Yoga is powerful medicine. It can improve balance, flexibility and posture…strengthen muscles and bones…lower blood pressure, ease pain and boost immune function…heighten sexual functioning…alleviate stress and depression…and bolster spiritual well-being. Key: Finding a style that fits your abilities, temperament and goals.
With your doctor’s okay, consider…
- Anusara. This playful, warm-hearted and physically challenging style emphasizes body alignment (often with hands-on adjustments from the teacher) and a positive mindset that looks for the good in all people.
Best for: Physically fit people who want to be part of a like-minded community.
- Ashtanga (“power” yoga). A vigorous practice, it includes a fixed series of postures that flow rapidly and continuously, accompanied by energizing breathing techniques.
Best for: People who can handle an intense workout, want to build stamina and strength, and enjoy a set routine.
- Bikram (“hot” yoga). An invariable sequence of 26 poses is performed in a studio heated to at least 100°F to loosen muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Best for: People in good health who don’t mind heat and want improved flexibility. Bikram, like other vigorous styles, may not be appropriate for frail or older students or those with serious illnesses.
- Integral. Beginning classes include gentle poses, breathing techniques, meditation and discussions of ancient yoga texts. The principle of selfless service (such as volunteer work) is emphasized. Some centers offer special classes for students with physical limitations or health problems (such as heart disease or cancer).
Best for: People interested in traditional Indian yoga that includes more than just poses.
- Iyengar. Emphasizing meticulous body alignment, this style makes use of blocks, straps and other props so students with limited flexibility can safely and comfortably assume poses. Teacher training requirements are among the strictest.
Best for: Anyone new to yoga or especially in need of better body alignment, such as people with arthritis or back pain.
- Kripalu. A blend of Western psychology and Eastern philosophy, this practice provides a safe place to explore emotional issues. Meditation and chanting accompany moderately vigorous and sometimes improvised movement.
Best for: People looking for stress relief and emotional release.
- Kundalini. This style includes a wide variety of breathing techniques, intense physical movements, chanting and meditation. The focus is on raising energy rather than on precise body alignment.
Best for: People who are seeking to build prana (life force) and who are open to yoga’s spiritual dimensions.
- Viniyoga. Gentle flowing poses are held only briefly. Safety and breath work are emphasized. Teachers often focus on private one-on-one sessions rather than group classes.
Best for: People who are new to yoga or out of shape or who are looking to use yoga to help alleviate any of a variety of chronic ailments.
To find a class: Yoga Alliance, yogaalliance.org registers teachers who complete a certain number of hours of training in specific styles. If you have a medical condition, contact the teacher to see if a particular class is appropriate for you or to ask about private lessons. Yoga therapy has been shown in studies to be effective for a wide range of conditions, from diabetes and arthritis to cancer and chronic lung disease.