Q. I’ve been advised to do yoga to help with my neck and back pain. What are the effects of yoga, what kind is best, and what should I look for in a teacher?
A. Yoga is a wonderful exercise that can help prevent and treat chronic musculoskeletal problems.
Practicing yoga regularly can increase flexibility and strengthen muscles. It can also decrease stress; a recent study conducted by Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and the Yoga Research Society suggests that yoga can normalize stress hormone levels.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years in India as part of the Hindu religion, but most forms of yoga in the United States do not have religious overtones. Rather, they emphasize techniques for stretching, breathing and calming the mind.
Different styles of yoga classes are offered at some local community centers and private yoga studios; three of the most common styles of yoga are Iyengar, Ashtanga and Bikram.
Iyengar yoga — appropriate for everyone, especially beginners — utilizes props, such as ropes, blocks and chairs, to support the body so that you can safely hold a stretch. A good teacher will give plenty of instruction on how to do a pose, gently adjusting your body to help you get into the right position. The focus is on listening to your body and releasing tight muscles.
Ashtanga yoga is more physically demanding, because it entails moving quickly from one yoga posture to another. It is recommended for advanced students but can be approached by beginners who start with a class specifically designed for learning the poses.
Bikram yoga, also known as “hot yoga,” is practiced in a 105-degree room. It warms your muscles, making stretching easier — but be prepared to sweat. A challenging workout of 26 postures, Bikram yoga is great for people in good physical shape who have some yoga background; people with physical restrictions need to be careful.
Be sure to ask your yoga teacher what kind of certification they have, and how long they’ve been teaching.
If you have structural problems such as arthritis, a history of low back pain or bad knees, look for a teacher who will understand your special needs. With a little practice and a prudent approach, yoga can be a deeply rewarding experience and can help you prevent neck and back problems.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com