Yoga improves strength, flexibility and balance. Studies have even found regular practice to help reduce blood pressure, aches and pains, depression, and stress. It can be practiced by anyone looking to improve their body, mind or posture.
Yoga should be practiced at least twice a week. To get the most out of your practice look for longer classes that include breathing and relaxation techniques. It is important to listen to your body, and only take the poses you feel comfortable with. Don't let anyone adjust you if you don't want them to, and take as much care coming out of a pose as you do getting in to one. There are lots of different types of yoga that are suitable for different levels, ages and fitness levels. Speak to your instructor and find out which is most suitable for you. If you are a beginner or hyper-mobile I would advise against hot, or Bikram yoga is practiced in a warm room, which allows the muscles to stretch further and may increase the likelihood of injury.
Yoga encourages flexibility, particularly through the thoracic spine and hip flexors. Motion is lotion for our bodies, it is really important to keep moving and break the cycle of sustained posture e.g. sitting at a desk, holding tools or children. Yoga encourages movement and flexibility in all ranges of motion, preventing muscles from shortening and becoming fibrotic or 'knotty'. Having good posture means you are less likely to encounter aches and pains; Prevention is better than cure!
Yoga practice has a strong focus on diaphragmatic breathing which teaches us to use our diaphragm and lower ribs to breathe, rather than the accessory muscles of respiration in the neck and chest. When we are busy, stressed and under pressure our breathing becomes short and shallow. Learning to breathe properly can help us to relax our mind, as well as use our bodies more efficiently. The combination of exercise and mindfulness makes for the perfect stress-reliever! Body scan and mindfulness techniques can also help us to better manage long-term, or chronic pain.
Strengthening our muscles is important as we get older as it reduces the risk of osteoporosis and protect our joints. Many people find yoga reduces arthritic aches and pains, and can help to retain range of movement and mobility of joints. Strengthening the foot and ankle is important after ankle sprains, and can reduce the risk of falls in any age group. Listen to your body and don't do anything that is painful. Fast-flowing yoga classes are great for weight loss and conditioning.
I would recommend going to classes to begin with so that you learn basic techniques properly, and then you might like to practice at home using a DVD or YouTube. Fitness Blender have free, easy to follow videos online.
TriYoga in London offer a month of unlimited classes for £40. It is a great way to learn the basics and explore what types of yoga work for you. Find yoga classes near you.