When Lilias Folan first introduced yoga to mainstream America in 1972 on her popular PBS series, yoga was, well … just yoga. Go into any studio or health club today and you’ll see that “plain” yoga seems to have been replaced by exotic-sounding concoctions such as ashtanga, kundalini, Iyengar, bikram. There also are classes in restorative yoga, yoga flow, even Yogalates — a combination of yoga and Pilates.
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Some of these yoga styles are rooted in classic Indian tradition. Others are about as timeless as this week’s issue of People magazine. Still, whether it began 2,000 years ago or the year 2000, these various styles have their pros and cons, especially for older adults who would like to get the many benefits of yoga — including flexibility, reduced stress, improved heart health — but don’t know their ashtanga from their elbows.
And despite the different and exotic names, the similarities in yoga styles are most often greater than the differences.
“No matter what system or style you go to, the asanas [poses] are fundamentally the same,” says Jeff Logan, owner of Body+Soul Yoga in Huntington, N.Y., and a master teacher in Iyengar, one of the most popular yoga styles for older adults. “The differences are in the pacing and the sequencing, the level of difficulty and to what degree other elements, such as chanting or other spiritual aspects, are involved. Those should all be considerations for older people.”
Finding the right style
The American Yoga Association estimates that there are more than 100 types of yoga. In addition to the major styles presented here, some of the other popular ones include kripalu, anusara, jivamukti, integral, ananda and viniyoga.
How do you assess which is right for you? If you’re a beginner, you probably shouldn’t even try. “An older adult who is just starting out should look for a yoga I or introduction to yoga class,” Logan says. “Or a restorative or special-needs class, if they’ve got some limitations, such as an ankle or knee problem.” Any reputable studio will have such classes; and typically the classes given at adult education centers, libraries or health clubs will be for beginners.
Those classes will show you what yoga is. You’ll learn the basic postures and — in the hands of a capable, certified teacher — you’ll do it safely. “The teacher needs to be really attentive and knowledgeable enough to make corrections and suggestions so that you can get the greatest benefits from the practice,” says Dixie Stanforth, a lecturer in exercise science at the University of Texas in Austin and a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine.
Once you’ve learned the basics of yoga, you’ll be ready to find your own yoga style.
Here then is a look at the basic styles — and expert opinions — on types of yoga recommended for people age 50 and older, including general tips on how to choose the style that’s right for you.
Yogafinder.com can help you find a yoga studio in your area, or the Yoga Alliance can help you find a certified yoga teacher.