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Yoga: Gain without pain

If the thought of yoga conjures up images of mystics in pretzel-like positions, think again. Yoga exercises are simple and can be done at any fitness level. The ideas behind yoga date back thousands of years to ancient India, and are gaining popularity in this country thanks to yoga’s many physical and mental benefits.

The exercises are designed to unite physical, mental and spiritual well-being. In fact, literally translated, yoga means union. There are several traditional yoga types, but the most common in America is Hatha yoga. All yoga schools and teachers use yoga’s basic principles, but they differ in their approach and in the exercises they favor.

Health benefits of yoga include flexibility and toning (especially of the stomach, back and chest), and stress reduction. Yoga also stimulates the circulation, increasing the supply of oxygen to all parts of the body. Because the exercises are practiced slowly, without pushing or jerking the body, there’s little risk of strain or injury.

When combined with a balanced diet, yoga can improve your overall health. It can even help you get rid of minor aches and pains associated with stress and tension. Yoga strengthens and relaxes muscles, improving coordination and posture. Some studies have shown that yoga can help provide relief from headaches and insomnia. As with any new exercise program, check with your doctor before taking up yoga, especially if you have a serious illness.