The style: ashtanga
What it is: An athletic, fast-paced style of yoga, in which you practice a specific set of six poses. All series begin with the sun salutations — a movement that includes challenging core-strength poses. Ashtanga has been described as “type A” yoga, because it tends to attract a lot of competitive, driven individuals (including Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, both famous ashtanga devotees).
For older adults? “Ashtanga is a great practice,” says Beryl Bender Birch, author of Boomer Yoga: Energizing the Years Ahead for Men & Women. “But I wouldn’t recommend it to older people just starting. You have to do it five days a week, so that you’re introduced to it a few postures a time and then you move through the series systematically. You can’t just go to an ashtanga class once a week and expect it to help.”
The style: bikram
What it is: Bikram is “hot” yoga, literally and figuratively. This style, developed by Indian yoga superstar Bikram Choudhury, is practiced in rooms heated to over 100 degrees. Not surprisingly, the adherents get good and sweaty as they go through a specific series of 26 poses. Bikram is now practiced worldwide, with more than 300 studios in the United States alone.
For older adults? “I am an advocate of warm yoga classes, because for anyone with mobility issues, having a heated room can be beneficial and reduce risk of injury,” says Stanforth. “That said, 100 degrees, particularly for older individuals who do not thermo-regulate efficiently … meaning you don’t respond as well to the stress of the heat ... is a risky business.”
The style: hatha
What it is: Just about everything that we in the West tend to think of as yoga — the physical postures, the breathing techniques — comes under the rubric of hatha, which is less of a particular style than it is one of the original six branches of yoga. (The word means the “yoking” or union of mind, body and spirit.) To use a very non-Indian metaphor: Hatha is Ford, and ashtanga and Iyengar are the Taurus and Focus. Yoga Journal advises: If you come across a class describing itself as hatha, chances are that the teacher is offering a blend of two or more of the styles described here — or various other “niche” styles.
For older adults? Hatha usually emphasizes breathing and relaxation and can be especially meditative, so it’s a good choice for those looking for stress relief and relaxation.
More information on hatha yoga (see “Types of Yoga”)