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When most people think of yoga, they think of wellness and relaxation, not fitness. While yoga involves plenty of gentle stretching, deep breathing and meditation (which have been shown to do everything from alleviating stress to lessening chronic pain), it’s also an effective total body workout for people of all ages and fitness levels.
A series of movements or “asanas” that began in India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga — derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union of mind and body — is a low-impact workout that gets results.
Yoga builds strength, flexibility and balance without putting pressure on the joints. Studies consistently show that this weight-bearing activity helps slow bone thinning, reducing the risks of osteoporosis, particularly among postmenopausal women.
And when done in a series of flowing, nonstop movements, yoga improves cardiovascular endurance. What’s more, regularly practicing yoga has been shown to boost mental fitness in areas such as memory, clarity and focus. One study even showed benefits accruing in those who already had mild cognitive impairment.
Getting started with yoga is easier than you might think. Classes are offered in a wide range of levels, and the practice itself emphasizes making poses work for you as an individual.
“Yoga is 100 percent customizable,” explains yoga instructor and wellness expert Lorraine C. Ladish. “You can make the same pose restorative and relaxing by using props like bolsters or yoga blankets or make it a power pose by using your own strength to sustain it.” There are plenty of gentle yoga classes, too, that can be done with a chair for extra support.
Getting your routine going can be as simple as rolling out a mat and turning on a yoga video. From there you can mix it up by alternating your home sessions with classes at a studio. Consistency is key, though, to reap yoga’s many benefits. Though “any yoga,” says Ladish, “is better than no yoga.”
This article was written by Valerie Latona for AARP.