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Yoga for Stress Management

Yoga Beginners: Tips to Get You Started and Enjoying the Relaxing Health Benefits.
By Susan Seliger
WebMD Feature

Somewhere along the line you may have decided you are simply not the yoga type. Sure, you've heard the raves about yoga for stress management, but you can barely touch your toes. So there's no way you're going to stand on your head or twist your foot behind your neck like a human pretzel. And meditate? Last time you tried to lie still for three minutes you ended up obsessing about the stack of bills on your desk and what to have for dinner. Not exactly Zen material.

But now that everyone in America seems to be acquainted with the physical and psychological benefits of yoga for stress management and more, you may be feeling a little left out. And so you should.

"The benefits of yoga include decreased stress and tension, increased strength and balance, increased flexibility, lowered blood pressure and reduced cortisol levels," says Beth Shaw, Founder/President of Yogafit Training Systems, Worldwide, Inc., in Torrance, Calif.

Never Too Late to Begin Yoga for Stress Management

Need more convincing? The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recently studied the physical benefits of yoga and found that "the regular practice of Hatha yoga significantly improved the subjects' flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and balance. After eight weeks, the average flexibility of the yoga group improved by 13% to 35% ... Similarly, the yoga group's muscular strength and endurance was also boosted by regular Hatha yoga."

Yoga's emphasis on breathing and the mind/body/spirit connection also yields strong emotional benefits. People who practice yoga frequently report that they sleep better and feel less stressed. "It helps you learn not to concentrate on things you can't control, to live in the present," says Mindy Arbuckle, yoga teacher and owner of Green Mountain Yoga in Arvada, Colo. "It seeps into the rest your life. You'll notice you're handling a stressful event more easily, whether it's family or work."

So even if your mother already knows more about it than you do, it's still not too late to catch up. If you're finally ready to give it a try, here's how to get started.

  • Step One -- Move Past the Myths

The first step is to give up all the preconceptions that are holding you back. First big myth: you have to be flexible to do yoga. "People who aren't flexible will actually see results faster," says Shaw. "I've taught people who are well into their 90s."

Because yoga is a practice geared to helping you become aware of your own highly individual mind/body connection, it's perfectly suited to all levels. "Anyone will get the benefits," insists Shaw.

  • Take a Beginner's Class

Look for classes that specify they are for beginners or are "open" classes, which are for all levels. "It's important to find a responsible teacher that you respond to," Arbuckle says. "Because there are so many different styles of yoga out there now, you may want to try a few different types of classes until you find what you like best." Hatha yoga is one of the most flowing and gentle options, making it a good starting point; Vinyasa is more athletic; and Iyengar concentrates on proper alignment. The only type that Arbuckle wouldn't recommend for beginners is Bikram, or "hot" yoga.

  • Don't Worry About Whether You're Doing It 'Right'

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