The word is finally out in the mainstream consciousness that yoga is extremely beneficial, both physically and in terms of stress relief and spiritual health.

As yoga increases in popularity, however, more and more people are bewildered by the variety of choices available, and many others have had an unsatisfactory initial experience because the type of yoga they tried didn’t suit their needs.

I see people in my classes who have done yoga from a DVD or online without the benefit of a teacher’s guidance, and I’m sometimes concerned about the long-term health of their spine and joints when I see how they come into some poses.

Yoga is like an ancient tree with multiple branches, each representing themes and styles as taught by masters who devoted their lives to the study of yogic principles. Some branches of yoga are simply about breathing, meditation or service to others. Others, such as “hot yoga,” are very new.

In North America, most people go to yoga classes to ease physical complaints, reduce stress, build strength or increase flexibility. But if you’re new to yoga, how can you find both the teacher and the style that fits your physique, age and condition?

With the right teacher and style, anyone can do yoga – but that doesn’t mean it’s one-size-fits-all. If your doctor suggests you try a relaxation yoga, for example, and you attend a hot yoga class, you could hurt yourself or simply feel overwhelmed by what the teacher is suggesting or what those around you are doing – not to mention the heat!

My best advice is to “shop around.” Take the time to find a qualified teacher whom you like and a class that fits your needs. Then you’ll be on your way to experiencing the tremendous well-being that yoga can offer your body, mind and spirit.

*Catherine Reid is a Registered Yoga Teacher, offering a variety of classes in the Comox Valley.