In the United States, more and more medical doctors are prescribing regular yoga practice to their patients as an alternative therapy. The trend reflects a movement toward a holistic approach to health care. Unsurprisingly, it also makes good economic sense. It’s cheaper (and more effective) to start doing yoga at 30 than to treat obesity at 60.
Doctors have come to realize that yoga has many healthful benefits. Yoga has been proven to help patients recover and maintain their health for everything from headaches to heart conditions. Yoga is part of a medically recognized healthier lifestyle. We think it’s about time.
When medical doctors prescribe yoga, their patients often jump in with both feet. After all, doing yoga is easier than undergoing surgery or dealing with expensive drugs. Patients buy yoga products like mats, apparel and props — without really knowing what they need. Then they take the first yoga class, or maybe the cheapest, that they can find.
With so many styles of yoga accessible these days, stepping into a yoga class that is perhaps not the best fit, can have the opposite of the desired effects. With just a little research and preparation, you can find the perfect class for you.
Getting Started with Yoga
If your doctor recommends that you begin taking yoga classes, go into the practice with your eyes open. If you’ve never done yoga before, talk to friends or relatives who do yoga regularly. Look around in your area to discover what yoga classes are available. Make some phone calls.
Find a beginner’s class at a studio that is conveniently located. Read the different studios’ websites and the instructors’ bios to see if any one in particular resonates with you. Ask the yoga studio or the instructor what you need to bring to the class before you actually go to the class. Some people find a private lesson or two helpful before attending a group class. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, find out if the studio offers one-on-one lessons for beginners. Be sure to inform the instructor of your health concerns ahead of time that way they can help you modify the practice to suit your needs.
Types of Yoga
Certain types of yoga are better than others for those who’ve been directed to the practice by their doctors. Some yoga practices are more physically demanding, while others are focused more on a mind-body connection or on spirituality. But there are types of yoga conducive to people with specific health needs. Here is a rundown of our recommendations:
- Hatha Yoga: This is the generic name for the physical practice of yoga which means there can be a lot of variability from teacher to teacher. Generally though, Hatha Yoga is a gentle, introductory class, great for beginners, with a focus on form and alignment. Yoga props are used and the pace is slower. Before you attend a hatha yoga class, contact the studio to confirm that it’s appropriate for you.
- Hot Yoga and Warm Yoga: Many studios offer yoga in a heated room. These classes are good for people looking for a challenge. The heat increases circulation and sweating and can help stretch tight muscles. Hot yoga is contraindicated for some health conditions so check with your doctor first.
- Iyengar Yoga and Alignment-Based Yoga: This type of yoga focuses on finding alignment in each pose. It’s not as rigorous as it sounds for beginners, as they encourage you to use yoga products and props, such as Three Minute Egg®, belts and bolsters, to find your optimal alignment. It can be a good introduction to yoga and helpful for those looking to heal injuries.
- Restorative Yoga: In Restorative Yoga you practice the poses in a supported way, using various products and props, so that you can fully relax and de-stress. By stimulating the body’s natural relaxation response, this style of yoga can reduce your blood pressure and bring benefit to your internal organs and systems of your body (e.g., digestive and circulatory).
- Vinyasa (Flow) Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and Power Yoga: These classes are often more rigorous and faster paced than other yoga styles. The poses are practiced in a flowing manner and the movements are synchronized with the breath. In this way Vinyasa Flow can be a great cardiovascular exercise and strength building practice.
- Viniyoga: This style of yoga incorporates slow, mindful movements that are connected to the breath. Despite having a similar name, it is quite different than Vinyasa Flow. Viniyoga is a physically therapeutic style of yoga that is usually customized to the individual. It is especially helpful for back and neck issues.
- Yin Yoga: Named to distinguish itself from the more active, dynamic (yang) yoga styles, Yin yoga is still and meditative. Deep stretches are help for a period of 1-10 minutes each.