For the weekend: Discover your inner yogi

Consumer Reports News: June 04, 2010 06:08 PM

 "All that wacky ohmm-ing and heavy breathing!? No thanks. Yoga’s not for me," said a dear friend until—after much persuasion from me, and a free trial offer at my gym—he decided to see for himself. And he’s in good company: An estimated 15.8 million American adults practiced yoga in 2008, and about 9 million more say they plan to try it.

Yoga has lots of health benefits, including protecting the heart, curbing stress, controlling pain in people with arthritis and other conditions, easing asthma and chronic bronchitis, and improving sleep. Women who practice yoga are less likely to gain weight, research shows, in part because they seem to make healthier food choices. If you’re not sure whether it’s for you or aren’t sure where to start, our ShopSmart editors have explained the main forms of yoga and who they’re best for:

Hatha  

What it is: A series of poses, called asanas, that involve stretching, bending, and balancing while you practice deep, controlled breathing. Hatha’s the most common form in the U.S., and it’s what many people think of when they hear the word "yoga." 

Who it’s good for: Anyone, but hatha might be an especially good place to start if you’re a beginner. You’ll learn all the standard poses, and it’s not as physically demanding as some of the other forms.

Vinyasa 

What it is: The word literally means "movement linked with breath." Vinyasa classes move briskly and incorporate basic asanas and more advanced ones, such as back bends, arm balances, and inversions—yoga-speak for upside-down poses, such as headstands and forearm stands. They’re sometimes called "flow" classes because of the way each pose leads into the next. A related form, called ashtanga, is similarly challenging and involves doing poses in a very specific sequence. Vinyasa and ashtanga inspired the "power yoga" classes you see in health clubs. 

Who it’s good for: People who have a few months of yoga under their belts and want more of a challenge.

Bikram 

What it is: This is the "hot yoga" you might have heard about. Bikram takes place in a 100-plus-degree room, which is supposed to help facilitate deeper bending and stretching. Devotees claim that it even helps detoxify the body. 

Who it’s good for: People in good physical shape who want to trim and tone through a vigorous, sweaty mind-body workout. Because Bikram is practiced in high heat, it might not be safe for pregnant women or people who are sick.

Iyengar 

What it is: Classic yoga positions with a focus on precision and proper alignment. Participants might hold poses for a minute or longer to build awareness of how it feels to perform each one correctly. Iyengar often involves props such as straps, blocks, and bolsters to facilitate certain poses. It doesn’t provide much of an aerobic workout, but holding the poses provides its own challenges, physical and mental. 

Who it’s good for: This old form of yoga is good for everyone. It’s especially good if you have a particular physical concern, such as lower-back pain or arthritic knees.

As for my friend, after years of dismissing yoga as "girly exercise," he’s eating his words and finds his center two to three times a week. And he has this healthy addiction to thank for his newfound flexibility, near-perfect posture, and boundless positive energy.

Ginger Skinner

Do you practice yoga? Which form? What effects has it had on your health?

Aaron Bailey


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