Yoga is considered a mind-body type of complementary and alternative medicine practice. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind, helping you relax and manage stress and anxiety. Traditional yoga philosophy requires that students adhere to this mission through behavior, diet and meditation. But if you're just looking for better stress management — whether because of life's daily hassles or a health problem you're facing — and not an entire lifestyle change or way of life, yoga can still help.
Yoga has many styles, forms and intensities. Hatha yoga, in particular, may be a good choice for stress management. Hatha is one of the most common styles of yoga, and some beginners find it easier to practice because of its slower pace and easier movements. But most people can benefit from any style of yoga — it's all about your personal preferences.
The core components of hatha yoga and most general yoga classes are:
- Poses. Yoga poses, also called postures, are a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility. Poses range from lying on the floor while completely relaxed to difficult postures that may have you stretching your physical limits.
- Breathing. Controlling your breathing is an important part of yoga. In yoga, breath signifies your vital energy. Yoga teaches that controlling your breathing can help you control your body and quiet your mind.
The health benefits of yoga
The potential health benefits of yoga are numerous and may include:
- Stress reduction. With its quiet, precise movements, yoga draws your focus away from your busy, chaotic day and toward calm as you move your body through poses that require balance and concentration.
- Increased fitness. As you learn and refine new poses, you may enjoy improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. And this means you're less likely to injure yourself in other physical endeavors or in your daily activities.
- Management of chronic health conditions. Yoga might help with a variety of health conditions, such as cancer, depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia, by helping with sleep problems, fatigue and mood. Yoga also can help reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
- Weight loss. If you're overweight or have binge-eating disorder, yoga may help you make the healthy lifestyle changes necessary to gain control of your eating and drop those extra pounds.
While you shouldn't expect yoga to cure you or offer 100 percent relief, it can help some health conditions when combined with standard treatment. And if you already enjoy good health, yoga can be an enjoyable supplement to your regular fitness routine.
Taking precautions before starting yoga
Yoga is generally considered safe for people of all abilities, even if you use a wheelchair or you're severely overweight. But there are some situations in which yoga might pose a risk. You may need to find an alternative to yoga or scale back your yoga poses.
See your health care provider before you begin yoga if you have any of the following conditions or situations, since complications can arise:
- Balance problems
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Certain eye conditions, including glaucoma
- Severe osteoporosis
- Artificial joints
You may be able to practice yoga in these situations if you take certain precautions, such as avoiding certain poses or stretches. Regardless of your health status, start slowly and gently. If you develop symptoms or concerns, see your doctor to make sure you're getting benefit and not harm from yoga.
At the end of a yoga session, you should feel invigorated, yet relaxed and calm. If this isn't the case, talk to your instructor. He or she might have suggestions for you. Otherwise there may be another yoga class better suited to your needs for stress management and relaxation.