The practice of breathing, stretching, bending and holding strong poses has ancient, spiritual roots. It also seems well entrenched as a modern means of getting fit and finding some inner calm. A 2017 survey showed the number of people doing yoga had increased by 5 percent since 2012. About 14 percent of U.S. adults said they practiced yoga and the number of children doing yoga doubled to about 8 percent, according to the U.S. National Health Interview Survey.
Does yoga offer concrete health benefits? There’s been no large, definitive study, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Complementary and Integrative Health describes existing evidence as “promising” for chronic disease patients. Of course, anyone considering yoga should check with their doctor first.
Melaine Zeigler, who lives with a primary immunodeficiency disease, found so much value in yoga that she has been practicing it for 15 years and teaching it to others for more than a decade. Here’s what Melaine had to say about it:
How did you get into yoga?
I tried yoga for muscle pain upon a recommendation from my doctor as a way of stretching and moving better. I soon learned yoga would bring much more into my life than stretching. I learned about breathing deeply and relaxation techniques that I could use anywhere at any time. I saw the connection between physical, mental and emotional health. I began to have more energy and less pain so I became more active and also present in my daily life. The poses can all be modified to fit anyone from chair yoga to full headstands.
What have you found the benefits to be?
The benefits are tremendous at any age or stage of health. Listen to your doctor for recommendations about your own health needs or restrictions. I learned I am stronger than I thought. Stretching muscles and connecting your breath to purposeful movement feels great while you are on the mat, but the feeling better can last all day.
What’s your favorite pose?
My favorite pose would be Downward Facing Dog. It can be modified to use a chair or full pose on the mat. It is an inverted pose that anyone can do. You hold your own body weight, which becomes not only a great stretching pose for your arms and legs, but a strengthening pose for your entire body.
Another favorite pose is the final relaxation at the end of your practice where we shut down the distractions of life and focus on breathing and slowing down to be fully present yet fully relaxed. This is often the hardest part of yoga for beginners as we put too much emphasis on doing instead of being. The restoration of this pose can bring renewed energy, calm and even joy into your life.
Learn more about the health benefits of yoga from the U.S. National Institute of Health: Yoga In Depth