Yoga: Stretch Yourself
Badge Steps1. Explore your options.
If you know what you want out of a yoga class going in, you're more likely to leave it with that bona fide, yoga-fied look of serenity on your face. So ask yourself: Do you want to relieve stress, regain your strength after an injury or illness, lose weight, or gain flexibility? "Yoga can help you meet all these goals," says Nora. "The trick is finding the type of yoga that's the best match for your interests." Pick the type of yoga that most closely matches your personal goals.
Iyengar. Expect to hold poses for a long time while you make small adjustments to achieve ideal body alignment and greater awareness of your anatomy. This type of yoga helps improve your posture and relieve stress, and is less aerobic than other disciplines. If you have any injuries, you'll need to work closely with your teacher so that you don't strain yourself while working on some of the more challenging poses.
Bikram or Ashtanga. You'll perform a specific sequence of postures in rapid succession, and after a few classes, you'll fall into the rhythm of movement. This type of yoga is highly aerobic and hypnotic, too! If you have blood pressure or heart problems, you should probably choose a less strenuous type of yoga. Bikram yoga is taught in a very hot room to warm the muscles, so be careful not to let yourself get dehydrated.
Integral, Sivananda, and Kripalu. These practices are more meditative and focus on inner strength in addition to outward movements. You'll learn to relieve stress with deliberate movements, plus breathing exercises that help strengthen the body as they clear the mind.
Anusara. This type of yoga focuses on maintaining body alignment and seeing the divine nature within each person. It's a serious workout and physical discipline, but the teaching approach is lighthearted and playful. "Anusara is fun, so it's gaining popularity," says Nora.
Next, track down yoga studios that offer classes in the type of yoga that seems right for you, with some help from friends who do yoga and listings on community bulletin boards. If you come across class listings for Pranayama and Hatha yoga, don't be confused. Pranayama is breathing exercise, which is a component of most types of yoga, while Hatha is an umbrella term that includes all yoga with physical poses -- and technically, all the types listed above fall under this rubric.
Find a few yoga classes that promise to meet your needs.2. Try out a few classes.
Beginning classes should last an hour and a half, with a brief meditation at the beginning, warm-up stretches, a series of standing poses, forward bends, back bends, a resting pose, and a meditation at the end. As you become more advanced, your teacher may add in headstands and other inversions. Spend a month trying out a few of the most promising class options you've found, taking into consideration:
Level. "It's very important that you take a class specifically for beginners at first, rather than a mixed-level or advanced class," says Nora. "You don't want to get overwhelmed or hurt yourself trying poses that are really too difficult."
Schedule. Look for beginning classes that are convenient to attend at least twice a week. Be realistic about your schedule. If you know you'll be working late in the coming months, don't count on making that 6 p.m. class -- especially if you'll have to fight traffic to get there. Yoga is meant to relieve stress, not create it!
Location. Classes close to home or work will make it easier for you to fit yoga into your regular routine.
Limitations. If you have any injuries or other physical constraints, be sure to consult the instructor beforehand to make sure the class won't overstrain you. You'll probably still be able to take the class, but the instructor may advise you to modify or sit out certain poses during class.
Before you go to class, ask what you might need to bring with you. Depending on the type of yoga, you'll need:
Clothes that move with your body. Avoid restrictive clothing that might limit your range of motion or make you uncomfortably hot.
A yoga mat. This ridged foam mat will keep you from slipping while you're holding poses. You might want to buy your own, so you can practice at home.
Blocks and a strap. These props can be used to help you stretch, and they're usually provided by the yoga studio.
Go to four or five different yoga classes in a month.