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Can't Do Yoga? Think Again

If you've ruled out yoga for physical reasons, it might be time to reconsider.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Yoga is often associated with a Jennifer Aniston type, who can twist her lithe body into a gravity-defying pretzel. So even with its increasing popularity, yoga can be daunting to those who aren't already bendy and buff. But men and women of all shapes, sizes, and abilities can do yoga and benefit from the practice. Here is some inspiration to help get you on the mat.

yoga class


Unexpected Body Benefits

You probably already know that yoga can reduce stress and is good for flexibility, balance, and functional strength. But it has some other surprising perks as well. Researchers at Simmons College in Boston found that hatha and relaxation yoga can help with controlling weight, lowering blood pressure, and improving mood. Yoga can also ease hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms in healthy women as well as in breast cancer survivors.

There are also yoga programs that are tailored to help ease the symptoms of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's. Some VA hospitals even offer yoga to help patients recovering from strokes, brain injuries, and other illnesses.

Megan Dunne, a yoga instructor in Chicago who works with individuals recovering from an injury or illness, says, "In a gym, you're really pushing yourself to go further when you're working out. In yoga, it's the opposite. The poses encourage all the range of motion that the body is designed to do. So when you're doing them mindfully and slowly, your body can learn through all the movements."

Turning to Yoga During Chemo

After she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2008, Christine Blumer, president of Winediva Enterprises in Chicago, did yoga while undergoing chemotherapy.

"Even though I couldn't do many of the poses very well, it got me out of my head and helped deal with the depressive thoughts associated with my illness," Blumer says.

Blumer wasn't new to yoga. "I'm a fat girl who tried yoga because I really hate 'the gym' experience," she says, adding that she felt "taller and more fit" when she first started taking classes.

"I just like the fact that yoga isn't a scene and the goal is to be self-focused," Blumer says. "I feel better knowing my fellow yoga-lovers probably aren't concerned about how ridiculous I look trying to pretzel my plus-sized body into fun and strengthening shapes."

Yoga for Overweight People

Blumer is not the only person with extra pounds to find a comfortable challenge in yoga.

When Megan Garcia signed up for yoga at Smith College in 1991, she felt intimidated because she was the only overweight person in the class. She stuck with it, though, and noticed she started not only gaining strength, but feeling and sleeping better too. Now she is a plus-sized model and Kripalu-certified yoga instructor who teaches in New York and specializes in teaching yoga to people of all shapes and sizes.

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