September is National Yoga Month. Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical movements with controlled breathing and meditation and relaxation. Yoga has many potential health and wellness benefits. Almost anyone can do it.

Yoga continues to grow in popularity. About one in seven U.S. adults practiced yoga in the past 12 months, according to a 2017 national survey. Among children age 4 to 17, it was about 1 in 12. The percentage of people who practice yoga grew from 2007 to 2012 and again from 2012 to 2017. This was true for both adults and children.

What is yoga and how does it work?

Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy. It began as a spiritual practice but has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.

Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the United States typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). Popular yoga styles such as iyengar and hatha yoga focus on these elements.

Yoga and two practices of Chinese origin—tai chi and qi gong—are sometimes called “meditative movement” practices. All three practices include both meditative elements and physical ones.

What are the health benefits of yoga?

Research suggests that yoga may:

  • Help improve general wellness by relieving stress, supporting good health habits, and improving mental/emotional health, sleep, and balance
  • Relieve low-back pain and neck pain
  • Relieve menopause symptoms
  • Help people manage anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations (but yoga has not been shown to help manage anxiety disorders, clinical depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD])
  • Help people quit smoking
  • Help people who are overweight or obese lose weight
  • Help people with chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Although there’s been a lot of research on the health effects of yoga, many studies have included only small numbers of people and haven’t been of high quality. Therefore, in most instances, we can only say that yoga has shown promise for particular health uses, not that it’s been proven to help.

What are the risks of yoga?

Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity for healthy people when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. However, as with other forms of physical activity, injuries can occur. The most common injuries are sprains and strains. Serious injuries are rare. The risk of injury associated with yoga is lower than that for higher impact physical activities.

Older people may need to be particularly cautious when practicing yoga. The rate of yoga-related injuries treated in emergency departments is higher in people age 65 and older than in younger adults.

To reduce your chances of getting hurt while doing yoga:

  • Practice yoga under the guidance of a qualified instructor.
  • If you’re new to yoga, avoid extreme practices such as headstands, shoulder stands, the lotus position, and forceful breathing.
  • Be aware that hot yoga has special risks related to overheating and dehydration.
  • Pregnant women, older adults, and people with health conditions should talk with their health care providers and the yoga instructor about their individual needs. They may need to avoid or modify some yoga poses and practices.

More to consider

  • Don’t use yoga to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.
  • Ask about the training and experience of the yoga instructor you’re considering.
  • Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, informed decisions.

Source: “Yoga: What You Need To Know,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know