How to Choose the Yoga That Helps, Not Hurts

People practicing yoga
Photo by Antonio Diaz / Shutterstock.com

Is stress making you sick? Yoga may be the answer.

A new study by researchers at Coventry University, England, and Radboud University, the Netherlands, suggests that yoga can stave off ill health and depression.

Their conclusions, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, are based on analysis of a decade of studies of how yoga and mindfulness impact genes.

“Put simply, MBIs (Mind Body Interactions including yoga, meditation and Tai Chi) cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our well-being,” said lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement. “More needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition.”

Yet another reason to get yourself to a yoga class, right?

But before you join the yoga class your friend, sister or co-worker loves, get to know the options. Yoga practices vary dramatically. In some, you work up a sweat with high-energy moves in a steamy hot room. Others are closer to a nap. The goal is to find the yoga discipline that not only positively impacts your DNA — or at least your sense of physical and mental well-being — but doesn’t lead to injury or other harm.

I’ve been to yoga retreats that were incredibly easy for me to follow and one-off classes that found me crashing to the floor and almost wiping out the woman on the neighboring mat.

Think of it this way: If someone suggested you participate in a dance class, you’d want to know if it was the cha-cha, break dance or ballet. The same goes for yoga. There are many — some say 30, some say up to 50 — types of yoga. The styles and types vary as widely as dance styles.

Choose the right type of yoga for you, and you can reap health benefits including increased flexibility, a balanced metabolism and even weight loss, according to the American Osteopathic Association:

Because there are so many different kinds of yoga practices, it is possible for anyone to start. “Whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete, size and fitness levels do not matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose and beginner classes in every style,” says Dr. Nevins. “The idea is to explore your limits, not strive for some pretzel-like perfection. It is a great way to get in tune with your body and your inner self.”​

To start, consider these seven popular practices:

Hatha yoga

Woman in lotus position with cat.
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

This yoga is very slow and gentle so it’s a great way to unwind, according to BodyMindGreen. But Hatha has become a catch-all phrase, according to Yoga Journal. Even some power yoga classes (more on those below) classify themselves as Hatha. Check with the instructor for specifics on what is involved in the Hatha yoga they teach. If you do straight Hatha yoga, you won’t work up a sweat but will leave feeling looser and more flexible, noted Gaiam.

Precautions: Check with a teacher to see how much movement and speed is involved in the class. If you have physical constraints, tell the instructor prior to class. Some yoga moves involve the instructor pushing on the participants. That might be unhealthy for some. But in general, Hatha yoga is safe for everyone including seniors and pregnant women, noted Healthy Living. If you have high blood pressure, glaucoma or sciatica, you will want to check with your doctor before doing this and other types of yoga.

Power yoga

Yoga participants in downward dog position.
Microgen / Shutterstock.com

You likely guessed from the name that power yoga is intense — though as with other forms, it varies from class to class. Still, this style is always fast-paced and includes strength training using your own body weight, according to PopSugar. Also, note, some Power yoga courses are done in heated rooms.

Precautions: Those with back pain and joint issues may well want to avoid power yoga, recommended Yoga Teacher Training Blog. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to talk to instructor prior to joining such a class. Power yoga is meant to be strenuous, and it’s vital to know if the teacher will modify moves for beginners.

Vinyasa yoga

Yoga practitioner in crane position.
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

This is the most common type of yoga in the U.S. You’ve probably heard of poses such as “Downward Dog.” That’s a pose often done in Vinyasa yoga. Many people call this yoga “flow” yoga because practitioners coordinate their breaths as they “flow” from one pose to the next, according to Yoga Journal. But don’t think that means it’s gentle. Flow yoga can be intense because you change poses quickly — and some poses require extreme flexibility.

Precautions: As we previously reported, inversion exercises are among those that can be hazardous to many. Aura Wellness Center goes even further, cautioning that beginners shouldn’t attempt Vinyasa. Participants are meant to move quickly through poses while coordinating breathing. “A beginner would be overwhelmed by the fast pace,” the publication said.

Kundalini yoga

Woman meditating in grass.
irina owl / Shutterstock.com

If you’re looking for a spiritual yoga, Kundalini may be for you. Practitioners move into somewhat challenging poses, oftentimes with vigorous breathing or panting to release the energy in your body. Meditation and chanting are also used in Kundalini, noted Yoga Journal.

Precautions: Awakening your spirit with Kundalini yoga can cause insomnia, mood swings and other psychological imbalances, noted Mindful Motivations. As a practitioner, I can also add that rapid breathing can leave you short of breath and that some poses call for easy flexibility. As mentioned earlier, check with the instructor and explain any modifications that may be needed.

Bikram and ‘hot’ yoga

Woman doing side plank yoga pose.
A StockStudio / Shutterstock.com

These types of yoga are related and are basically high-intensity drills. Bikram (named for its founder Bikram Choudhury) involves 26 basic yoga postures in a sauna-like room. That means the heat is 105 degrees and the humidity is 40 percent. The differences between the two styles of yoga include everything from studio, attitude (you have to be very disciplined in Bikram), poses and duration (90 minutes for Bikram, 60 for most hot yoga), reported YogaHub.

Precautions: Hot yoga is best practiced by those in optimal physical health. People with heart conditions and heat-related tendencies (heat stroke, dehydration) should avoid “hot” yoga, recommended the Mayo Clinic. Pregnant women are also advised to avoid it. Those with flexibility and stamina issues should likely also think twice before joining this type of class.

Restorative yoga

Woman practicing restorative yoga.
ESB Basic / Shutterstock.com

Want to relax and meditate? Restorative may well be what you want. It’s one of my very favorite types of yoga especially on a Friday night. Like other types of yoga, Restorative varies from teacher to teacher but most I’ve taken are done by candlelight and involve lying on a yoga mat while covered with blankets. Poses are gentle and very slow.

Precautions: Restorative yoga is very gentle, but some instructors incorporate poses that involve lifting your legs above your head or inversion, according to Yoga Journal. As mentioned above, those with high blood pressure, glaucoma and other medical issues should check with the instructor to understand exactly what poses will be expected and suitable modifications based on physician’s recommendations.

Yin yoga

Man practicing yoga outside Asian temple.
zjuzjaka / Shutterstock.com

If you think of yoga as the type you might have seen on television — long, leisurely seated stretches and meditation — Yin yoga might be what you want. Yin practitioners hold seated and supine poses for 3 to 5 minutes, so you’ll build patience too, says Yoga Journal.

Precautions: Yin yoga is another very gentle practice, but general precautions are offered here on the site YinYoga.com.

Yoga can get you where you want to go physically, spiritually or mentally. The secret is choosing the style and teacher that matches your goals. Not sure which yoga poses might exacerbate your specific health condition? Here is an excellent guide published by Yoga Journal.

What’s your experience with or impression of yoga? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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