Yearning to Learn Yoga?

I’m interested in doing yoga to relax, but I don’t know which type is best. What do you advise?

– April 24, 2007

Yoga is great for relaxation. Many of the postures or asanas are intended to quiet the body and nervous system in order to facilitate concentration and meditation. Also, yoga emphasizes breath work, which can relax you internally, improving heart function, blood pressure, circulation, and digestion.

You might want to start with hatha yoga, the most familiar form. Developed more than 6,000 years ago, it can lead to deep relaxation while toning your muscles and increasing your flexibility. Some hatha styles well suited to beginners are Kripalu yoga, Viniyoga, and Integral yoga.

Other types of yoga can be very challenging physically. Among them:

  • Bikram yoga: This is done in an extremely hot room (the temperature is set at 105 degrees F and the humidity controlled at 60 percent). The high heat is designed to relax muscles and allow for deeper stretching. I have concerns about exercising in high heat since it is particularly stressful on the body (even for those who are very fit). It is also easier to overstretch muscles in a hot environment without being aware of it at the time. If you do, you will suffer later. If you’re tempted to try a Bikram class, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout and pay close attention to how you feel. Take a break if you find either the pace or the poses too strenuous.
  • Power Yoga: Known for centuries as “Ashtanga” yoga, this involves a rigorous sequence of classic yoga postures one after another, working all your major muscle groups. I would recommend Ashtanga yoga (and other strenuous forms, including Kundalini yoga and Iyengar yoga) only for those who are in good physical shape and accustomed to vigorous workouts.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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