Indeed, the elements are interlaced, she said. For example, the physical postures can help people become stronger and more flexible, but a yoga practice focusing solely on postures misses out on the original intent.
"Postures were intended to make the body strong enough to be able to sit for hours in meditation, to support the spiritual aspirations," Sherman said.
Yoga can help people deal with body aches and pains, she said, by making them stronger, showing them how to move in a less-painful way and improving their ability to cope with pain and relax.
The relaxation, meditation and breathing of yoga has been shown to improve a person's sense of well-being and can be a good treatment for anxiety and depression, Khalsa said.
Yoga may also help bolster the immune system by lowering stress. "When you reduce stress, you make the body healthier," he said. "When the body is healthy, it is able to use its own defenses better."
Khalsa's research has shown that yoga can be very helpful to people undergoing cancer treatment.
"They are under stress because it is a life-threatening disease and because everything related to cancer is stressful," he said. But relieving that stress through yoga can improve someone's quality of life and help the person deal with the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Yoga's focus on awareness of the body also has been shown to help people battle obesity. Researchers at the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that people who practice yoga are better able to manage their body weight and have a lower average body mass index than people who don't practice yoga.
But yoga has not been proven a cure-all. Khalsa said that some health claims made about yoga have not yet been borne out by medical research, particularly claims that yoga can help improve the function of specific organs, such as the pancreas or liver.
"That may be true. We don't know," he said.
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