What Style of Yoga is Best for Your Health?

New research compares yoga to find out which style improves your health.

Posted Jul 22, 2016

I often am asked by people who are starting yoga, “What type of yoga should I try? There are so many styles to choose from. Is there one that is best for my health?”

My answer is to try a variety of styles and to do what feels right for you, because there is no one “right” style, no one-size-fits-all approach. And what feels right for you can change day to day, too. Some people prefer faster or slower paced classes, or may have injuries or medical conditions that certain styles of yoga can accommodate better.

The important thing is to listen to what your body and mind needs, moment to moment, and choose what works for you. If you find a style that you enjoy and will encourage you do yoga regularly, do that one.

But you might still wonder, what does science say about what style of yoga is healthiest?  Is it the really fast and sweaty kind or the style where you're doing the most challenging poses?

Actually, the good news is... all styles of yoga.

A new 2016 study published in the Complementary Therapies in Medicine shows that as long as you are showing up to your mat, you’ll reaping the benefits. Researchers looked at over 300 research trials on yoga and found that, of the 52 styles of yoga studied, more than 90 percent improved health. Yoga improved medical and psychological conditions including chronic back pain, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, migraines, asthma, depression—the list goes on.

This means that what is most important when you choose a yoga style is just that you do yoga—not that you do a specific style of yoga. The most commonly studied styles of yoga in the research literature were Hatha yoga, which covers most of pose-based yoga here in the U.S., Iyengar yoga, integrated approach to yoga, and yoga breathing techniques (pranayama).

Here are some of the most commonly studied yoga that can improve your health (it's important to note that there are dozens more to this list that have been shown to make a positive impact on your body and mind):

  • Hatha yoga is a generic term for pose-based yoga, which includes most styles of yoga in the U.S., but can also be used to denote a gentler, slower, more static form of yoga.
  • Iyengar yoga, developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, is a style that focuses on the proper alignment of the body and utilizes props like blocks and blankets to support the body.
  • An integrated approach to yoga combines poses, meditation, and breathing exercises.
  • Pranayama is an umbrella term that includes many types of yoga breathing techniques.
  • Yoga Nidra is a form of "yogic sleep" achieved through deep relaxation and meditation.
  • Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding, athletic practice that typically uses a specific sequence of poses.
  • Kundalini yoga combines poses, chanting mantra, meditation, and breathing techniques.
  • Hot yoga is yoga practiced in heated, humid environment.
  • Vinyasa is a popular flow style of yoga that moves from pose to pose.
  • Viniyoga includes poses, breathing and meditation and can be adaptable and gentle.
  • Restorative yoga is a rejuvenating, calming style in which poses are supported by the ground and using bolsters, blocks, and blankets.
  • and many more styles

What are your favorite styles of yoga and why? Share your experiences here.

Finding the right style of yoga for you can depend on your personal preferences, goals, what’s available where you live, any past and present injuries or medical conditions, and the integration of spirituality. If you’re interested in doing yoga, try a variety of styles to find out what works for you.

The most important step is just showing up to your mat.

Marlynn Wei, MD, PLLC © 2016