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Which type of yoga is best for stress relief


Yoga: Fight stress and find serenity

Is yoga right for you? It is if you want to fight stress, get fit and stay healthy.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your mobile phone is ringing. Your boss wants to talk to you. And your partner wants to know what’s for dinner. Stress and anxiety are everywhere. If they’re getting the best of you, you might want to hit the mat and give yoga a try.

Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation or relaxation. Yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate. And almost anyone can do it.

Understanding yoga

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  • Photo of yoga pose

    Yoga pose

Yoga is considered one of many types of complementary and integrative medicine approaches. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines that may help you achieve peacefulness of body and mind. This can help you relax and manage stress and anxiety.

Yoga has many styles, forms and intensities. Hatha yoga, in particular, may be a good choice for stress management. Hatha is one of the most common styles of yoga, and beginners may like its slower pace and easier movements. But most people can benefit from any style of yoga — it’s all about your personal preferences.

The core components of hatha yoga and most general yoga classes are:

  • Poses. Yoga poses, also called postures, are a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility. Poses range from simple to difficult. In a simple post, you might lie on the floor while completely relaxed. A difficult posture may have you stretching your physical limits.
  • Breathing. Controlling your breathing is an important part of yoga. Yoga teaches that controlling your breathing can help you control your body and quiet your mind.
  • Meditation or relaxation. In yoga, you may incorporate meditation or relaxation. Meditation may help you learn to be more mindful and aware of the present moment without judgment.

The health benefits of yoga

The potential health benefits of yoga include:

  • Stress reduction. A number of studies have shown that yoga may help reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga can enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being. Yoga might also help you manage your symptoms of depression and anxiety that are due to difficult situations.
  • Improved fitness. Practicing yoga may lead to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength.
  • Management of chronic conditions. Yoga can help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Yoga may also help manage low back pain, neck pain and menopause symptoms. Yoga might also help relieve symptoms of several chronic conditions, such as pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, arthritis and insomnia.

Yoga precautions

Yoga is generally considered safe for most healthy people when practiced under the guidance of a trained instructor. But there are some situations in which yoga might pose a risk.

See your doctor before you begin yoga if any of the following apply to you:

  • A herniated disk
  • A risk of blood clots
  • Eye conditions, including glaucoma
  • Pregnancy — although yoga is generally safe during pregnancy, certain poses should be avoided
  • Severe balance problems
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Uncontrolled blood pressure

You may be able to practice yoga in these situations if you take precautions, such as avoiding certain poses or stretches. If you develop symptoms, such as pain, or have concerns, see your doctor to make sure you’re getting benefit and not harm from yoga.

Getting started

Although you can learn yoga from books and videos, beginners usually find it helpful to learn with an instructor. Classes also offer camaraderie and friendship, which are also important to overall well-being.

When you find a class that sounds interesting, talk with the instructor so that you know what to expect. Questions to ask include:

  • What are the instructor’s qualifications? Where did he or she train and how long has he or she been teaching?
  • Does the instructor have experience working with students with your needs or health concerns? If you have a sore knee or an aching shoulder, can the instructor help you find poses that won’t aggravate your condition?
  • How demanding is the class? Is it suitable for beginners? Will it be easy enough to follow along if it’s your first time?
  • What can you expect from the class? Is it aimed at your needs, such as stress management or relaxation, or is it geared toward people who want to reap other benefits?

Achieving the right balance

Every person has a different body with different abilities. You may need to modify yoga postures based on your individual abilities. Your instructor may be able to suggest modified poses. Choosing an instructor who is experienced and who understands your needs is important to safely and effectively practice yoga.

Regardless of which type of yoga you practice, you don’t have to do every pose. If a pose is uncomfortable or you can’t hold it as long as the instructor requests, don’t do it. Good instructors will understand and encourage you to explore — but not exceed — your personal limits.

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See more In-depth

Yoga grew up alongside a traditional healing system (Ayurveda) that stresses this: we are ALL unique and therefore, our paths towards healing are infinitely diverse.

Even given this diversity, there are few styles of yoga (by no means exhaustive) that I recommend yogis turn to (styles that I also personally turn to) when dealing with greater levels of stress.

Restorative Yoga

Good for: Recovery from illness, injury, chronic fatigue, mental overwhelm, and major life events/transitions.

Focus: Reset your nervous system while relaxing your body.

What it’s like:  Yoga props will entirely support your body so that you can rest.

Intention: To feel completely supported and relaxed.

Renowned yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar (author of Light on Yoga) is credited for some of the first restorative yoga postures with students recovering from major health disruptions. Judith Lasater, who studied under Iyengar calls restorative yoga “active relaxation” and recommends it for times before, during, and after major life events such as deaths of loved ones, marriage, divorce, holidays, etc.

It’s interesting to note that even positive life events can put our bodies into a stressful state simply from being a transition that our bodies and minds have not been able to process.

Yin Yoga

Good for: Relieving tension/patterns of tightness in the body, breaking up scar tissue, and practicing the art of slowing down and being still.

Focus: Bring positive stress to the joints and connective tissue to increase flexibility.

What it’s like: You will hold yoga postures for several minutes at a time with or without props.

Intention: Feel intense stretching sensations unfold over time using breath and gravity. Let go of physical patterns of tension/holding.

Yin yoga differs from restorative yoga in its connection to the Chinese meridian system (the same system that underscores practices like acupuncture and acupressure) and its emphasis on myofascial release and joint stress.

Yin yoga can be an excellent style for athletes or office workers—both of whom suffer from inflexibility due to repetitive routines. Bernie Clark (author of The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga) says:

“Consider your will and your body as two dancers, moving in total unison. Too many beginning and even experienced yoga students make their yoga into a wrestling match—the mind contending with the body, forcing it into postures that the body is resisting. Yoga is a dance, not a wrestling match.”

Yoga Nidra

Good for: Regulating heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism, stabilizing emotions (particularly for those suffering with PTSD), improving focus and feelings of well-being.

Focus: Deep relaxation while awake and conscious.

What it’s like: You will rest in Corpse pose (Savasana) for 20 minutes or longer while receiving guidance to relax your body and elevate your mind.

Intention: Deeply relax your body without falling asleep and tap into your subconscious.

Yoga Nidra is sometimes translated as “yogic sleep” but it is a conscious sleep. While the process varies from teacher to teacher, you will typically be asked to set an intention (sankalpa) before starting the practice. During the practice, you may be guided through visualizations, progressive relaxation, body scanning, sensing opposites, or breathing techniques.

You will be encouraged to stay awake. Dr. Marc Halpern (author of the CD, Yoga Nidra and Self-Healing) credits Yoga Nidra as a chief technique he used for over seven years to achieve remission from Lyme’s Disease.

He says of the practice: “Yoga Nidra is a heightened state of awareness, and a state of consciousness different from waking, sleeping or dreaming. [It] is far more than hypnotherapy, a sleep aid, or an adjunct to psychotherapy.”

The next time you feel ready to throw your hands up, take heart and pull your mat out. Sometimes, all we need is to just be a body breathing on a mat.

Image credit: Tie Simpson

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