Looking for a yoga class? Do you want Bikram? How 'bout Flow? Maybe a nice Jivamukti? ...Kundalini? Ashtanga? Furniture Yoga? Are you confused yet? You should be. The state of yoga today is both amazing (It's everywhere! Your mom loves it!) and terrible (Confusing! Spandex!). And every new-wave yogini has a random practice named something like “The Crystal Light Meditation,” which is only useful if you consider pink lemonade a form of exercise.
So we decided to sort that shit out, definitively. Below, the seven types of yoga you're most likely to meet at the gym/spa/commune, and what they're actually good for:
Aliases: Flow, Vinyasa, Power
Yoga isn't typically associated with teenage boys (although many of them do get excited around yoga pants), but Ashtanga was conceived specifically to “channel the hyperactivity' of the young male mind—which explains the fast, athletic sequences. It's rapid-fire, repetitive, and physically challenging, making it a favorite of workout junkies. Beginner? Look elsewhere.
Aliases: Hot, Sauna, Body Temp
Bikram's founder is now persona non grata in much of the yoga world, but doing your planks in a heated room is still very popular. The raised temps (100+ degrees Fahrenheit) make you more flexible and you'll sweat...profusely, which may or may not be “cleansing,” but definitely does get rid of water weight. Anyone with health concerns should approach with caution, and this type isn't for people who dread perspiring. If you do go this route, prepare to strip down to your skivvies—boy shorts and a sports bra—and have plenty of water on hand.
Aliases: Core, Technique, Furniture Yoga
This practice is also named for its creator, B.K.S. Iyengar, a significantly less controversial (and significantly more adorable) guru who's 95 and still practicing his asanas every day. Mr. Iyengar is the man we have to thank for yoga's global popularity, and his precise, form-focused technique is an excellent base for learning postures correctly. This is the one for patient people who like getting things right the first time and want strength without bulk.
Aliases: All Yoga, Original Yoga, The One Yoga To Rule Them All
Here's the thing: almost all the yoga we practice is Hatha—all the other types on this list are variations on this method's precepts, which were established in the 15th century. So if you see a Hatha class, it's probably straightforward and basics-oriented, good for people just starting out or those who dislike trendy, “themed' lessons.
Aliases: Holistic, Spiritual, Bhakti
Jivamukti is an Ashtanga offshoot that reincorporates traditional yogic elements like vegetarianism, activism, and reading (non-kama) sutras. “Hardcore” does not begin to describe these peoples’ commitment to social justice, or their love of pigeon pose. It’s more a lifestyle choice than a yoga class at this point, but if you’re itching for a total karmic makeover complete with Sanskrit lessons, here it is.
Aliases: Chakra, Laya, Pranic
Penetrating your seventh chakra, tantric postures, and alternate-nostril breathing (perfect for fans of the pass-out game!) sound like a good time? Give Kundalini a go. It’s intensely focused on meditation and breath instead of merely working out. Experienced practitioners who want some variety will probably enjoy this, but it is in no way gym-style mat work.
How do you feel about relaxing ? Sivananda is basically Ashtanga's polar opposite; it focuses on relieving tension, emphasizes full breathing, and generally leaves you refreshed and mindful. Also, it's a really great prelude to a nap.
Illustration by Lucy Han.