Yoga is gaining in popularity as an exercise for all types of people of all ages. This is due in part to the fact that there are a wide variety of styles for people who need and want a different type of workout. So how do you decide which is best for you?

First, a primer.

Generally scholars agree that yoga began over 5,000 years, although there is evidence of yoga in the Stone Age as well, stemming from the shamanism of the period. In the West, people view yoga as exercise and focus on performing the asanas (poses), but the roots of yoga go much deeper. At its core and when practiced as it was founded in India, yoga is a deeply spiritual practice that incorporates not only asanas but also pranayama (breath work) and selfless action.

Separated from these spiritual facets of yoga, the poses are still good exercise. Overall, it is a low-intensity workout. There is no major stress on the joints, and good teachers of all styles will pay close attention to students’ alignment, especially in beginner classes. Because classes are also easily adapted to varying levels of fitness and ability, people of all ages, body type, fitness, and health can participate. There are a few distinct styles that may better suit a person’s particular needs, though.

Hatha

Hatha is a general term that encompasses a yoga style that incorporates much of the other styles. Most yoga in the West could be considered hatha, as it is adapted for a more Western student (more action and less spirituality in class). Poses are put together by the teacher and change from class to class. There is no one set series. These classes are slower-paced and incorporate breath work into the pose. Sun salutations are a popular feature of this type of yoga.

Iyengar

B.K.S. Iyengar is the founder of this style that focuses on proper alignment. Teachers of this style are very grounded in anatomy and insist that each student go into a pose only as far as they can go with correct alignment. The classes are slower-paced, and poses are held longer.

Bikram (or hot yoga)

In this yoga, students perform a set series of 26 poses in a room heated up to 110 degrees. Only teachers trained specifically by schools endorsed by Bikram Choudhury can use the term “Bikram yoga.” Hot yoga is similar to Bikram, with a few exceptions. The room may not be quite as hot (only around 90 degrees), and teachers can be certified in other styles of yoga, going beyond the 26-pose set of Bikram.

Yin

Yin is a subtle yoga that engages the thin membrane that covers each muscle (the fascia). Most poses are completed on the floor, and each pose is held for long periods of time, up to ten minutes (or more for very experienced practitioners). To keep the movement in the fascia and not the muscle, there is very little warm up of the muscles. Classes are quiet and contemplative, and teachers urge students to release their tension wherever they are holding it by breathing slowly and deeply.

Restorative

Restorative yoga is yin’s less stretchy cousin. The goal of this style is to relax, restore, and rejuvenate. Blankets, bolsters, and blocks are used as props to support the student so that they can completely relax. All poses are done on the floor, and many are lying down.

Ashtanga

This type of yoga is divided into six series, with each series increasing in complexity and intensity. Ashtangis practice at least three times a week, but many practice daily. Because the series is set, teachers may not offer much verbal instruction, but students in beginning classes can ask for assistance and expect more explanation. Movements are linked to the breath, with each move occurring either on the inhale or the exhale.

Vinyasa

Vinyasa was built for Western yogis who want to work out and move in yoga. Sequences flow from one pose to another, linked to the breath, in a class that can vary from fast-paced to slow and meditative. Ashtanga-vinyasa is the flowing style that uses traditional ashtanga poses in flowing movements instead of one move at a time.

Picking a yoga style for you

Beginners in yoga may want to focus on hatha and Iyengar to start. The classes are paced a bit slower, and there is more instruction offered by the teacher. Modificatio