The science is in: yoga is good for you. From back pain to foggy brain, a little downward dog will soon have you looking up.
The practice has long been associated with spiritual healing, but over the past decade, research has been flowing in to support the multitude of physical and mental benefits this ancient practice provides.
For starters, a US study published in 2017 determined that certain yoga poses can be a safe, effective and drug-free way of relieving chronic back pain. In 2015, a Harvard study using MRIs determined that the mindful meditation practised in yoga improves your brain function, helping to reduce stress, boost your mood and improve mental clarity. Two separate 2014 studies on women with breast cancer revealed yoga helped to reduce fatigue, stress and inflammation in the body while promoting feelings of wellbeing and quality of life overall.
More proven benefits include improvements in blood pressure levels, immune response, cardiovascular health, bone density and joint mobility. Yoga has even been shown to lengthen telomeres – the tips of the DNA strands that govern your body’s cellular function – promoting a longer, healthier life.
So you’re convinced it’s worth giving yoga a try, but how do you figure out which type is best for you? Here’s a roundup of six different styles of yoga.
A simple practice that combines postures and breathing exercises to form the essential foundation of all yoga styles, Hatha helps you improve flexibility, maintain balance and control your breath.
Best for: Beginners; anyone looking for a calm, slow-paced practice.
A more vigorous form of yoga than Hatha, in which you move through a steady flow of postures synchronised with your breath. While Vinyasa challenges your body, it also works to still your mind.
Best for: Beginners and more advanced yogis who want to build strength and stamina.
This style is all about precise alignment. Belts, blankets, blocks, chairs and other props are used to minimise risk of injury and help you move into precise postures that are typically held for a period from several breaths to a minute or two.
Best for: Those with injuries or limiting chronic medical conditions such as arthritis; anyone who appreciates anatomical precision.
A powerful, fast-paced and disciplined practice arranged in a specific progression of sequences – a bit like Vinyasa on steroids (though no actual steroid use, obviously).
Best for: Advanced yogis who enjoy a brisk workout; anyone who is injury-free and physically fit.
Also known as ‘hot yoga’, Bikram is practised in a room heated up to a steamy 37 degrees Celsius. A strict sequence of 26 poses is designed to help you get loose, limber and very, very sweaty.
Best for: Advanced yogis who love a challenge; those with achy joints or tight muscles.
This is the most gentle yoga practice of them all. Passive poses are carefully set up using props such as straps, bolsters and blankets to provide support as you ease into positions that may be held for up to 10 minutes. The primary aim here is relaxation and release.
Best for: Pregnant women, the overstressed and overworked, anyone dealing with an injury or feeling rundown, or all of the above.