How healthy is yoga? | Short Talk | DW | 17.06.2015
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Short Talk

How healthy is yoga?

Yoga is a boon to body, soul and mind. Originally developed in India, today yoga has fans all around the world. Yoga expert Anna Trökes describes how to practice yoga for optimal health benefits.

DW: How does yoga benefit health?

Anna Trökes: We know that most diseases nowadays have something to do with stress. We experience the stress of daily life in many parts of our body, from our cardiovascular system to our immune system, to name but a few. Over thousands of years, yoga developed coping strategies that can help us minimize the impact of stressful phases in our lives.

For what diseases does yoga offer proven health benefits?

Yoga has proven benefits for all stress-related illnesses, including cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, auto-immunte disorders, depression, anxiety, and burnout. It can also be helpful for back and neck pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. Yoga doesn’t just treat the symptoms – it also helps treat the underlying disease.

What effect does yoga have on the body?

The most important aspect of yoga is that synchronizing breath and movement helps restore a state of calm relaxation. When we’re stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. To minimize the impact of stress and the attendant sensations of exhaustion, we need to undertake activities regularly that break though that cycle of stress. As we practice yoga over time and learn that certain yoga exercises help restore a state of calm, that also gives our sense of self-efficacy a boost. When we feel that we’re able to do something to regain control, that helps minimize the effects of stress. And then the stress we experience is actually less stressful.

What is the best way to practice yoga for optimal health benefits?

The way we practice yoga has a significant impact on its effect. If you approach the yoga exercises as a high-performance activity in which you must push yourself to excel, and think to yourself “I have to do this right, and it has to look right, and I need to make progress,” then yoga won’t help you much. You should use yoga to find inner peace, to relax, and to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the absolute key. If you don’t have that, then yoga can even be harmful.

How often and how intensively do you have to do yoga to obtain health benefits?

We know that practicing yoga regularly and at a moderate level of intensity brings the best benefits. You can practice yoga fifteen or twenty minutes, three to five times a week, and you’ll already see benefits from that. I also recommend attending a yoga class once a week, because it’s fun.

Could you substitute another form of gymnastics exercise instead of yoga? What’s special about yoga?

What makes yoga special is the mindfulness aspect. Mindfulness can also be part of Tai Chi and Qigong, and have a very beneficial effect. Anything that promotes mindfulness is wonderful. Mindfulness means that you are consciously aware of what you are doing. When you slow down the yoga exercises and do them with deliberate care, you enter a kind of meditative state.

Are there some people who shouldn’t do yoga?

I generally refer people who suffer from psychoses to a specially trained psychiatrist. But with all other health conditions, you can adapt yoga training to the person’s needs. But you do need to inform your yoga instructor of your health conditions and needs. I spent the last few months in a wheelchair, wearing a cast, and I still managed to teach yoga the entire time.

Are there some basic rules to prevent injury during yoga?

You’re most likely to injure yourself if you perform yoga exercises without mindfulness, if you push yourself too hard, or if you carry out the yoga poses too quickly.

What brief yoga poses can help reduce stress right away?

One good idea is a short break for a three-minute meditation. Sit down in a relaxed position, and concentrate on your breathing. Raise your arms during inhalation, and lower them when exhaling. Repeat that several times, and then just focus on your breath. That’s it!

Anna Trökes has been a yoga instructor for more than 40 years and has been instructing yoga teachers for more than 30 years. She has also published a number of books on the topic. In early August, her latest book will be released by Herder Verlag under the German title “Anti-Stress-Yoga.”

Interview: Dorothee Grüner

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