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Yoga and you: How balancing your breathing can benefit your body

Having aches or pains, or just feeling stressed? You might want to consider taking up yoga.

This week on Take Care, yoga practitioner, teacher and chief ambassador for Yoga Alliance Andrew Tanner discusses the benefits yoga can have on the mind, body, and maybe even spirit, along with what style of yoga might be best for you.

When most people think of yoga, they picture flexible people doing complicated stretches, probably in a gym environment. And they’d be right -- for some styles of yoga, at least. But yoga is an ancient practice with thousands of variations developed over time, that all carry their own sets of benefits.

“There’s literally hundreds if not thousands of different styles of yoga practiced,” Tanner said. “Today, in America, we have more than four thousand yoga schools that are training people to be yoga teachers and that reflects that over the past couple thousand years, there’s been a diversity of ways in which people are trying to bring harmony and balance into their body, mind, and spirit.”

Of course, it can be difficult to wade through the varieties, but Tanner says most styles of yoga can be boiled down to a few key concepts.

“Breath control, postural movements, and then meditation and relaxation, those are all components of what make yoga yoga,” Tanner said. “It’s really what makes yoga different from other forms of health and fitness.”

For people looking to get started, Tanner recommends investigating local yoga options.

“It’s worth it for people to search for the yoga in their area, see what is out there and do some yoga dating,” Tanner said. “Find different teachers, different styles and see what works for them.”

So should some people with certain conditions -- like a bad back, for example -- avoid certain types of yoga? Tanner says they don’t have to discriminate between styles; it’s not the type of yoga that matters, but the instruction.

“If someone is going to a power yoga class where they’re doing a ton of back bending and they haven’t been taught proper technique for doing so, they’re more likely to hurt their back than help their back,” Tanner said. “It’s not necessarily that different styles of yoga will give you different benefits, it’s that proper instruction in any style should give you most of the health benefits of yoga. I can’t emphasize enough the proper instruction.”

Still having doubts that dropping into that adho mukha ?v?n?sana pose (that’s downward facing dog, for those not up to speed on the lingo) can really benefit you that much? After all, it’s easy for the young and fit to do those poses, but not everyone is so able. But Tanner says that everyone can do yoga, regardless of their physical condition. It’s just a matter of working their way up.

“I had a woman in her 70s who came in with a frozen shoulder, very little mobility in her body, couldn’t touch the floor, could barely bend up and down,” Tanner said. “She’s now been coming for over a year and a half and she can do postures like anyone in their 50s. She basically took 20 years back from her life.”

Everyone is capable of at least some forms of yoga—so why not give it a try? As Tanner says, “Anyone who’s been in the yoga world for a long time has seen people transform their bodies through yoga, and I think that’s what’s so magical about it. People often think they can’t change, and through these practices they can.”