Which is the best yoga style for your goals?
Thursday, August 31, 2017. Author Imogen Knibbs
Thursday, August 31, 2017. Author Imogen Knibbs
Yoga comes in many different styles. Some popular types of yoga practice include Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Bikram, Kundalini, and Ashtanga. As much as it is a form of exercise, yoga is a lifestyle, where students are encouraged to be more mindful, and there is an emphasis on breathing and meditation. Over 20 million people practice yoga in the US alone, but is it right for you?
Practicing yoga can improve strength, muscular endurance  and flexibility, and as a result can be an excellent supplement to any exercise program. Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga are both fluid and movement-intensive styles of yoga, requiring strength and endurance. The difference between these two styles is the sequence of poses: Ashtanga follows a set sequence whereas the individual instructor decides the Vinyasa flow. These more intensive styles of yoga may also be referred to as ‘power yoga’.
If you love to work up a sweat then ‘hot yoga’, performed in a heated room, could be the perfect workout for you. Referred to as ‘Bikram yoga’ if a set sequence of 26 postures is followed, the heated room provides an additional increase in heart rate, and warm muscles allow you to push deeper into the postures without increased risk of injury. The hot yoga classes are designed to be sweaty, so it is important to stay hydrated in the run-up and during the class.
Introducing yoga as a part of your weekly workout routine can also provide an opportunity for mindfulness. The emotional benefits of practicing yoga are not all anecdotal; there has been a recent explosion in scientific literature backing the use of yoga as a complementary therapy for mental health illnesses, such as anxiety  and depression. Practicing Bikram yoga has been associated with increased ‘mindfulness’ and reduced perceived stress . Additionally, practicing Hatha yoga (a generic term for yoga including postures) has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (the ‘stress hormone’) and depressive symptoms in pregnant women .
Recent studies into the therapeutic benefits of yoga also include research into yoga as a therapy for chronic lower back pain. Iyengar yoga, which focuses on posture and proper alignment within the poses, has been associated with improved back function. However, large scale meta-analyses failed to find significant evidence that yoga improved back pain . Nevertheless, practicing yoga has a low risk of injury and could still improve quality of life. Iyengar yoga, with its focus on posture, makes use of props such as yoga belts and blocks to help avoid injury or strain. If you find yourself stiff from working at a computer all day, this could be the practice for you.
The demands of modern culture, sleep disorders, and aging are just a few factors contributing to the epidemic in poor sleep quality and duration. However, evidence shows that yoga could be your ticket to a better night's sleep. Increasing daily activity improves night-time sleep quality, and therefore a vigorous vinyasa flow could be one technique to improve your sleep. Studies have shown how regularly practicing yoga can improve sleep in groups that typically experience reduced sleep quality, such as cancer survivors , pregnant women  and the elderly . In addition to simply increasing daytime activity, the focus on mindfulness in yoga can aid sleep quality by relieving stress. Kundalini yoga, the ‘yoga of awareness’, incorporates dynamic breathing, meditation and the chanting of mantras. This less physically demanding style of yoga could be a relaxing wind-down to your day, in preparation for a good night’s sleep.
One of the most important principles of yoga that is adopted by all good teachers is an emphasis on 'making the practice your own'. This concept provides a non-judgemental environment where you can adjust your practice to what feels right for you, allowing yoga to be a viable activity for all ages, all fitness levels, and it doesn’t matter how far you are from touching your toes!
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I hope you enjoyed this article.
Have you read my other blog post on Eating Insects?
1. Shiraishi et al. 2016. Effects of yoga practice on muscular endurance in young women. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 22: 69-73
2. Smith et al. A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety 2007 Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 15(2):77-83
3. Hewett et al. 2011. An examination of the effectiveness of an 8-week bikram yoga program on mindfulness, perceived stress, and physical fitness. Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness 9(2):87–92
4. Bershadsky et al. The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 20(2):106-113
5. Whitehead & Fogerite. 2017. Yoga treatment for chronic non-specific low back pain. Explore (NY) 13(4): 281-284
6. Mustian et al. 2013. Multicenter, randomized controlled trial of yoga for sleep quality among cancer survivors. J Clin Oncol. 31(26): 3233-3241
7. Beddoe et al. 2010. Effects of mindful yoga on sleep in pregnant women: a pilot study. Biol Res Nurs. 11(4): 363-370
8. Hariprasad et al. 2013. Effects of yoga intervention on sleep and quality-of-life in elderly: A randomized controlled trial. 55(Suppl 3): S364-8
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