There’s a style of yoga out there for everyone, and while how you feel during and after practice is most important, there is also scientific evidence yoga is good for you. It doesn’t matter if you prefer vinyasa, hatha, yin or some combination; there’s good reason to get on your mat.
Below experts outline what we know so far about how fast- and slow-paced yoga practices can benefit you physically and mentally. “More well-designed research studies are needed in order to fully understand the extensive benefits that each style of yoga has the potential to provide,” says Jessica Matthews, professor of integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University, award-winning yoga educator and author of “Stretching to Stay Young.”
In the meantime, practice whatever styles you prefer and which bring you the most benefits, keeping in mind what serves you best today may differ months or even days from now.
A “fast” yoga class is one where there is “flow.” “This is a style that links poses, one to the next, without a lot of long holds and focuses on efficient transitions,” explains Bethany Lyons, founder and CEO of Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City. The poses typically sync with your breath, and you often do sun salutations to warm up your body at the beginning of class. “Be prepared to sweat,” Lyons says.
PHYSICAL BENEFITS OF FAST YOGA
More evidence continues to build on why we have good reason to step on a mat. Fast yoga classes get your heart pumping and may improve cardiovascular health, Lyons says. They also increase muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, balance and range of motion, and may decrease blood pressure, inflammation and chronic low-back pain. “Some studies have found that vinyasa-style yoga may meet the criteria for moderate-intensity aerobic exercise,” Matthews adds, but more research is necessary.
MENTAL BENEFITS OF FAST YOGA
Mentally, fast yoga can help you forget about life, at least for that 60-minute class. “It is easy to truly get lost in the moment and very present during this style, as the challenge and speed force you to be focused and nowhere else mentally,” Lyons says. It also may help reduce stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms while improving mood, according to some preliminary research.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
If you’re interested in fast yoga, try vinyasa or ashtanga classes or look for ones with “power” or “flow” in their names or descriptions.
A “slow” or yin yoga class is a bit more chill but can be challenging in ways fast yoga isn’t. “Poses in these classes generally are held for extended periods of time, and props such as blankets, bolsters and blocks are used as an integral element of the practice,” Matthews explains. The props can serve a few purposes. In restorative yoga, they may help promote enhanced relaxation, while in Iyengar yoga, they are used to enhance awareness and alignment, Matthews says.
PHYSICAL BENEFITS OF SLOW YOGA
While you probably won’t sweat in slower-paced yoga classes, Iyengar may help increase flexibility, according to a small pilot study. More work is necessary to determine other evidence-based physical benefits at this time, Matthews adds.
MENTAL BENEFITS OF SLOW YOGA
But while there isn’t a lot of research on the body aspect of slow yoga, there is a fair amount to show that when you take your foot off the accelerator of life, your brain thanks you. Small studies link slow yoga to increased relaxation and positive effects; improved quality of life; and decreased perceived stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
If you’re interested in a slower-paced practice, try yin, Iyengar or restorative classes or look for ones with “gentle” or “mellow” in the names or descriptions.