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A guide to yoga - Exercise

A woman holding a yoga position

All you need to know about yoga, including the health benefits and how people of different ages and levels of fitness can get started.

What is yoga?

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. The main components of yoga are postures (a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility) and breathing.

The practice originated in India about 5,000 years ago and has been adapted in other countries in a variety of ways. Yoga is now commonplace in leisure centres, health clubs, schools, hospitals and surgeries.

What are the health benefits of yoga?

Dozens of scientific trials of varying quality have been published on yoga.

While there's scope for more rigorous studies on its health benefits, most studies suggest yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity – especially strength, flexibility and balance.

There's some evidence that regular yoga practice may be beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress.

Does yoga count towards my 150 minutes of activity?

Most forms of yoga are not strenuous enough to count towards your 150 minutes of moderate activity, as set out by government guidelines on exercise.

However, yoga does count as a strengthening exercise, and at least 2 sessions a week will help you meet the guidelines on muscle-strengthening activities.

Activities such as yoga and tai chi are also recommended for older adults at risk of falls, to help improve balance and co-ordination.

Try the yoga workouts in our Fitness Studio exercise videos

Can yoga help prevent falls?

Yes. Balance and muscle-strengthening exercise (including activities such as yoga, tai chi, dance, and Pilates) at least twice a week are recommended to reduce the risk of falls, especially in older age.

However, falls may sometimes be caused by a health condition, in which case it's a good idea to see a GP or visit a falls clinic at a local hospital.

Read more about falls prevention

Am I too old for yoga?

Definitely not. People often start yoga in their 70s, and many say they wish they had started sooner. There are yoga classes for every age group. Yoga is a form of exercise that can be enjoyed at any time, from childhood to your advanced years.

Do I have to be fit to do yoga?

No. You can join a class suitable for your fitness level. For example, to join a mixed-ability yoga class, you need to be able to get up and down from the floor. Some yoga classes are chair-based.

Do I need to be flexible to do yoga?

Not necessarily. Yoga will improve your flexibility and help you go beyond your normal range of movement, which may make performing your daily activities easier.

Can I injure myself doing yoga?

Yoga-related injuries are uncommon. Some injuries can be caused by repetitive strain or overstretching.

But yoga is the same as any other exercise discipline – it's perfectly safe if taught properly by people who understand it and have experience.

It's advisable to learn from a qualified yoga teacher and choose a class appropriate to your level.

What sort of class should I choose?

There are many different styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Iyengar and Sivananda. Some styles are more vigorous than others, while some may have a different area of emphasis, such as posture or breathing. Many yoga teachers develop their own practice by studying more than one style.

No style is necessarily better or more authentic than any other. The key is to choose a class appropriate for your fitness level.

No specific qualifications are required to teach yoga in the UK. However, it's generally accepted that teachers need to be insured. Some teachers may have a teaching certificate and accreditation from a yoga association.

Can I use a book or yoga videos instead of going to a class?

It's better to start with a class to learn the poses and breathing techniques correctly. With a video, there will be nobody to correct your mistakes, which may lead to injury over time.

With some experience of being in a class, a video can then be helpful for keeping up practice.

See the yoga workouts in our Fitness Studio exercise videos

Page last reviewed: 3 August 2021
Next review due: 3 August 2024