When I took my first yoga class, I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought yoga meant slow, deep stretches and lots of breathing. I didn’t expect to be sweating profusely and moving so quickly!
It took some time and experimenting with a bunch of different classes and teachers to realize there are so many different kinds of yoga, and each teacher puts their own unique spin on them.
That is the very reason why I wanted to tackle this topic. Being a beginner to yoga can be intimidating and overwhelming. If you are brand new to yoga and have ever looked at a class schedule, the names alone can be enough to scare you away. Ashtanga? Vinyasa? Iyengar? What language are these in and what does that even mean?!
In the simplest Portland metaphor I can think of, yoga is kind of like the flavors at Salt & Straw. If you haven’t been, it’s a local ice cream shop that features wacky rotating flavors every month, from olive oil to strawberry & balsamic vinegar. A lot of people like to try the wacky flavors, but others avoid them all together and stick to classics. The point is, just because you don’t like the wacky flavors doesn’t mean you don’t like ice cream, and just because you try out a certain type and don’t like it doesn’t mean you might not like another kind.
So if you try a class and it doesn’t feel quite right, don't be discouraged! There’s definitely a style out there that will cater to your energy level and interests. You might just have to try a couple out in order to find the right one.
Check out this breakdown to figure out what style would be best for you!
Hatha yoga is an all-levels, gentle form of movement. It’s perfect for beginners, yogis with injuries, and advanced students looking to slow down their practice and come back to the basics. There’s a focus on basic yoga postures, modifications with props, alignment and breathwork.
Perfect if: You’re a beginner and want a slower, more restorative practice that walks you through basic yoga poses & modifications.
You will leave feeling: Stretched out, relaxed & calm!
Think grown up nap time! Restorative yoga is all about using blankets, blocks, and props to create a deep, relaxing experience. You cycle through less than a dozen or so poses in an hour long class, all of which are seated or supine. All the poses are passive stretches, meaning you allow gravity and props to help you deepen into a stretch instead of pulling or pushing yourself into them. Think candles, slow deep breathing, incense, soft lighting, ambient music, and lavender eye pillows.
Perfect if: You’re stressed, anxious, or tired and are looking for something to help you start or end your day with a clear, calm mind.
You will leave feeling: Clear-headed, relaxed, calm.
Yin Yoga is a gentle practice where poses are held passively for 3-5 minutes on each side. Don't worry, this doesn’t mean you’re stuck in a Warrior 2 for that long! The poses are all restorative and are seated or supine, similar to restorative yoga. The difference here is that you stay in each pose for a longer period of time. Think seated forward folds, hip stretches, and gentle supine twists to help you get deep into the fascia and connective tissue.
The goal of holding the postures for a length of time is to break up scar tissue and get deep into the connective tissue. Holding the poses for an extended period of time also releases hyaluronic acid, which helps lubricate and cushion the joints. Yin yoga, unlike other types of yoga, is not performance or alignment based. The goal is to allow your body to relax as much as possible in restorative shapes to help undue accumulated stress and tension in the body.
Perfect if: you’re looking to cultivate quiet stillness, are intimidated by other forms of yoga, need to de-stress and heal emotional trauma, PTSD, digestive issues, anxiety, depression, etc.
You will leave feeling: limber, calm, and a whole other level of relaxation you didn’t think was possible.
Vinyasa Yoga / Power Vinyasa
Vinyasa is a fluid practice that incorporates movement, breath, alignment, mindful transitions, strengthening standing postures, backbends, and balancing poses. Basically a little bit of everything! Instead of remaining statically in a pose for a length of time, you flow through poses along with the breath. Each teacher creates their own unique sequences, so everytime you take another teacher’s class, it can look and feel totally different. Although they vary drastically, all classes incorporate a handful of traditional yoga postures and function in the shape of a bell curve: there’s a warmup up, flow, and cool down. Broken down into a 60 minute class, it looks like 10-15 min. of warmup, 30-40 min. of flowing, and 10-15 min. of cool down. And, there’s usually upbeat music. Power Vinyasa classes are more rigorous than a regular Vinyasa class. They are usually faster, and incorporate more strength training exercises. Sometimes these classes are rated as Level 1, 2, or 3. If you’re a beginner, start with Level 1 to see how you like it, and continue to try out other levels if you’re interested!
