What can yoga do for your body?
It's hard to say, since most studies have been small or flawed. Here's what is known:
Yoga is an excellent way to stretch and can contribute to flexibility an aspect of fitness often overlooked. Thus, many physical therapists and coaches advocate yoga stretches.
Though it doesnt build strength much (since you don't work against resistance), yoga can boost exercise endurance, as well as improve balance, posture, and coordination.
Fast-paced forms can provide a good cardiovascular workout. But simply holding poses and breathing deeply won't raise your heart rate enough for aerobic benefits.
Not surprisingly, the very strenuous forms can help you lose weight. Burning lots of calories always takes lots of work!
Dr. Dean Ornish uses yoga for stress reduction in his program for people with coronary artery disease. It is also used in many hospital-based programs for cardiac patients.
Yoga can promote relaxation and reduce stress. People with high blood pressure may find it useful as part of relaxation therapy. It can also offer a sense of accomplishment and control.
Don't get in over your head
Many people with pre-existing injuries take up yoga because they assume that it is safe and gentle. But like any fitness activity, yoga has its risks, especially if you are not fit or have back, neck, hip, or knee problems.
Some pointers: If you are not fit, avoid the athletic classes, such as power yoga or Ashtanga. Even the gentler forms of yoga may include risky poses, such as head or shoulder stands. Stop if you feel pain or if you become dizzy. Don't treat yoga as a competitive sport: you don't have to stretch as far as the 25-year-old next to you. Don't force yourself beyond your normal range of motion.
Learn yoga from an experienced teacher, who can adapt poses to your abilities. However, there are no widely accepted standards for the accreditation or certification of teachers. Many people leading yoga classes at health clubs are fitness trainers with scant training. Interview several teachers about the type of yoga they teach and their experience. Try different classes until you find one you like. Many YMCAs, colleges, and community health organizations offer beginning yoga classes.
If you have a serious medical condition, injuries, or spinal problems, consult a doctor before starting yoga. And tell the teacher if you have any physical problems or limitations.
If you learn from a video, book, or TV show, start with the simplest postures. You can incorporate them into your regular warm-up routine.