How to Choose the "Right" School of Yoga for You
If you are thinking of taking up a personal yoga practice, it can seem intimidating at first.
Any research into yoga studios in your area probably resulted in descriptions for Vinyasa, Hatha, Ashtanga, Hot yoga, Iyengar, Restorative, Yin, and my personal favorite – Kundalini. You may then ask yourself, which one should I choose?
When I first started getting into yoga, I was living and working in a remote Alaskan Yupik village so my yoga choice was whatever I could get on a Netflix DVD. This took some of the intimidation out of it as I was able to experiment with different forms in the safety of my office which taught me what I liked and didn’t like.
When I returned to Florida, I then immersed myself into an Iyengar yoga studio pretty much out of default. It was the closest studio to my house, and I was just too lazy to drive longer distances in Miami Beach traffic to get to a yoga class. I had never heard of Iyengar yoga but had enough Netflix DVD experience to go with whatever. Needless to say, I LOVED Iyengar yoga and my Miami Beach mentor, and still practice with him today via online classes. I am stronger and more flexible now in my 50s than ever before.
But wait, you teach Kundalini, you say?? Yes, I do. I will tell you why in a bit.
Meanwhile, I’m going to share what I learned and give you some key elements to think about so that you can make a more educated guess as to what “school” to start with.
Yoga Considerations For Your Body
I would say the first thing to consider is what is going on with your body. Do you have any injuries? Are you overweight and need to start slow until you drop a few pounds? What’s your flexibility like? Do you have any artificial parts and pieces?
If you are in your 20s, or maybe even 30s, are in good shape, somewhat flexible, and are looking for yoga for more cardio and physical fitness, Ashtanga or Vinyasa (often called “power yoga”) might be a good fit. These can be fast-moving classes where you are constantly shifting from one pose to another.
Bikram, or hot yoga, might also work for younger folks. But with hot yoga, you do need to keep in mind that the room temperature is indeed hot, and you sweat profusely. While this kind of yoga is great for detoxing and promoting flexibility, it can be very hard on the body. I found that it makes me very, very lightheaded, to the point where I feel like I am going to pass out. If your body wants to shut down and render you unconscious, that’s not a good thing.
If you have an older-ish body with some injuries, aren’t all that flexible, or are a bit overweight, Hatha, Kundalini, Restorative, Yin, or Iyengar yoga would probably be better suited to work with your physical limitations.
These are generally slower-paced classes that give you some space to make sure you are transitioning from one pose to another mindfully and with your body’s needs in mind.
One thing I love about Iyengar and Hatha yoga is there is a big focus on proper alignment. They use a lot of props that help people ease into poses, or help to meet them where they are physically. No sense in doing yoga if you aren’t doing the poses correctly. That just sets you up for more injuries and you don’t really receive the benefits of the pose. I had no idea how much my posturing was out-of-whack until I started practicing Iyengar yoga.
Kundalini focuses less on alignment but is a super accessible form of yoga for any body type. As a matter of fact, it’s not that difficult to modify a Kundalini class for someone that needs to sit in a chair.
Think you won’t get a good workout with Iyengar, Hatha, or Kundalini? Think again. Poses are typically held longer than in a flow class. Hold your arms straight out for 3 minutes. Tell me what starts to happen – besides your mind telling you how stupid you look testing this out 😬.
Restorative and Yin classes are very slow, gentle, and easy on the body. They are great for pregnancy, major physical injuries, jet lag, and hangovers… just sayin’.
Your Yoga Environmental Preference
You probably have several yoga studios near you. But you also might belong to a gym that offers yoga classes in tandem with Pilates, Zumba, and other cardio-type classes. So what’s the difference between the two?
First, a yoga studio is more specialized, typically focusing on one particular style. That doesn't mean that there won't be a variety of classes, but the studio owner usually places a greater emphasis on whatever style they were trained in.
A studio is generally warmer (“feeling” wise), more contained, and has a better ambiance. You get a more Zen-like vibe, and can often feel a sense of community as you get to know the other "regulars". The teachers usually pay more attention to their students, offering suggestions and adjustments, and making accommodations for physical injuries.
Gym yoga is less intimate and focused mostly on providing cardio exercise. Therefore, you will typically see a Vinyasa flow/power style class at gyms. Teachers typically do not suggest adjustments or modifications. Rather, the focus is just moving from position to position, keeping up with the group.
The unfortunate thing is that many beginners start with gym yoga because it’s already accessible to them. But without formal instruction, they are more prone to injuring themselves in certain positions.
Studio yoga can be more expensive than a gym membership, which is why many people just stick to the gym offerings. But at a studio, you get much more attention which is better for people with injuries or an aging body.
Consider What Results You Want To Get From Your Yoga Practice
Each form of yoga will give you something different. They all help to improve flexibility, decompress your nervous system thus relieving stress, and help you to strengthen and tone your body.
You will most likely get a good workout no matter what form of yoga you choose. However, classical yoga from Indian and Buddhist cultures is not practiced with the intent to get a good workout. (Americans can find a way to add “hustle” and “power” to anything…sigh.) Yoga is practiced in order to prepare for meditation.
So if you are looking at yoga for purely exercise purposes, to make your butt and abs look rock solid, then head on over to a Vinyasa, Bikram, or Ashtanga class. If you are looking to learn how to have proper alignment in your yoga poses, want a higher level refinement, or gradual experience with more advanced poses, check out a Hatha or Iyengar class. If you want a more relaxing class that isn’t laborious, head to Restorative or Yin. If you are looking for more of a spiritual practice along with some exercise, join me for Kundalini.
Why I Teach Kundalini
What makes Kundalini very different from the other schools of yoga is that it incorporates more meditation, breathwork, and mantras in classes. I call Kundalini the “holistic” form of yoga because it offers the most well-rounded practice than any other school of yoga, at least in my opinion.
People often think Kundalini is “weird” because the poses are a little bit different, we use various breath sequences to increase oxygen in the bloodstream, will do some chanting for cellular regeneration, and spend more time in meditation.
There is a greater emphasis on using yoga, not just for exercise, but to help connect us to our dharma (purpose), clear out subconscious blocks, and create a spiritual connection to the Universe/God/Mother Unicorn (whatever you call your higher power). Until you attend a few classes and understand WHY we are doing what we are doing, it can indeed, seem and feel a bit weird.
Plus, Kundalini is very popular with the Sikh faith so you see a lot of people in YouTube videos wearing all white and turbans on their heads. Unfortunately, some people see this and think it applies to ALL people in the Kundalini yoga sphere. But that's like saying all Catholics practice Hatha yoga. It just isn't accurate.
While I am a huge fan of Iyengar yoga because it really helped me refine my poses and step into more advanced asana such as headstands and handstands that I never thought I would be able to do, Kundalini aligns more with my work in the world. As a psychotherapist, I appreciate the attention to teaching students how to use the breath to activate their parasympathetic nervous system, how to work through stagnant emotions, and how to curb addictions.
In my own experience, I've found that Kundalini decompresses my nervous system a lot quicker than other forms of yoga which is of great support to my very busy mind and anxious tendencies.
After reading this post I’m sure you’ll have a much better grasp of what school of yoga might work best for you.
If you would like to check out a Kundalini class with me, head on over to my yoga information page. I teach in-person and virtually, so if you are not local to Annapolis, you can still join me from the comfort of your own home.
Ready for more?
Are you ready to deepen your relationship with your mind, body, and soul? Then come check out my membership program for those looking to yoga as a spiritual practice, not just for the sake of exercise. SOUL-UTIONS