Yoga – An Exercise or Alternative Medicine?

The movement of Yoga as an exercise gains momentum every year and retains its roots from India where it is used as an exercise and a medical practice. The exercises are based on holding a pose of low impact physical exertion based around stretching, increasing flexibility, stamina and circulation of blood around the body. Along with the physical aspects of yoga, exercises can involve meditation, imagery, breath work, music and is a complete life philosophy and are encouraged to be repeated at least daily.

When you use yoga as an exercise it is an effective way of achieving low impact aerobic exercise that benefits the entire body and well as improving balance and co-ordination, without the worry of putting stress on the body that aerobic exercise usually encounters. There are many yoga classes and trainers to help you achieve fitness though the stretches and poses, and it can be a fulfilling activity as it relieves stress and creates a feeling of euphoria.

Medicinal Yoga has been used to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve coordination, flexibility, concentration, sleep, and digestion. It is considered a mind-body intervention that is used to reduce the health effects of generalized stress. By those who use it regularly it  is believed to calm the nervous system and balance the body, mind, and spirit.

There is no known research into yoga and the treating of disease and it is not known for any benefits in curing diseases, but it has been researched into the benefits for those suffering with back pain, diabetes and migraines. Many people have benefitted from adopting and adapting yoga in their daily routine, but it has to be done under supervision if you chose it as a complimentary therapy.

Recent studies in people with chronic low-back pain suggest that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may help reduce pain and improve function (the ability to walk and move). Studies also suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might have other health benefits such as reducing heart rate and blood pressure, and may also help relieve anxiety and depression. Other research suggests yoga is not helpful for asthma, and studies looking at yoga and arthritis have had mixed results.

If You Are Considering Practicing Yoga

  • Do not use yoga to replace conventional medical care or to postpone seeing a health care provider about pain or any other medical condition.
  • If you have a medical condition, talk to your health care provider before starting yoga.
  • Ask a trusted source (such as your health care provider or a nearby hospital) to recommend a yoga practitioner. Find out about the training and experience of any practitioner you are considering.
  • Everyone’s body is different, and yoga postures should be modified based on individual abilities. Carefully selecting an instructor who is experienced with and attentive to your needs is an important step toward helping you practice yoga safely. Ask about the physical demands of the type of yoga in which you are interested and inform your yoga instructor about any medical issues you have.
  • Carefully think about the type of yoga you are interested in. For example, hot yoga (such as Bikram yoga) may involve standing and moving in humid environments with temperatures as high as 105°F. Because such settings may be physically stressful, people who practice hot yoga should take certain precautions. These include drinking water before, during, and after a hot yoga practice and wearing suitable clothing. People with conditions that may be affected by excessive heat, such as heart disease, lung disease, and a prior history of heatstroke may want to avoid this form of yoga. Women who are pregnant may want to check with their health care providers before starting hot yoga.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about complementary and alternative medicine, see NCCAM’s Time to Talk campaign.


Yoga is a great exercise if used wisely, but always seek guidance of a licensed professional and reap the benefits of a balanced life.

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