Woman sitting on the ground with her hands in the air, doing yoga in nature

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If you’re new to yoga, the terminology used throughout class may seem unfamiliar. We can get down with chair pose”, but what kind of pose would a pigeon even make? Before you begin to think through the specifics of downward dog, don’t let the class schedule scare you off. The names of the different schools of yoga (Vinyasa, Bikram, Hatha) can also be a lot to handle at first. It’s all just stretching, right?

To ensure you’re prepared and understand what to expect going into your next class, we’ve broken down the details on a few of the most common yoga traditions. Feeling more confident and knowledgeable about what you’re about to walk into can help you exhale into your best Warrior 1. 

Hatha Yoga

The hatha discipline has physical, mental, and spiritual branches. These branches include breathwork, meditation, and physical movement, to name a few. The term hatha” is used to describe the physical branch — the postures. In other words, all styles of yoga technically fall within the hatha category, since you’re moving your body through various poses.

Hatha yoga is the umbrella under which different styles and approaches to yoga have evolved,” says Leila Burrows, yoga instructor and owner of The Pad Studios in San Francisco.

Since hatha is also a type of yoga class, sometimes newbies can feel confused. In hatha yoga classes, there’s a stronger emphasis on correct alignment in the body,” says Burrows. These classes also tend to have a slower pace in order to place this thoughtful attention on physical alignment.”

Woman doing the splits on a bridge

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Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga is an approach to hatha that includes sun salutations — a sequence of eight yoga postures. The term vinyasa” translates to step by step” in Sanskrit, and often you’ll hear vinyasa also referred to as a flow.” Apart from incorporating sun salutations into class, vinyasa doesn’t abide by any sort of structure, like Bikram (more below), and can be slightly different depending on the preferences of the teacher or what the class is trying to accomplish (alertness, meditation, etc). 

The teacher is free to sequence a vinyasa yoga class any way he or she likes and choose from the thousands of poses available,” says Burrows. An instructor could choose poses based on a theme, student request, or body part.” 

Hot and Bikram Yoga

An acquired taste, hot yoga classes are held in room heated to 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and with about 40 percent humidity. Typically taught in vinyasa style, a hot yoga flow is said to help loosen muscles, promote flexibility, and spark higher fat burning rates (because of the heat). 

A specific type of hot yoga is Bikram. Founded by its namesake, Bikram Choudhury, the class is comprised of only 26 poses and two breathing exercises, all performed twice in 90-minute sessions. Bikram yoga is completely structured. It’s also very hot — usually 105 degrees Fahrenheit,” Burrow says. While not all types of yoga have to be performed in a hot classroom, Bikram always brings the heat.

Restorative Yoga

If you’re considering restorative yoga, expect to be physically and mentally, well, relaxed. These classes are beneficial for calming the mind and nervous system and allowing the body to experience pure rest.

You’ll only perform eight to 10 poses at most in a class,” says Burrows. These poses are held for a longer amount of time, which encourages the body to open and relax. Many props are used to support the body and aid comfort.”

Burrows notes that if you’re feeling like you’ve been in the fast-paced lane lately, restorative yoga can help you reset and recognize a healthy balance between busy and calm.

Keep in mind, these are only four yoga styles, and there are dozens more to choose from. Not sure where to begin or which type of class to attend? Burrows believes that with time, and an open mind, you’ll find what you’re looking for. 

Create some curiosity,” she advises. What drew you to yoga, and what do you want to achieve? Perhaps it’s to relieve anxiety or become physically stronger. Go to a class, be open, and trust the process. If you’re receptive and curious, you’ll eventually end up where you’re meant to be.”

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.