If you’re thinking of trying yoga or if you’re looking to change studios, finding the right place to
practice can be a real challenge. Many people think that all yoga is the same but there are
multiple styles and teaching approaches. While any legitimate style that’s taught and practiced
properly can provide benefits, there are important differences among them. Here are some
points to consider as you look around:
Know your exercise goals
What type of workout do you want from yoga? Some styles focus mainly on vigorous strengthbuilding movements, often practiced in very warm rooms. Others work more on stretching and making smooth transitions between poses. Iyengar yoga builds both strength and flexibility, with the intensity and duration of the poses increasing as students progress. The emphasis is on understanding and reaching the correct alignment for each position because that alignment produces yoga’s long-term benefits. Incorrect poses won’t help you get stronger or more flexible; in fact, they can injure you, so it is important that you focus on doing them correctly.
Consider teacher-student interaction
In some styles the instructor performs the poses in front of the class for the entire time. Also,
class sizes at some studios can be large, making it difficult for instructors to coach students
individually. In the Iyengar method, instructors actively guide students. It’s very much a handson
approach to teaching and learning that you might not like if you hope to “hide out” in the back
of a large group and do your own thing. But if you’re looking for personalized instruction that
emphasizes correct form, you’ll like Iyengar yoga.
Train at the right level
Training in a class that is beyond your present ability is intimidating and training in a class that
doesn’t challenge you is frustrating. Look for a studio that offers multiple class levels ranging
from beginner to advanced so you can practice with students whose skills match your own.
Work with qualified instructors
Without a qualified teacher, you’re wasting your time and money and putting yourself at risk for
injury. Different styles use different instructor training methods. The Registered Yoga Teacher
designations–RYT 200(R) and RYT 500(R)–are examples of teacher certifications used in
multiple styles. Entry-level certification in the Iyengar tradition requires that a student be
practicing regularly for at least three years and complete an additional two-year teacher training
program. Beyond that there are over a dozen higher certifications that require additional
training, experience and testing, including practice at the main studio in Pune, India.
How deep do you want to go?
Some studios and classes don’t go beyond stretching. That’s fine–it can do wonders for your
flexibility. But the yoga tradition is thousands of years old and includes much more than poses.
The Iyengar method explores the tradition’s multiple facets that include ethics, breathing
practices and meditation. If you’re seeking a deeper immersion into the full yoga tradition, you’ll
find it here.
Reading about yoga and visiting studios’ websites is not a substitute for getting on the mat. If
you want to learn more about a particular style and studio, contact the instructor with your
questions and arrange a visit. Studios often offer a free class to new students at the start of
each session–check their site for dates and details.
Linda Di Carlo, director and owner of Iyengar Yoga Source, is a Senior Iyengar Teacher and an
ACSM Health Fitness Specialist. She began teaching yoga in 1976 and has been to Pune to
study with the Iyengar family multiple times.