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What Yoga Can and Can't Do for You

Sure, it's a stress-buster, but it also helps with anxiety, depression, insomnia, back pain and other ills, experts say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 30, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Chances are that you've heard good things about yoga. It can relax you. It can get you fit -- just look at the bodies of some celebrities who sing yoga's praises. And, more and more, yoga is purported to be able to cure numerous medical conditions.

But is yoga the panacea that so many believe it to be?

Yes and no, say the experts. Though yoga certainly can't cure all that ails you, it does offer significant benefits.

"Yoga is great for flexibility, for strength, and for posture and balance," said Dr. Rachel Rohde, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and an orthopedic surgeon for the Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak, Mich. "Yoga can help with a lot of musculoskeletal issues and pain, but I wouldn't say it cures any orthopedic condition," she said.

Most practitioners would tell you that yoga isn't just about building muscle or strength.

"One of the issues in this country is that people think of yoga only as exercise and try to do the most physically hard poses possible," explained Dr. Ruby Roy, a chronic disease physician at LaRabida Children's Hospital in Chicago who's also a certified yoga instructor. "That may or may not help you, but it also could hurt you," she noted.

"The right yoga can help you," Roy said. "One of the primary purposes of a yoga practice is relaxation. Your heart rate and your blood pressure should be lower when you finish a class, and you should never be short of breath. Whatever kind of yoga relaxes you and doesn't feel like exercise is a good choice. What really matters is, are you in your body or are you going into a state of mindfulness? You want to be in the pose and aware of your breaths."

Roy said she uses many of the principles of yoga, especially the breathing aspects, to help children sleep, reduce anxiety, help with post-traumatic stress disorder, for asthma, autism and as support and pain management during procedures. "I may or may not call it yoga. I may say, 'Let's do some exercises to relax you for sleep,'" she said.

Bess Abrahams, a yoga therapist with the Integrative Medicine and Palliative Care Team at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, also uses yoga to help children who are in the hospital for cancer treatment and other serious conditions.

"Physically, yoga helps to strengthen the muscles that have been weakened from a lack of movement, and the stretching in yoga helps with muscular tightness," she said. "It also helps with discomfort from lying in bed or discomfort from a procedure."

Abrahams said that older children find that the meditative aspects of yoga can help reduce anxiety.

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