If you’ve been meaning to drop in on a yoga class for a few years but haven’t gotten around to it yet, you’re not alone. According to Yoga Journal’s 2012 “Yoga in America” market study, 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, and another 44 percent are interested in trying it. The “aspirational yogis” in the study identified the following top five reasons for getting to a class: flexibility, general conditioning, stress relief, improving overall health, and physical fitness. Sound familiar?
One of the most common obstacles for would-be yoga practitioners is figuring out which types of classes (and which teachers) will help them accomplish their goals. Your goals may be limited to the physical (like the ones mentioned in the Yoga Journal study), or they can stretch to the mental, emotional, and spiritual, too. One definition of the Sanskrit word “yoga” is “union." Traditionally, the practice is designed to lead you to a profound experience of oneness with yourself, other beings, and the divine.
You can figure out what kind of class you’re looking for by contemplating three important questions. If you find the right fit, you’ll be more likely to stick with the practice—and reap the benefits.
1) Why do you want to practice yoga?
Without thinking about it too much, write down the top five reasons you want to try yoga, and rate them from the most important to the least important. Then consider the following tips.
• If you want to improve your physical fitness and conditioning, look for a yoga class that gets your body moving and your heart pumping, such as a vinyasa, Forrest Yoga, or power yoga class.
• If you’re eager to stretch and strengthen your muscles, consider an alignment-focused practice such as Iyengar or Anusara.
• If gentle stretching and stress reduction are your primary goals, look for a gentle, calming style of yoga such as restorative yoga, Svaroopa Yoga, or Viniyoga.
• If you are looking for a more meditative practice, try a slower-paced style such as Yin Yoga or a graceful, fluid practice like TriYoga.
• If you’d like to explore yoga’s philosophical teachings and the spiritual dimensions of practice, Kundalini Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga, or Sivananda Yoga might be right for you.
• If you enjoy interacting with others and exploring your playful side, try AcroYoga, aerial yoga, or standup paddleboard yoga.
• If you’d prefer to find a practice that targets your arthritis or back pain, a one-on-one session of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy or Integrative Yoga Therapy might be right for you.
For more information about the different types of yoga, see Omega’s Guide to Yoga Styles.
2) What kind of teacher resonates with you?
Think of your favorite teachers in school—the ones you’ll remember fondly for the rest of your life. Did they push you out of your comfort zone or offer quiet, steady encouragement? Did they provide clear, concise verbal instructions, or did they offer opportunities for open-ended exploration of the subject you were studying? Try to be specific about the qualities you’re looking for in a yoga teacher, so that you can find someone who supports your learning style and makes you feel safe and comfortable in class.
It’s also helpful to decide if you’d prefer to study with a seasoned teacher, or if you’re more interested in saving a little money and studying with a teacher at the start of his or her career. Does it matter if your teacher is a man or a woman? After reflecting on these issues, make a list of the top five qualities you’re looking for in a yoga teacher.
3) Which yoga classes are available near you?
Once you’ve figured out why you want to do yoga, which styles resonate with you, and what kind of teacher you’re looking for, do a little research. Check Yelp and other sites for reviews of nearby yoga studios. Check out the studios’ websites and read the teachers' bios to find a few that appeal to you. If you have yoga-practicing friends in your city or town, ask them if they have studied at the studios or with the teachers you’re considering. Or simply call a few places, explain what you are looking for, and ask if they can recommend a teacher or class that would suit your needs.
Then sign up for a drop-in class and do your best to keep an open mind. You may need to try the same class a couple of times in order to find out if it works for you. But if you decide it’s not the right fit, don’t be discouraged. There are many flavors of yoga to try—and many different types of yoga teachers who can guide you on your journey.
© 2013 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies