Discover the Best Types of Yoga for Stress Relief: 6 Science-Backed Options

yoga class with a diverse group of people standing in high lunge
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My deep dive into yoga started in earnest with a desire for physical well-being. My wife and I were accustomed to walking and playing tennis together when we decided to mix things up by joining a local yoga studio. I had tried yoga before, but something unexpected happened during our first class. It felt like more than just a workout. We left that class feeling remarkably relaxed, having experienced a style of yoga that resonated with us. I went in to work my body and left with a calmer mind.

It’s clear that yoga can reduce stress. Identifying the most effective yoga style for stress relief is the next important consideration. This choice goes beyond the physical realm, delving into practices that genuinely align with your personal preferences.

Most Styles of Yoga Relieve Stress

An array of styles, from Anusara Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga to Bhakti Yoga, Chair Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Kaivalya Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Laughter Yoga, Yin Yoga, and more, have been hailed by individuals for their stress-alleviating benefits. Some people try a class and know right away that it’s for them. Others explore diverse styles to uncover the one that meets their unique needs and preferences.

Yoga classes ask participants to notice causes and consequences. This principle extends to stress relief. To truly “discover the best type of yoga for stress relief,” it’s essential to embark on a journey of experimentation and exploration.

In this article I won’t explicitly delve into any of the styles of yoga I mentioned above. Instead, let’s explore six science-backed types of yoga that have helped me cultivate more peacefulness and ease: Kripalu Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, and Trauma-Informed Yoga.

Kripalu Yoga

Let’s kick things off with Kripalu yoga, my go-to practice for relieving stress. Kripalu means “compassion.” All of the practices are designed to foster “self-observation without judgment.” Kripalu is all about being kind to yourself and going at your own pace.

Often known for its gentle movements, calming breathing exercises, modifications, and emphasis on inquiry, Kripalu is perfect for relaxing your mind and letting go of tension. Imagine it like a peaceful stroll for your body and soul.

In a 2020 study, researchers observed changes associated with decreased perceived stress through the practice of Kripalu yoga. The findings suggested that engaging in Kripalu yoga may yield beneficial effects on various positive psychological resources, including heightened interoceptive awareness, increased mindfulness, enhanced spiritual well-being, and a greater sense of self-compassion. This research underscores the potential of Kripalu yoga not only as a physical practice but also as a holistic approach to cultivating positive mental and emotional well-being through its impact on diverse psychological factors.

The study pointed out a distinctive advantage of Kripalu yoga when compared to traditional talk-based cognitive behavioral therapies. Through its emphasis on self-observation without judgment, Kripalu yoga can swiftly assist in managing acute stress. In simpler terms, practicing Kripalu yoga (like many kinds of yoga) helps people release stress more quickly than simply talking about it.

Kripalu yoga has been studied extensively for its ability to relieve stress and anxiety. Here are a few examples of what Kripalu yoga can do:

For newcomers seeking stress relief through yoga, Kripalu yoga is a wonderful starting point, especially if you have access to this gentle and mindful practice. Its emphasis on self-acceptance and compassion, combined with accessible movements and calming breathing exercises, makes Kripalu yoga an ideal choice for those beginning their yoga journey.

Restorative Yoga

When I first started a daily yoga practice in 2012, restorative yoga was by far the most difficult style of yoga for me. Holding postures for 10-15 minutes presented a significant challenge for my mind. I often could not shake the feeling that restorative yoga was just a waste of time. With practice I came to understand that restorative postures can play a crucial role in calming the mind.

Restorative yoga creates space for maximum relaxation. Picture this: comfy poses and soft props like blankets and bolsters. You get to hang out in each pose, letting your body completely unwind. It’s like a mini-vacation for your mind, perfect for melting away stress and bringing a sense of calm. Nowadays, I practice a lot of restorative yoga at home, especially in the mornings.

With its focus on calming the body and mind, restorative yoga is an obvious choice for someone who wants to relieve stress. It allows you to slow down, pay attention to your body, and breathe mindfully. We know those practices lead to countless benefits, such as improved blood circulation, sleep quality, and emotion regulation.

Restorative yoga offers several benefits as compared to other styles of yoga. For instance, when researchers compared restorative yoga to vigorous yoga for cancer survivors, they found restorative yoga to be more effective in improving cognitive function and easier to stick with long-term.

The slow, relaxed pace of restorative yoga can be great for people with high-stress jobs. For example, there is evidence that restorative yoga can mitigate stress experienced by medical students and female nurses working the night shift.

Several studies have compared restorative yoga to stretching, yielding mixed results. One found that restorative yoga was marginally better than stretching and in the other study the stretching group reduced stress more than the restorative group. These findings align with a common trend in scientific research which has found that various embodied practices contribute to stress relief.

Modern yoga is not the sole effective response to a stressful day. A diverse range of activities can play a role in promoting well-being. Yoga can’t fix everything.

That said, I strongly recommend giving restorative yoga a try. I can attest to its positive impact. While scientific studies are beneficial, personal exploration and self-discovery are more important to identifying what works best for individual stress relief. Restorative yoga may well prove to be a beneficial addition to your wellness routine.

Yoga Nidra

Ever heard of a yoga nap? That’s basically what Yoga Nidra feels like – a guided relaxation adventure. You lie down, close your eyes, and follow a soothing voice leading you into deep relaxation. Yoga teachers frequently refer to Yoga Nidra as “yogic sleep.” For as much as I try to say awake, I fall asleep a lot in Yoga Nidra classes. Whether you are awake the whole time or not, Yoga Nidra helps release tension, ease anxiety, and improve your overall mood.

Modern Yoga Nidra classes sometimes draw on yogic philosophy and practices, including the concept of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses). References to Yoga Nidra in the traditional yoga texts tend to be ambiguous. More frequently those texts refer to the state of Yoga Nidra rather than descriptions of the practice. Early descriptions are often partial and devoid of essential details. As a result, modern Yoga Nidra practices vary among yoga instructors.

iRest, a method of relaxation developed by Richard Miller, is “based on the ancient teachings of Yoga Nidra but presented in a form made accessible for modern-day living.” iRest integrates Western psychological principles with traditional yogic concepts. I have never tried iRest, but if you are more drawn to modern variations of ancient practices, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), “iRest Yoga Nidra,” as they call it, might be for you. The iRest Institute maintains a list of publications investigating the effects of iRest Yoga Nidra.

Both Yoga Nidra and iRest share the goal of inducing deep relaxation and self-discovery. iRest has a more contemporary and therapeutic focus, making it accessible in various clinical and non-clinical settings. Ultimately, the choice between the two may depend on personal preference and your specific goals.

I meditate daily and also regularly practice Yoga Nidra. As it involves lying down, many find it to be a more accessible alternative to seated meditation. The evening Yoga Nidra classes at Kripalu have been particularly popular in my experience. Some teachers offer detailed and relaxing imagery to soothe the mind. If you’re seeking stress relief and not into modern postural yoga, Yoga Nidra could be the perfect fit for you.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga, a traditional form of yoga that combines physical postures (asana), breath control (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana), has been found to be effective in relieving stress through various physiological and psychological mechanisms. Among many other benefits, regular Hatha practice can reduce perceived stress, improve sleep quality, and reduce cortisol levels.

Modern yoga teachers often state that the term “Hatha” is derived from two Sanskrit words: “Ha,” meaning sun, and “Tha,” meaning moon. Together, they represent the balance and union of opposites, symbolizing the balance between the active, heating aspects (sun) and the receptive, cooling aspects (moon) within the body. Whether or not this is an accurate description of this Sanskrit word is debatable, but if your goal is to reduce stress and bring balance to your life, there is no doubt Hatha Yoga helps many people.

Hatha Yoga classes can vary significantly in style and intensity, as teachers bring their unique interpretations and sequences to the practice. It serves as a foundational practice from which various other styles of yoga have evolved. The holistic approach of Hatha Yoga makes it popular for individuals seeking a well-rounded and comprehensive yoga.

Vinyasa Yoga

Next we have Vinyasa, a more dynamic style of yoga. Vinyasa yoga links movement with breath, creating a flowing dance of poses. It’s a bit like a graceful sequence that helps you focus on the present moment. This style not only strengthens your body but also eases stress with its rhythmic flow. This style of yoga is probably what most people think of when someone says “yoga.”

Apart from its demonstrated positive impact on physical health, Vinyasa Yoga leads to numerous mental health benefits, including:

Vinyasa Yoga and Hatha Yoga are both recognized for their accessibility and popularity. They are frequently among the most readily available styles in modern fitness centers and yoga studios. These styles cater to a broad range of practitioners, from beginners to advanced yogis. Their prevalence ensures that individuals seeking a diverse and accessible yoga experience can easily find classes suited to their preferences and fitness levels. Additionally, the widespread availability of Vinyasa and Hatha classes reflects the recognition of their holistic benefits, attracting practitioners with varying wellness goals.

Trauma-Informed Yoga

You’re unlikely to encounter many yoga classes explicitly labeled as “Trauma-Informed Yoga.” While occasionally, you may come across the term in a class description, many yoga instructors, myself included, integrate trauma-informed principles into their teaching without overtly highlighting it. This approach stems from the understanding that the term “trauma” can be discouraging for individuals seeking a relaxing experience. The focus is on creating a supportive and inclusive environment without drawing explicit attention to the trauma-informed approach.

Stress and trauma are distinct experiences. Stress exists on a spectrum, ranging from positive and tolerable to toxic. On the other hand, trauma represents an emotional response to a distressing event and manifests in various forms, including acute, chronic, and complex trauma. Unlike stress, trauma leaves lasting and adverse effects on individuals. Recognizing these differences is crucial for understanding the varied impacts that stress and trauma can have on mental and emotional well-being.

Participating in trauma-informed yoga doesn’t require a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or ongoing trauma. These classes are intentionally designed to create a safe space for all participants. They incorporate invitational language and offer suggestions for modifications. Classes like this may not be suitable for those seeking a more prescriptive yoga experience. Trauma-informed yoga encourages autonomy and provides a supportive atmosphere, making it a valuable option for individuals seeking a mindful and empowering practice.

A related phrase, trauma-sensitive yoga, is a trademarked version of trauma-informed yoga specifically tailored as a therapeutic intervention for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). Introduced in 2002 by David Emerson and colleagues, this form of yoga serves as a therapeutic approach to address trauma-related challenges.

Some yoga teachers and yoga therapists specialize in Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) and get certified through the Center for Trauma and Embodiment at Justice Resource Institute. This certification equips teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to facilitate trauma-sensitive yoga, fostering a supportive environment for individuals navigating PTSD and CPTSD.

Trauma-sensitive yoga may not be the most suitable choice if your primary goal is stress relief. I have taken workshops where we experienced trauma-sensitive yoga and I found the language to be almost too invitational. In contrast, Kripalu Yoga teachers may incorporate trauma-informed language but typically not with every single pose. The level of invitational language varies across yoga styles, and individuals seeking stress relief might find a balance that aligns better with their preferences in a style like Kripalu Yoga, where the emphasis on trauma-informed language is more moderate and integrated.

Conclusion

Regardless of the yoga style you decide to explore, I recommend paying attention to how often the instructor suggests modifications. A recurring sentiment that students share with me is their gratitude for the emphasis on modifications, expressing that it empowers them to navigate the practice in a way that suits them. They say choice fosters a sense of relaxation. Many have remarked that this level of flexibility is unique, yet I know numerous yoga teachers who prioritize an inquiry-based approach. From my perspective, this aspect may be one of the most crucial features of a class for those seeking stress relief.

It’s important to acknowledge that individual responses to yoga styles can differ significantly. Achieving the full benefits often hinges on regular practice and maintaining consistency.

As with any health and wellness regimen, it’s advisable for individuals to seek personalized advice by consulting with healthcare professionals. This ensures that the chosen approach aligns with their specific needs and circumstances, promoting a safe and effective journey towards well-being.

Yoga is more than just stretching. It’s a fantastic stress buster. Whether you’re finding peace with gentle Kripalu yoga, flowing through the rhythmic dance of Vinyasa, holding poses in Hatha, sinking into the comfort of restorative poses, or taking a chill journey with Yoga Nidra, each style has its own way of helping you unwind. So, grab your yoga mat and find what works for you. Your body and mind will thank you for it!

Comments2

Liz Anema

4 weeks ago

Well organized and so informative for all looking for a practive to meet their needs.

 

gratitude