Unlike Jazzercise, Tae-Bo, sauna suits and shake weights, yoga isn't an exercise fad that's going away anytime soon. About 36 million U.S. adults regularly practice yoga, a number that keeps on growing, according to the most recent Yoga in America Study conducted for Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance.
There are many styles of yoga to choose from, so if you're new to yoga, it might be confusing to know what style to try. There are dozens of styles and contemporary interpretations (some would say "bastardizations" — think hip-hop yoga, laughter yoga, Yogalates, etc.), but we'll stick with the most common styles available at yoga studios.
Keep in mind that all physical forms of yoga fall under the "Hatha" tradition. Yoga was developed in India several thousand years ago, but back then, the various teachings strengthened mind and spirit. Physical yoga that emphasizes union with breath and alignment in poses, or asanas,, was first developed around 1,000 years ago.
Here's a breakdown of some specific types of yoga and the types of people they might appeal to:
Ashtanga: Try this style of yoga if you are very physically fit and want a fast-paced challenge. If you're stiff, inflexible and out of shape, don't try Ashtanga until you have lots of experience with gentler forms of yoga. Created by Pattabhi Jois about 60 years ago, Ashtanga integrates asanas into a rapid flow. If you're trying Ashtanga for the first time, bring a couple towels and lots of water with you to class. "Ashtanga and other 'power' or 'flow' styles of yoga are more for the young and restless crowd," says Larry Payne, Ph.D., co-author of "Yoga for Dummies" and creator of a new style of yoga for people age 40 and older called Prime of Life Yoga.
Iyengar: If you want a slower style of yoga that holds each pose and focuses on proper alignment, Iyengar could be the right style for you. Rachel Krentzman, a physical therapist and owner of Embody Physical Therapy & Yoga in San Diego, recommends talking to the teacher before class, especially if you have a current or past injury that affects your flexibility. "Learn proper alignment in the poses correctly before you try a quick-flow class; if you don't, that may lead to an injury," says Krentzman, who adds, "Iyengar is best for many newcomers to yoga because it focuses on alignment and the teachers are trained to instruct all ages and injuries. If you're tight and inflexible, I'd especially recommend Iyengar, because it implements blocks and other props."
Hot yoga: Any style of physical yoga (or meditative yoga) in a heated room can fall under the "hot yoga" umbrella (or sauna, to be more accurate). The temperature can vary from 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6 Celsius) to an excess of 100 degrees F (37.7 C). If you're in excellent physical health and like to sweat profusely, give hot yoga a try. With more than 300 centers around the world, Bikram yoga yoga is one of the most popular types of hot yoga. Founded by Bikram Choudhury — who has been criticized for his unabashedly lavish lifestyle — this yoga style focuses on a series of 26 asanas performed twice during a 90-minute class. Felicia Tomasko, editor of LA Yoga Magazine, says Bikram might be a good fit for Type A personalities who are sedentary during the day and want an invigorating class where they can be on autopilot. Proponents of hot yoga cite detoxification and greater flexibility as two major benefits; detractors argue that sweating doesn't release toxins, only electrolytes (toxins are eliminated through urine and feces). Also, opponents claim that there is no scientific evidence that proves hot yoga leads to greater flexibility. Avoid hot yoga if you are menopausal or have medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease, advises Payne.
Vinyasa: Good for those who require something between entry-level gentle yoga and power classes, vinyasa allows for more spontaneity and variety than fixed disciplines like Ashtanga and Bikram. Popular sequences like sun salutations and cat/cow are staples of Vinyasa. Though the pace can be challenging for a newcomer, it will likely be easier than a heated power flow class.
Restorative: If you have injuries, limited mobility, or are significantly overweight, restorative yoga may be a good style for you. It utilizes lots of props like pillows, straps and blankets to help hold a gentle, passive stretch for longer periods. This type of yoga might be good for triathletes and other extreme athletes because it may help the body heal. Don't expect to burn many calories in a restorative class.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was first published in June 2012.