Say Yes to Yoga

woman does side bends outside

The ancient Indian practice of yoga combines meditation, breathing, and precise postures and poses to make a connection with thoughts, body, and spirit. People who practice yoga say it leads to a state of physical health, relaxation, happiness, peace, and tranquility.

Some evidence shows that yoga can lower stress, increase strength, and lessen lower back pain, while providing exercise. According to a report from the National Institutes of Health, there is also some evidence to suggest yoga may be helpful when used alongside conventional medical treatment to help relieve some of the symptoms linked to cancer, asthma, diabetes, drug addiction, high blood pressure, heart disease, and migraine headaches. Yoga cannot cure cancer or other chronic illnesses; nor should it ever be used by itself to treat any medical condition or delay treatment.

A typical yoga session can last between 20 minutes and an hour. It starts with slow, gentle movements accompanied by slow, deep breaths from the abdomen. A session may also include guided relaxation, meditation, and sometimes visualization. It often ends with the chanting of a meaningful word or phrase, called a mantra, to achieve a deeper state of relaxation. Most people need several sessions a week to improve and to see lasting health effects, but many people report feeling better after just one session.

Group yoga classes can be found in most community and private health centers. No special clothing is required, although there are many types of clothing that do cater to yoga practitioners. Just wear something that’s comfortable and lets you move freely.

Also, while yoga is generally a low-impact activity and safe for healthy people, women who are pregnant and people with certain medical conditions like cancer, high blood pressure, glaucoma, and sciatica may have to modify or avoid some poses and should consult their doctor for advice.

Yoga has a low rate of side effects, and the risk of serious injury from yoga is low. However, certain types of stroke as well as pain from nerve damage are among the rare possible side effects of practicing yoga. It’s a good idea to learn yoga from a well-trained instructor, and always a good idea to talk to your health care provider before starting any new exercise plan.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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