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Why Women Over 40 Should Consider Yoga

The ancient practice of yoga can help women, especially those 40 and older, cope with the daily stress of life.
Carrie Terrell, MD, a University of Minnesota Health obstetrician/gynecologist and devoted yoga practitioner, believes yoga can be of particular use to women over 40, who are juggling many stresses in their personal and professional lives.

Better health is just a short stretch away.

Thousands of Minnesotans have taken up the practice of yoga, which brings together physical and mental practices that produce a stronger body and calmer mind—and Carrie Terrell, MD, a University of Minnesota Health obstetrician/gynecologist, sees its benefits on a regular basis. We spoke with Terrell, who is a devoted yoga practitioner, about the benefits of the practice, especially for women older than 40.

What is yoga, anyway?
Yoga has many definitions and interpretations. Yoga is an eight-limbed philosophy of which one limb is asana (poses), and this has been the main focus for western practitioners. The other limbs primarily focus on meditation practice and a couple are about how one treats oneself and others. A common philosophy in yoga—the purpose of practicing poses—is simply to prepare the mind and body to sit comfortably in meditation. The real work is the meditation.

Is it a religious practice?
Yoga has its roots in eastern religions and philosophies, but you do not need to subscribe to those religious beliefs—or any beliefs, really—to benefit from the practice.

Why is yoga so beneficial to women—especially those older than 40?
Often, women over 40 are managing careers, families and many other stressors. They may have little time to take care of their own personal health and may experience difficult with a number of stress-related health issues, including fatigue, weakness, difficulty sleeping, weight management and their sense of well-being. Research and my own personal experience have demonstrated to me that yoga can help treat many of systemic and multifocal complaints women over 40 may have. We also see many women older than 40 with these health concerns at the University of Minnesota Health Women’s Health Specialists Clinic, our comprehensive, integrative clinic.

How does yoga help practitioners overcome stress?
We don't know 'how' yoga works or why it seems different from other forms of exercise, but it does seem to have a beneficial effect on lowering perceived stress levels as well as lowering circulating stress hormones. Many cardiovascular exercises (especially when performed outside) and meditation have been demonstrated to achieve similar results.

How do I find a good yoga class?
We have a plethora of yoga teachers in Minneapolis and St. Paul—but not all are created equal. A good yoga teacher, in my belief, stands apart because of his or her knowledge of anatomy and the ability to tailor any class to any person's ability. One should never feel as though she or he 'cannot do a pose' or be pressured by a sense of competition. A class should not simply feel like an exercise class. To me, that's not yoga.