Which Type of Yoga Is Right for You?

Find out which popular yoga style fits you best

In North America, Hatha yoga is the most popular style, consisting of a series of poses, or “asanas,” mindful breathing techniques called “pranayama,” and relaxation and meditation. Within Hatha yoga, there are many different sub-styles offering various levels of exertion and focus. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Ashtanga is a rigorous physical workout designed to build strength and endurance with a specific sequence of postures
  • Bikram, or hot yoga, is practiced in a room heated to 105° F. and helps promote deeper stretching and the flushing out of toxins.
  • Iyengar focuses on body alignment and balance, using props like chairs, straps and blocks
  • Kundalini has moving poses and uses a different breathing approach than other yoga styles, intended to release kundalini or serpent energy throughout the body
  • Kripalu builds awareness about how your body works in different poses, holding poses longer with meditation
  • Restorative yoga uses bolsters, blankets and blocks to help perform poses with minimal exertion
  • Viniyoga is an individualized practice that starts with warming up and contracting muscles before using them to decrease the chance of injury
  • Vinyasa has smooth-flowing dance movements synchronized with breathing

Some Medical Conditions Call for Caution

Check with your health care provider before you start practicing any form of yoga. If you have a medical condition, it’s a good idea to work one-on-one with a certified yoga therapist for several sessions before attempting a class.

For people with lower back pain, determining the underlying cause of the pain is key to determining which poses might be beneficial: “For certain kinds of back pain, forward folds are therapeutic, but for other types, like herniated disks, forward folds would be completely contraindicated,” says Chang. She advises people with pain or injury to look for yoga described as “beginner,” “restorative” or “foundations.”

Pregnant women and people who have high blood pressure, glaucoma, osteoporosis or sciatica should work with a certified yoga therapist to modify or avoid certain poses altogether. For example, headstands, handstands and standing forward bends are not recommended for people with glaucoma as they all place the head below the heart. Bikram is not generally recommended for people with heart disease or lung disease or those with a prior history of heatstroke; pregnant women should check with their doctor before practicing Bikram yoga.

–Jane Langille

Jane Langille

Jane Langille is a health and medical writer based near Toronto, Ontario. Jane writes about health news and medical innovations for media publications and health care providers

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