have some fun while you workout.
Amanda Webster says:
“If you’re just wanting to have some fun and try something crazy (I get this streak often!) or you want something even the kiddos can join in on, then give Goat Yoga a try!”
To burn maximum calories and lose weight
Yoga is a great workout for beginners because it’s approachable and low-impact.
But it’s also a fantastic way to shed a few pounds if you’re looking to trim down.
Almost any style of yoga can be a great tool for weight loss, provided you’re eating properly when not in the studio. But for the best and fastest results you’ll want to choose classes with a high calorie burn rate.
Vinyasa and other power style yoga classes will scorch calories at nearly 600 per 1 hour class — you’ll have a hard time beating that with any other workout style!
Hot yoga classes like Bikram are also a good choice. They’ll burn slightly less calories, but you’ll sweat like crazy and drop excess water quickly.
Both will improve your conditioning, strength, and mobility in addition to burning calories.
There’s also some evidence that yoga encourages you to make better food choices. Remember that your diet is more than half the battle when it comes to fat loss.
To stay fit as an older adult or while rehabbing an injury
Yoga can be fast-paced and intense, but it’s also a great choice for anyone that needs a slow and more gentle workout.
It’s notoriously low-impact, easy on the bones and joints, and great for older adults or anyone rehabbing an injury.
For seniors, regular yoga practice can help improve balance and promote stronger bones — both are critical to staying healthy as you age.
Similarly, yoga is often recommended for anyone dealing with nagging injuries or chronic pain. It improves range of motion in your joints and gently elongates muscles, which can alleviate strains, pulls, and tears when done properly with supervision.
If this sounds like you, you’ll want to start with a slow and gentle yoga class that doesn’t put too much stress on your body.
Try chair yoga if you’re a senior or looking to alleviate pain. It’s extremely safe and gentle, but still has plenty of health benefits.
Maldia says, “My chair yoga class consists of people with healing injuries or are interested in a class with slower pacing. They are usually ages 70 and up. They want to move to enjoy feeling good in their body. Chair yoga also helps increase their mobility.”
You don’t have to pick just one yoga style.
Some people prefer to use yoga as a form of strength training. Others use it to clear their mind and destress.
But you can utilize yoga however you want! Take a mixture of classes to develop well-rounded physical and mental fitness, or just to have fun and stay active.
If you’re drawn to yoga but you’re not sure what your style or goals are just yet, start with some yoga basics or beginner classes and start to learn about your favorite poses.
Chat with the instructors and they can help guide you toward the right type of yoga for you.
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Hope this helps!