People interested in improving their health through yoga need to find an experienced teacher who combines the three main elements of yoga, Sherman and Khalsa said.
"Everyone should get an instructor who is experienced and has the traditional yogic principles," Sherman said. "You should be learning how to tune into your body. Yoga is about moving with awareness. That's a skill many of us have to develop."
Many different styles of yoga exist. Those suitable for beginners include kundalini, viniyoga and Iyengar, Sherman and Khalsa said.
Be wary of teachers who focus on postures without also emphasizing breathing and meditation, particularly if they press students to take on extreme postures, they said. Yoga can cause injury if people push themselves too hard, and such contortions have little to do with the mind-body link that students of yoga are trying to attain. For this reason, the experts say, people might do better to start their yoga practice at a traditional yoga studio rather than taking yoga through a gym or health club.
"If practicing extreme postures and being able to bend yourself into a pretzel were the signs of a good yogi, then the people at Barnum & Bailey Circus would be the best yogis in the world," Khalsa said.
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has more on yoga.
SOURCES: Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D., assistant professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, and associate neuroscientist, Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston; Karen Sherman, Ph.D., M.P.H., affiliate associate professor, epidemiology, Center for Health Studies, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle
All rights reserved