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Yoga is a mind and body practice that originated in India about 5,000 years ago as a prelude to meditation.

Health Benefits of Yoga

Because September is National Yoga Awareness Month, our family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach would like to highlight the health benefits of this ancient practice. So let’s examine what yoga is and what it might be able to do for you.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a mind and body practice that originated in India about 5,000 years ago as a prelude to meditation. It was developed to assist concentration and focus in an effort to deepen meditative states. Today in the West, the focus is primarily on the physical aspects of the discipline, combining various postures with breathing exercises.

It offers a comprehensive mind-body workout, combining stretching, bending, twisting, and strengthening poses with deep breathing and meditation. It does not, however, provide sufficient aerobic conditioning, so a regular yoga practice should be combined with more vigorous forms of exercise at least twice a week.

Health benefits

One the province of hippies and gurus, yoga has come to be recognized as a beneficial practice that is even taught in schools and prisons. Many medical organizations recommend yoga for its physical as well as its mental benefits, including:

• increased flexibility;
• increased muscle strength and tone;
• improved balance and coordination;
• improved sleep;
• relief of arthritis;
• improved respiration, energy and vitality;
weight reduction;
• cardiovascular and circulatory heath;
• improved athletic performance;
• protection from injury; and,
• stress management, including mental clarity and calmness.

According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), recent studies have shown that yoga may help those with chronic low back pain reduce their pain and improve functionality. Other benefits attributed to the practice include:

• relief from menopause symptoms;
• helping smokers quit; and,
• helping people with some chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Others studies suggest that regular yoga practice may reduce heart rate and blood pressure, as well as relieving anxiety and depression, though the NIH reports that yoga hasn’t been shown to help in managing such diagnosed mental health conditions as anxiety disorder, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Can anyone do yoga?

Anyone of any age or fitness level can start yoga, with proper training and some restrictions.

Although the NIH says yoga is generally low-impact and safe for healthy people when practiced under the guidance of a well-trained instructor, it has issued some cautions for those who are pregnant, have high blood pressure, glaucoma, or sciatica, suggesting these people should modify or avoid some yoga poses, especially inverted poses like the headstand and shoulder stand.

It also warns that bikram yoga (so-called “hot yoga”) presents special risks related to overheating and dehydration, and notes that those over the age of 65 should be aware of the need to be particularly cautious when practicing yoga in order to avoid injury.

Carefully selecting a certified yoga instructor who possesses at least 200 hours of training is key to avoiding injury.

How can I get started?

Over 100 forms of yoga are practiced throughout the world, each with a different emphasis and intensity level. Some are primarily focused on the physical practice of yoga, while others incorporate more of a spiritual aspect. Some are slower and more controlled, while others are more intense and more challenging.

Before beginning yoga, we recommend you research the different styles to see which will best suit your goals and current fitness level.

There are numerous books, DVDs, and online instructions on yoga, but it’s best to learn yoga from a qualified teacher who can correct your posture and breathing techniques.

If you decide to pursue this ancient form of exercise, we can help you decide which type is right for you, and answer any concerns you may have regarding your ability to participate. We also support the NIH’s recommendation that you not use yoga to postpone seeing us about any medical issues you may be experiencing.

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