Q: So many people seem to be taking up yoga. What is really known about its health benefits?
A: There are many forms of yoga, and any effects on health likely vary with the type and amount. Some forms of yoga place more emphasis on physical postures and stretching or flexibility, others on breathing or meditation. Other forms of yoga include faster-moving series of movements.
Studies on yoga and its healthy benefits are often small short-term, and without clear comparison groups, so for now conclusions are tentative, but early research is promising.
A recent review of multiple studies found some evidence that yoga compared to doing no exercise may help reduce blood pressure and blood triglyceride levels and possibly LDL cholesterol. Limited research ties continued yoga practice to lower markers of inflammation and that it may help improve low-back pain, especially after several months.
Some research also suggests yoga has potential to improve quality of life and decrease the fatigue experienced by cancer survivors, at least after several months of yoga practice.
If you are considering trying yoga, experts advise starting with guidance of a well-trained instructor and asking about how the form of yoga practiced matches the benefits you seek. If you have any health problems, talk with your healthcare provider before starting more than a basic breathing and meditation practice. Women who are pregnant and people with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, glaucoma (a condition involving fluid pressure within the eye that may lead to blindness), and sciatica (pain, weakness, numbing, or tingling that may extend from the lower back to the calf or foot), should modify or avoid some yoga poses.