How To Know Which Yoga Is Right For You

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Q: I would like to do yoga but I’m worried about recent reports that it can be harmful. I have an intermittently dodgy back and am 43. Is it safe for me to do?

A: Yoga is a 5,000-year-old system of postures, breathing and meditation. Like 30 million people worldwide, I’m a huge fan both for its general mind and body benefits and because iyengar yoga [iyengaryoga.org.uk] helped my badly fractured left arm recover strength and suppleness to an extent that astonished the surgeon.

All sports can be harmful if you have a medical condition. ‘Yoga is no different,’ says Josephine Fairley, author of Yoga for Life (Kyle Books, £16.99). ‘But most yoga classes are very hands-on, which means that you will be closely observed and helped by the teacher. Always share details of injuries or conditions that may affect your ability to do certain postures. However, it is always sensible to consult your doctor first.’

Studies show that yoga can improve strength, flexibility and balance. It may also help lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and raise ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, bring down high blood pressure, and stabilise blood sugar. Like all weight-bearing exercise, yoga helps bone density and may boost the uptake of nutrients.

Choosing the right type of yoga is key. There are many different forms of yoga. One reason it has had a bad press in recent years, according to Jo, ‘is that the pace of classes has been upped. In some studios, it has become downright competitive.’ For anyone with a bad back, also beginners and older people, it is wise to avoid fast-paced – often called ‘dynamic’ – yoga classes. The best classes to look for are iyengar, scaravelli, hatha and sivananda.

Make sure your instructor is qualified and experienced. The British Wheel of Yoga [bwy.org.uk] is widely respected and lists local teachers. Also, ask friends for recommendations. Jo counsels against former gym instructors who have only done a short yoga course. ‘I would be looking for at least two years’ training,’ she says.

If you are worried, book a one-to-one with a yoga therapist. The Yoga Biomedical Trust [yogatherapy.org] has national listings of yoga therapists. They can advise you on your individual needs.

Finally, remember that there are two teachers present during a yoga class: the instructor and your body. If something seems too hard, it probably is. One motto is, ‘If you can’t smile, stop.’

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