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Yoga offers a litany of health benefits

No longer seen as simply a way to stretch and meditate, yoga is being touted as helpful for an array of health conditions -- back pain, chronic headaches, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and more. But is yoga really all it's cracked up to be?

Indeed, it is, said Dr. Karrin Genovese, who practices family medicine at Cardiovascular Medical Associates in Garden City. In fact, she believes yoga can also be beneficial for fibromyalgia, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), female sexual dysfunction, chronic pelvic pain, cancer-related fatigue, sports injuries and end-of-life care.

"Yoga is a system of breathing and postures that connect your inner balance and energy with the energy of the universe," explained Juliana Salas, the yoga and meditation instructor for the Spa at Red Hots in Roslyn. Meredeth Stieglitz, a pediatric physical therapist from Miller Place, said she was so convinced of the benefits that she recently enrolled in yoga certification training.

"I know body alignment, body mechanics, ergonomics, but it's [yoga] giving me so many cues and insights on how to . . . correct body alignment." Yoga strongly focuses on symmetry, balance, flexibility and core strength, she said, "all things that are needed to improve pain and prevent injuries."

 

But be aware

Yet, as healthful and increasingly popular as it seems to be, precautions about yoga should be heeded. Genovese noted that people with medical problems, including low-back pain, should consult a doctor before exercising. Also, more strenuous styles of yoga and Bikram yoga (so-called hot yoga) aren't appropriate for pregnant women, anyone who's seriously ill or those with an extensive history of medical issues -- unless their doctors clear them.

And you have to help yourself in class. "Voicing injuries and concerns to the teacher will help you when the teacher provides modifications, but only you know when to push through a pose and when to modify your own pose," Salas said.

In the past two years, researchers have reported that yoga can:

Relieve chronic low-back pain and improve back movement, according to studies in Archives of Internal Medicine and Annals of Internal Medicine

Reduce episodes of irregular heartbeats as well as lower incidents of depression and anxiety among people with atrial fibrillation, based on a study reported at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting

Help people with fibromyalgia by relieving their pain, fatigue and anxiety, and improving their sleep and mood, according to a study in the journal Pain

Help cancer patients by decreasing their need for sleep medication while improving their sleep and quality of life, based on a study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting

Improve eating habits and help people achieve a healthier weight, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association

Reduce breathing problems among people with asthma, leading to less use of medication, based on a report at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine

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