With so many different styles of yoga available these days – everything from “hot yoga” to “power yoga” to “naked yoga” (I’m not making this up!) – how do you choose the right style for yourself, especially if you have back pain?
In this month’s article, I’ll go over some of the styles of yoga that are out there. In the next issue, I’ll cover some other things to consider when looking for a yoga class that won’t hurt your back.
Though yoga is known for its many health benefits, from improving strength and flexibility to reducing stress, you can injure yourself doing yoga.  (I wrote an article on my blog titled “Can Yoga Wreck Your Body?” which you can check out here:
Below I’ve listed some of the styles of yoga that I’ve tried. This is a brief review, based on my own personal experiences, comments from students in my classes, and lectures and articles by yoga teachers. I hope it helps you to make sense of the huge variety of yoga classes offered these days.
This is the style of yoga that I was trained in. It’s based on the teaching of BKS Iyengar (1918-2014) from India, who pioneered an alignment-based practice that was very specific and included many recommendations for therapeutic  use of asanas (yoga poses) for multiple conditions, from back pain to pregnancy to migraines. Props such as blocks, straps, and chairs are often used to help students get into poses safely and effectively. A Beginning level class would be a good place to start if you have back pain.  Advanced classes can be quite vigorous.
Ashtanga yoga is an athletic, fast-paced style of yoga championed by Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), also from India. Vinyasas, or transition poses, are used in between the asanas. So you may do a standing pose, and then before you do the second side, you’ll do Plank pose, Upward-Facing Dog pose and Downward-Facing Dog pose. The first time I went to an Ashtanga class, I wasn’t used to doing that many plank Poses. When I left, my arms were shaking as I was holding the steering wheel! Needless to say, I was sore the next day!
Flow Yoga
Flow yoga also uses Vinyasa sequences, but there is quite a variety in terms of classes. Some may be more gentle, some very vigorous.
Hatha Yoga
Knowing that a class is “Hatha Yoga” doesn’t tell you much, except that you’ll be doing physical postures, and not just chanting or meditating. If it says “gentle”, that would be best for those with back pain.
This is a style of yoga pioneered by TKV Desikachar (again from India), and popularized by Gary Kraftsow in the US. Viniyoga focuses on the individual nature of students, and was originally taught individually. It tends to be a bit more gentle, and can have a therapeutic focus as well.
Bikram Yoga
This style of yoga was created by Bikram Choudhury and consists of a sequence of 26 postures done in a room heated to 105 degrees. While heat can help muscles to release more easily, it is also easier to overstretch because you feel looser. You can do your own research online to see the various lawsuits that Bikram has been involved in. I attended one Bikram yoga class and didn’t feel that the alignment guidelines were safe for the spine, so I didn’t go back. Several students in my classes mentioned injuring themselves in Bikram Yoga classes, so I don’t recommend these if you have back pain, or want to avoid it.
Kundalini Yoga
This was the first style of yoga I tried, in college. Kundalini Yoga includes chanting, breathwork and not as many “classical” yoga poses. It is more movement oriented, as opposed to holding a pose for a minute or so. I remember a lovely gong meditation in the class I took in college that was incredibly relaxing!
This is only a small sampling of what is available in the yoga world. I hope it gives you some idea of where to get started when looking for a yoga class that will leave you feeling good, rather than ending up in pain. I’ll include other things to consider when choosing a class in my next issue.
© Dana K. Davis, 2016. All Rights Reserved.