If you’ve seen photographs of its poses, you might think that yoga is a form of torture only a pretzel could love – something more likely to cause pain than to relieve it.

It’s true that some of the more advanced poses – feet behind the head, balancing on one arm – require great strength and flexibility. But yoga actually builds strength and flexibility. And yoga poses can be adapted to anyone’s limitations. Even people who have to stay in bed or who can’t get out of a chair can do yoga. What’s more, yoga has been proven to relieve certain types of pain, including osteoarthritis. Its less extreme forms are an ideal choice when the prescription calls for exercise.

The word yoga means “union,” and yoga teachers talk of yoga as a practice, or system, of poses and movements that helps people to unify and balance the body and mind. Yoga was developed centuries ago specifically to make the body healthy. The asanas, or poses, were designed to take the distractions the body has – the sore muscles, the twitches and itches and aches – and get rid of them so that a person could sit still and meditate.

The practice of yoga also quiets the mind. An important component of yoga is that it asks us to concentrate on what is going on in the present moment and that relaxes and quiets the mind. And like, meditation, that quieting of the mind allows people to put things, including pain, into perspective and perceive the deeper meaning of their lives.