Which type of yoga is best for you?
If this New Year you are firmly resolved to start exercising regularly, yoga can offer various health benefits. It helps to develop muscle tone and improve balance and flexibility, and may aid weight loss. Plus, it can calm frazzled nerves. But it definitely doesn't need to include chanting or patchouli.
Yoga is a low-impact exercise, so is good if you have any previous injuries or health issues that make you wary of exercise. Any yoga instructor worth their salt will be able to offer you modifications to poses to ensure that your practice is safe and customised to your specific physical needs.
Different types of yoga
There are many different types of yoga taught in the UK, but the three you're most likely to come across are Hatha, Bikram and Ashtanga. Intensities, postures and specific benefits vary, so here's a brief description of each to help you decide which one you want to try first.
Hatha is one of the gentlest types, with a heavy emphasis on breathing and relaxation. It's a passive form of yoga (as opposed to active), meaning you can expect classes to be slow-moving with easy postures, so ideal if you want a gradual introduction to yoga and feel a little daunted by more intense classes.
"I do a Hatha class, and a lot of how the class will be depends on the teacher, but if you are concerned about posture then Hatha is a good yoga style to try as a first attempt. I've found that Hatha's best for my body." indiegrrrl
Hatha won't give you a serious calorie-burning workout, so if you're looking to break a sweat and get really fit, you may want to try Bikram or Ashtanga.
- Workout level: Easy
- Best for: Relaxation, meditation, stress release
- Top tip: Bring a jumper with you to make sure you stay warm, as slow classes can sometimes feel chilly
Bikram, or hot yoga, is practised in studios heated to 40C, so you can expect to sweat buckets and ache for a few days afterwards. It's not for the faint-hearted, and if you have a medical condition, do check with your GP before you sign up for classes.
"If you're looking for yoga that's just a bloody hard work out with absolutely no spiritual side whatsoever, do try Bikram Yoga. I thought I was a pretty fit yogi and it kicks my arse." Jacksmania
But there's a reason Bikram is so popular – converts are evangelical about its energising qualities. It is the most 'gym'-like of the yogas - expect steep prices and instructors who will pressure you not to rest between poses.
- Workout level: Very high
- Best for: Sweating, detoxing, improving flexibility thanks to the heat
- Top tip: Don't glug lots of water during the class – it can actually make you feel worse, and wear as little as you feel comfortable with (baggy t-shirts are not recommended)
Ashtanga is a very physically demanding form of yoga, with attendants moving constantly, and performing sun salutations/vinyasas, which are flowing movements involving a low push up, plank pose, and downward-facing dog (see picture.)
"Ashtanga is a more dynamic form of yoga, which is to say more gymnastic effort is required to move from one posture to the next, which can be quite exhausting, although very good for clearing the mind." Gizmo
With the majority of poses being held for just five breaths each, you cover a lot of ground. It also involves a lot of controlled breathing, which is great if you have low stamina and find jogging or other cardiovascular workouts make you too puffed.
- Workout level: High
- Best for: Cardio and strength-building with low impact
- Top tip: Focus as much as possible on keeping your breathing slow and regular
Yoga while pregnant and antenatal yoga
Many pregnant women do antenatal yoga to strengthen their abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, reduce stress levels and enjoy a low-impact form of exercise. It can also help boost circulation and help reduce fluid retention.
Most yoga styles are safe for pregnant women, depending on the trimester you're in. But it's very important you tell the instructor that you're pregnant before the class begins. Some poses, such as lying on your back or balancing on one leg, are not recommended after a certain point in pregnancy, but this varies depending on the type of yoga. If you have any doubts at all, speak to your doctor or midwife.
Other styles of yoga
Iyengar is another form of slow-moving yoga, but is a little bit more dynamic and challenging than Hatha and is popular with Mumsnetters.
If you specifically want to improve your flexibility, Iyengar compensates for stiffness and joint problems by providing props like straps, chairs, cushions and yoga bricks to help get you into deep stretches for long periods of time, which can be highly relaxing and feel fantastic for sore muscles. Unlike Ashtanga, it doesn't have much jumping, so is good for anyone with existing injuries.
Vinyasa flow yoga
If you want to take the next step up from Ashtanga, without having to go to Bikram, cardio-heavy fitness-focused Vinyasa yoga is for you.
The most calorie burning of the bunch, in a Vinyasa flow class you'll be moving quickly in sync with your breath and perform (unsurprisingly) a lot of vinyasas. You can expect to get your heart-rate right up, and burn around 500 calories in an hour depending on your weight.
There's no need for shoes, and you can even get away without a proper sports bra. Loose, stretchy clothing is best.
For most types of yoga, leggings and a vest top with a long cotton top over it should be fine. If you're heading to Bikram, wear shorts and a vest top, preferably one that wicks sweat away from your skin.
A much more mental, meditative approach to yoga, Yin is a gentle work out designed to improve your flexibility and circulation by working out connective tissues.
Poses are often held for three to five minutes, or longer. Yin yoga also employs more spirituality than other forms of yoga - though of course this will vary hugely depending on your teacher - and has an emphasis on the Qi or "life force".
Practising at home
Many people like to practise yoga at home using online videos or DVDs. Here are some recommendations from the Mumsnet Talk boards.
- "If you're pregnant, Tara Lee's DVD is very gentle and calming. I would definitely recommend this for someone in advanced stages of pregnancy or someone new to yoga." lilly13
Buy it now
- "I love Shiva Rea. The DVD has 20-minute long sequences that you either combine or do one at a time. When you first do it, she seems to move between poses really quickly but once you've done it a few times it's much easier to follow." skinnychai
Buy it now
If you want to practise at home, it's worth investing in a good yoga mat, but there's a huge range available to suit all budgets and needs, so it's worth asking for tips on Talk before you buy.