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Beyond Om: The Many Styles of Yoga

Yoga is more than "om-ing" and sitting cross-legged. Learn about the different yoga styles and how you can pick one that is right for you.

The Hatha Yoga Styles continued...

Bikram yoga is a system of 26 postures that are performed in a standard sequence in a room heated to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. This approach is fairly vigorous and requires a certain level of fitness on the part of students.

"Bikram is done in a room with a high temperature," says Miller. "There is less focus on alignment, and more on sweating and getting a good workout."

Viniyoga focuses on practicing a posture according to one's individual needs and capacity. Regulated breathing is an important aspect of Viniyoga, and the breath is carefully coordinated with the postural movements.

Kripalu yoga is a three-stage yoga. In the first stage, postural alignment and coordination of breath and movement are emphasized, and the postures are held for a short duration only. In the second stage, meditation is included into the practice and postures are held for prolonged periods. In the final stage, the practice of postures becomes a spontaneous "meditation in motion."

Integral yoga made a debut at the Woodstock festival in 1969, where yoga expert Swami Satchidananda taught thousands to chant, "om." This style aims to integrate the various aspects of the body and mind through a combination of postures, breathing techniques, deep relaxation, and meditation, and function is more important than form. In this style of yoga, breathing and meditation are emphasized as much as the postures.

Sivananda yoga includes a series of twelve postures, breathing exercises, relaxation, and mantra chanting.

Ananda yoga is a gentle style that is designed to prepare the student for meditation, involving consciously directing the body's energy to different organs and limbs.

5 Tips to the Right Yoga Style

With so many choices available, just showing up at your local YMCA for a yoga class might not cut it. What should you look for when choosing a style? Experts give WebMD five tips to transcending the confusion, starting with finding the right instructor.

1. "Look for an instructor that is professional and that has a clear understanding of yoga in general so he or she can be helpful," says Tony Sanchez, a yoga instructor in San Francisco and president of the U.S. Yoga Association. "The instructor should be able to comprehend the different levels of the yoga postures and read a person's needs so he can teach the exercises accordingly."

2. "Educate yourself," says Miller. "Do some reading and learn more about the different styles available near you."

3. Then it's time to try yoga.

"Try a class and see if you like it," says Sanchez. "Do you like the instructor? Does the instructor know what he is doing? Is he knowledgeable?"

4. When you try a class, ask yourself if it is suitable for you.

"Iyengar is an easier yoga because it concentrates on more detail, with fewer exercises but more attention to alignment," says Sanchez. "While Bikram and Astanga yoga are more extreme. These can challenge a person beyond his or her ability, and this is where there is more risk for injury."

So know your limits, explains Sanchez.

"You should be able to understand how far you should push yourself safely," says Sanchez. "The instructor should be paying attention that the students are doing the positions with proper alignment and posture. And the students should decide if they are pushing themselves too hard or not enough."

5. When you find a style that is right for you body and mind, Miller recommends wearing comfortable clothing and avoiding eating before class.

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