With numerous styles of yoga available, understanding what yoga even is and choosing the right class can be daunting, especially for beginning students.

What we commonly call yoga in the West is technically Hatha Yoga, which is a branch of yoga practiced to attain the union of mind, body and spirit through a practice of postures, breathing and gestures.

While sharing many similar philosophies and postures, the different styles of Hatha Yoga can vary, depending on the individual teachings, traditions and instructors themselves.

The majority of yoga classes in this country would fall under this category.

While many people in the West seem to know that Hatha yoga is from India, very few are aware that China actually had an entire yoga system.

Chinese yoga is the ancient practice of combining movement with breath. Different postures, similar to those found in traditional Indian Hatha Yoga postures, are used to promote stretching and strengthening of the body.

When used correctly and for the appropriate length of time, researchers have found that these exercises are ideal for creating long, lean and powerful muscle groups.

Yin and Yang Yoga is a Taoist form of yoga that was developed in the West by American yoga instructor and martial artist Paulie Zink, and uses postures based on animals and their movements for developing remarkably high levels of flexibility and fluidity in the body.

According to Chinese Taoist theory, these postures and movements all possess five transforming energies of which everything around us is made of. Each posture and movement can therefore be done in five different ways, thereby embodying one of the elements.

What this translates to for the student is a constantly changing exercise system for the body, which is continually moving the area of emphasis throughout various muscles, tendons, joints and bones.

While Hatha Yoga classes are normally plentiful throughout the West and can be found in most cities and towns, Chinese yoga is only beginning to be found in the United States, and mostly in urban areas only.

To locate Taoist Yin and Yang Yoga classes in your area, a directory of certified instructors may be found by contacting the Yin Yoga Institute at www.yinyoganstitute.com.

Gary Jaster of Hilton Head Island is a yoga instructor certified in Yin & Yang Yoga, with more than nine years of yoga instruction experience. www.yinyogahilton head.com