Perfect if: You’re feeling sluggish / want a solid, sweaty workout that gets your heart rate up.
You will leave feeling: Strong, invigorated, refreshed, rejuvenated.
Think fast, flowy, sweaty, powerful, athletic flows. Power Yoga is a workout, focused on strength and rooted in the Ashtanga tradition. This style of yoga is geared toward the fast-paced Western culture. Sometimes these classes can have a pilates like feel to them: repetitive movements with a “feel the burn!” coaching style from teachers. Some classes even throw in squats or crunches. There’s a strong emphasis on the physical practice as a workout. There are no set sequences, as there are in Bikram & Ashtanga, and teachers create their own unique flows. These classes are set to upbeat music too.
Perfect if: You’re interested in a mindful, challenging workout that builds strength, increases flexibility and balance.
You will leave feeling: Energized, strong, refreshed, ready to start the day.
Kundalini is a very dynamic form of yoga that incorporates powerful breathing exercises, meditation, chanting, and movement to help raise consciousness and connection to your spirituality.
Perfect if: You are interested in a dynamic, spiritual yoga practice.
You will leave feeling: Energized & connected to self.
Bikram yoga is a set sequence of 26 postures specifically designed to increase flexibility and detoxify the body. The room is heated to 105 degrees, and no matter where you take a class or what teacher you take it from, the set series will always be the same. Note: All Bikram Yoga is hot yoga, but not all hot yoga is Bikram Yoga. Practicing yoga in a heated room allows the muscles to relax and the body is able to find deeper stretches and more flexibility with ease. The postures include stretches, balancing poses, backbends, and restorative shapes. The class can be physically demanding if you are a beginner & especially if you are new to hot yoga, but the body adjusts quickly and can be a great starting point to familiarize yourself with basic yoga postures.
Perfect if: You are a beginner and want to try out hot yoga while focusing on a consistent routine with standard postures to better gauge your progress.
You will leave feeling: Sweaty & ready to take a shower, invigorated, flexible.
Ashtanga yoga is a powerful practice that incorporates strength-based postures with poses that increase flexibility and balance. It’s very alignment driven and there’s an emphasis on controlled breathing throughout the sequence, along with intense focus on breathing and bandhas, holding locks and specific gazes within each pose. There are six set series: the primary series, the intermediate series, and four advanced series.
Perfect if: You’ve already been experimenting with power Vinyasa classes and want to take your practice up a notch, are looking for a regimented, intense & consistent workout routine.
You will leave feeling: Awake, strong, energized, more flexible than you ever knew possible, and probably really sore the next day.
Yoga nidra, also known as yoga sleep, is the perfect practice for deep relaxation. Teachers use guided imagery and body scanning techniques to help you find the in-between state of being asleep & awake. Unlike other yoga classes that allot 5-10 minutes for relaxation at the end, this practice is meant to allow you to find a space of deep rest for 30-45 minutes or more.
Perfect if: You are having trouble sleeping, are anxious or stressed and want to learn how to consciously relax your body and mind.
You will leave feeling: Well rested, clear-headed, calm.
Founded by B.K.S Iyengar, one of the grandfathers of modern yoga, this practice focuses on precise alignment, intentional sequencing, breathwork, and and heavy use of props like chairs, bolsters, and straps to create modifications for all body types. The attention to detail and alignment is perfect for beginners looking to understand the basic yoga postures in detail.
Perfect if: You’re a beginner looking for guidance and a solid alignment-based foundation to gain flexibility and body awareness.
You will leave feeling: Stretched out, limber, calm.
About the Author
Aurora has been teaching & studying yoga in Portland & San Francisco for the past 6 years. She creates light-hearted, all-levels classes with an emphasis on strength, alignment, creative sequencing, vulnerability, and authenticity. Aurora teaches for NIKE and has worked with Lululemon, WeWork, Relay for Life, and dozens of companies & organizations around the country. As the Founder of Rooted & Rising, she blends her background in mindfulness & her passion for mental health advocacy through personal stories & yoga guides for anxiety & depression. Her goal in openly sharing her struggles with mental health is to connect with others and de-stigmatize the culture & conversation surrounding mental illness. You can connect with Aurora and download free yoga guides and resources on her website, therootedandrising.com