Which type of yoga should *you* be doing?
Every girl knows yoga has some serious mind and bod benefits—like building strength, improving your flexibility and even relieving stress. And, as a babe seeking balance, you're ready to stop, drop and roll out the mat. But when you search "yoga practice" on YouTube, you get tons of results with names that aren't even in English. Ashtanga, vinyasa, kundalini...how do you know which is right for you?
We get it: The world of pranayama and chaturanga can be intimidating—but it definitely doesn't have to be. Whether you're looking for a blood-pumping power flow or a mindful meditation, there's a type of yoga perfect for any yogi in just about any mood. We asked some leading gurus to break down some of the most popular practices—and share how (and when) to go with the flow...
For a fast-paced flow, vinyasa is where you'll feel most at "om." It's all about linking breath and movement from one pose to the next. "Vinyasa is my favorite—it's always different, so my body and mind are constantly improving," says yoga teacher Celest Pereira. "The transitions from pose to pose really challenge your balance and stability."
Because it's a continuous flow (read: no breaks!), vinyasa is a great alternative to your usual cardio. And the variety of poses is perfect for everyone from beginners who want to learn the basics to more advanced yogis who want to build strength and endurance.
Hack it at home: There is no standard vinyasa practice so it's up to you to make it your own. Want to jam out to Halsey while you do sun salutations? Go for it. Fewer chaturangas and more backbends? That's OK, too! "Every day is different, too, so be mindful of any changes and adjust your practice accordingly," says Celest.
To amp up your heart rate, be sure to add repetitions. Celest suggests choosing one exercise for your arms (like pushups) and one for your legs (like lunges), then do three to five sets of 10 to 12 reps. You can do vinyasa yoga daily—aim for at least 15 minutes on your mat each session.
Don't know your down dog from up? There are tons of free vids on YouTube to teach you the basics. Our faves include Yoga with Adrienne, Sarah Beth Yoga and Yoga by Candace. Or, download an app like Yoga Studio (iTunes and Google Play), which has classes for all levels—you can even create your own custom class—and detailed how-to's for every pose.
Don't let the word basic fool you. Ashtanga (meaning "eight limbs") might be one of the oldest, most traditional forms of yoga, but it's also one of the most physically challenging. There are six different sequences, each focused on strengthening a different part of the body—and each is progressively more difficult.
Working your way through the sequences is more than worth it, though, especially if you love all the pretzel-like poses and arm balances. As yoga instructor Claudia Matles notes, "The path might be long, but if you stick with it, you'll notice muscles and range of motion you didn't have the week before—and you might find yourself in a posture you never even dreamed of attempting." Insta-fame, here we come.
Hack it at home: Start with the Ashtanga primary series, a series of 75 postures that takes about 90 minutes to complete. It's tough, so don't get discouraged if you struggle at first to make it through the whole sequence. If you stick with it, you can work up to a six-days-a-week practice.
With 26 poses performed in a room that's about 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity, a Bikram class is a serious sweat sesh. The high temps loosen up your muscles, making you uber bendy so you can hit those tough poses (we're looking at you, king pigeon).
Save it for the studio: Mom probably doesn't want you cranking up the thermostat to tropical. And trying to re-create a hot yoga class at home without proper training can be dangerous. Instead, sign up for a class at a studio, slip into some lightweight gear and remember to hydrate!
When you run, bike or lift weights, you're doing "yang" exercise (aka active and vigorous movements). But your body also needs "yin" exercise, which is more passive and gentle. Yin yoga is a super restorative practice where each pose is held for up to 10 minutes, which allows you to reach deep, connective tissue that's often ignored and prevents you from getting burned out by pounding the pavement.
Learning to breathe through postures can help in your everyday life, too. "How we react can be taken off the mat to every uncomfortable situation we're faced with," explains Paloma Pechenik, a yin yoga instructor at YogaWorks, a national chain of studios. "We learn to use our breath to calm ourselves in more stressful situations, like at the dentist or taking an exam."
Hack it at home: Balance is key, so incorporate yin yoga seshes into your weekly routine. Try practicing two to three times a week in addition to your cardio or weightlifting. Or, do a quick yin sequence as a cool-down after your run.
You don't even have to roll out your mat to get your yin on. Most of the poses in this style are seated, so the next time you're watching old eps of Friends, try hanging out in dragonfly (straddle) or malasana (yoga squat) instead of just sitting on the couch, suggests Paloma. Netflix and cobra, anyone?
Aerial yoga has taken over our Insta feeds. Think: all your favorite yoga poses...done while hanging midair from silks and hammocks. The result is better posture and less tension in your joints, as the anti-gravity effect decompresses and elongates your spine, says Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata Aerial Yoga. "Plus, I just love the feeling of being suspended." And thanks to the support from the silks, even newbies can hang in headstand. Between that and facing your fear of heights, you'll leave class feeling super empowered.
Save it for the studio: We're all about taking your flow to new heights...with the guidance of a trained instructor. While you'll only be a few inches off the ground, safety is key—so Michelle recommends not trying this at home.
Kundalini is what every meditating maven needs to balance her chakras. "It's a system that works your body, mind and soul, connecting you deeper with yourself," explains Chelsea Xeron, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher.
Each class begins with what's known as tuning in, where you focus on centering yourself. Then you move through a kriya (a sequence of poses) for about 45 minutes before ending with meditation. During your practice, you'll do a lot of chanting, dynamic breathing, singing, maybe even some yelling...all with the end goal of awakening your higher self. Sounds New Age-y, but there's something to be said for becoming more aware of your mind.
Hack it at home: Setting the scene is key. Turn on some Kundalini music, dim the lights and put your phone on silent. It also helps to chant or recite a mantra (try "Sat Nam," which means "truth is my name") to deepen your practice.
Above all, Chelsea notes, "Listen to your body. It's tempting to push yourself, but when you're starting out, you'll want to stick with a minute or two per posture." The same rule applies to the meditation portion. Start with five to 10 minutes per day and increase it as it becomes more natural. Namaste.
Do you do yoga? What's your fave kind? Tell us in the comments!
This article was originally published in the October/November 2017 print issue of Girls' Life magazine.