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Yoga for health

Yoga is a practice that connects the body, breath, and mind. It uses physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to improve overall health. Yoga was developed as a spiritual practice thousands of years ago. Today, most Westerners do yoga for exercise or to reduce stress.

Benefits of Yoga

Yoga can improve your overall fitness level and improve your posture and flexibility. It may also:

  • Lower your blood pressure and heart rate
  • Help you relax
  • Improve your self-confidence
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve your coordination
  • Improve your concentration
  • Help you sleep better
  • Aid with digestion

In addition, practicing yoga may also help with the following conditions:

Who Should use Caution

Yoga is generally safe for most people. But you may need to avoid some yoga poses or modify poses if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have glaucoma
  • Have sciatica

Make sure to tell your yoga instructor if you have any of these conditions or any other health problem or injury. A qualified yoga teacher should be able to help you find poses that are safe for you.

Styles of Yoga

There are many different types or styles of yoga. They range from mild to more intense. Some of the more popular styles of yoga are:

  • Ashtanga or power yoga. This type of yoga offers a more demanding workout. In these classes, you quickly move from one posture to another.
  • Bikram or hot yoga. You do a series of 26 poses in a room heated to 95°F to 100°F (35°C to 37.8°C). The goal is to warm and stretch the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and to purify the body through sweat.
  • Hatha yoga. This is sometimes a general term for yoga. It most often includes both breathing and postures.
  • Integral. A gentle type of yoga that may include breathing exercises, chanting, and meditation.
  • Iyengar. A style that places great attention to the precise alignment of the body. You may also hold poses for long periods of time.
  • Kundalini. Emphasizes the effects of breath on the postures. The goal is to free energy in the lower body so it can move upwards.
  • Viniyoga. This style adapts postures to each person's needs and abilities, and coordinates breath and postures.

How to get Started

Look for yoga classes at your local gym, health center, or yoga studio. If you are new to yoga, start with a beginner class. Talk with the instructor before the class and tell them about any injuries or health conditions you may have.

You may want to ask about the instructor's training and experience. However, while most instructors have had some formal training, there are no certified yoga training programs. Choose an instructor you enjoy working with who does not push you in ways you are not comfortable.

What to Expect

Most yoga classes last from 45 to 90 minutes. All styles of yoga include three basic components:

  • Breathing. Focusing on your breath is an important part of yoga. Your teacher may offer instruction on breathing exercising during the class.
  • Poses. Yoga poses, or postures, are a series of movements that help boost strength, flexibility, and balance. They range in difficulty from lying flat on the floor to difficult balancing poses.
  • Meditation. Yoga classes usually end with a short period of meditation. This quiets the mind and helps you relax.

How to Prevent Injury

While yoga is generally safe, you can still get hurt if you do a pose incorrectly or push yourself too far. Here are some tips to stay safe when doing yoga.

  • If you have a health condition, talk with your health care provider before starting yoga. Ask if there are any poses you should avoid.
  • Start slowly and learn the basics before pushing yourself too far.
  • Choose a class that is appropriate for your level. If you are not sure, ask the teacher.
  • DO NOT push yourself beyond your comfort level. If you cannot do a pose, ask your teacher to help you modify it.
  • Ask questions if you are not sure how to do a pose.
  • Bring along a water bottle and drink plenty of water. This is mostly important in hot yoga.
  • Wear clothing that allows you to move freely.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel pain or fatigue, stop and rest.

References

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 5 Things You Should Know About Yoga. Updated September 24, 2015. nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/yoga. Accessed October 19, 2016.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yoga: In Depth. Updated June 2013. nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm. Accessed October 19, 2016.

Review Date 9/3/2016

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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