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Yoga: Doctor talks health benefits, getting started

Want to improve your health and feel better

Want to improve your health and feel better about yourself? Put on some comfortable clothes and join Dr. Stephen Picca for some yoga. Photo Credit: iStock

Want to improve your health and feel better about yourself? Put on some comfortable clothes and join me for some yoga.

Western medicine has forgotten that there is more to good health than just CT scans and cholesterol levels. There are emotional and spiritual components often neglected by rushed health care providers. Many Americans, myself included, have turned to yoga to help fill this void.

Yoga traces its roots back thousands of years to ancient India but it is only within the last 50 years or so that it has become popular in the United States.

Involving a series of “poses” (or “postures”) -- which by themselves are a great form of exercise — yoga helps to improve flexibility, strength and balance. Many Americans derive great benefit by experiencing yoga at this level.

Yet yoga should be so much more.

In addition to the poses, a full yoga experience incorporates spiritual elements such as breath control, relaxation techniques and meditation. In time, the mind- and body-control you practice during yoga class can be carried over to your life outside the class. In addition to the physical benefits, yoga eases anxiety and gives a greater sense of well-being and happiness.

Getting started is easy.

There are yoga studios all over Long Island and classes are often relatively inexpensive, less than the cost of a movie. Wear some comfortable clothes. Bring a friend or go alone and make new ones. You will need a yoga mat, which most studios can lend you.

The challenge is finding the right teacher.

Yoga teachers are not licensed and their qualifications and teaching skills vary widely. A skillful teacher makes all the difference. Also, there are several different types of yoga; they vary in their emphasize on the various aspects of the yoga experience. Shop around. Try different styles and different teachers until you find ones that are a good match for you.

People often tell me they are not flexible enough to take up yoga. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. There are “gentle” classes designed specifically for beginners and those with physical limitations. A good teacher will be able to help you profit from your yoga experience, regardless of what your ability is or what your limitations are.

Both men and women can benefit from yoga. Even though females tend to be more flexible there is no reason why men cannot obtain the same benefits from yoga that women do.

People with conditions such as sciatica, poorly controlled blood pressure or pregnancy should check with their health care providers before beginning yoga.

There are some medical studies documenting the benefits of yoga for problems such as lower back pain, stress and high blood pressure. But if something is fun to do and improves your physical and mental health, you don't need a medical journal to tell you that you should be doing it.


Dr. Stephen Picca of Massapequa is Board Certified in both Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology. He is retired from practice.

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