Flowery language seems to be the norm when yogis are called upon to explain yoga terms. Some studios' class descriptions are a little more practical than esoteric, but it isn't always easy to explain all the nuances of a given class. Never fear; I've taken eight typical yoga class types and broken them down so you'll be a little more in the know the next time you feel like rolling out your yoga mat.
Hatha is an ancient yoga style that is at the root of nearly all forms of yoga practiced today. In a typical class emphasis is put on asana and pranayama (breathing techniques), allowing them to quiet the mind. Poses are static and traditionally done in a set order. This is a great class for most any yoga practitioner, allowing modifications for new and advanced students and an immersion in yoga's classical roots.
Hot yoga can mean anything from the set asanas (yoga poses) of Bikram to any class that takes place in a room heated above 85 degrees. Most often, though, it refers to a vigorous class where movement is continuous. If you've done yoga before, you'll likely be familiar with the poses, if not the pace. Sometimes referred to as Power Yoga or Vinyasa Flow, classes feature poses that are held for one to three breaths. These poses are linked to each other through vinyasas, which are essentially one round of a typical sun salutation. If you enjoy a challenging, sweaty form of exercise, this class might be for you.
Ashtanga, one of the oldest forms of yoga, is made up of a set series of asanas that build over time. Vinyasas come between poses and poses are held for five breaths each. Vinyasas can be omitted if you're new to the practice and wish to commit the series to memory before adding that challenge. Practicing these set poses is a great way to hone persistence and to see how your body and mind change as you progress. Hint: If your Ashtanga class is also labeled “Mysore”, this means it's not a led class. Your instructor assumes you know the sequence of poses and will help make adjustments or assist you in furthering a pose as necessary. If that word isn't present in the title, assume the class is led.
Yin classes feature poses held for several minutes. Poses are done while seated, on your back, or on your belly. A Yin class has a two-fold purpose: release the muscles and connective tissues and strengthen the mind for meditation. Yes, it sounds like an easy class, but keeping your mind in the present while your hamstrings refuse to release is a challenge. If you're looking for something more passive, start with Restorative Yoga and work your way up to Yin.
This class can appear under many names: Mellow Flow, Deep Release, Slow Yoga. The core ingredient, though, is the same: releasing tension held in the muscles. Poses tend to be on the stretchier side – think forward bends, hip openers and the like. You'll hold these poses for perhaps a minute, using your breath to aid you, and transition slowly through a vinyasa into the next pose. Slow Flow classes are an excellent supplement to a more physically challenging exercise regimen.
Restorative yoga is much like Yin yoga: emphasis is on fully relaxing into the pose both mentally and physically. All of the poses are done on the floor. The difference between a Yin yoga class and a Restorative class is in the props. In each pose, you will use a variety of props--like blankets and bolsters--to help your body fully relax and release into a pose. Your instructor may ask you to form a mental image or follow a mantra silently to help you stay focused and not let your mind wander, since each pose is held for several minutes. An hour-long class may have only 8 to 10 poses, which allows for an immersive, deeply relaxing yoga experience.
Vinyasa yoga classes have as many variations as there are yoga teachers. One thing each one will have in common is a flowing format. Each pose will merge into the next either with a vinyasa, or with a seamless transition from one pose to the next. These classes can vary in intensity, so look at the title and description before you head to class. Slow Flow, talked about above, is a vinyasa class, but so is Power Flow – you'll have quite different experiences in each!
Power Yoga is one of those classes that everyone's heard of. It's a blanket class title that covers a range of styles, but all of those styles have one thing in common: they're tough! They might be called Heated Power Yoga, Core Power Yoga or Power Yoga Flow – no matter what they're named, come prepared to work hard. Vinyasa Yoga, Hot Yoga and Power Yoga have a lot of crossover – if you like one, you'll probably enjoy the others.
Of course, if you have questions about a specific class in your area it's best to check with the studio before you head to class. These descriptions, though, should give you a little head start on knowing what to expect when you get there.