5. Yoga should never hurt. The yogic approach is very different from the Western exercise mentality of "go for the burn." Ancient texts on yoga say that a posture should be "steady and comfortable" or, according to some translations, "relaxed and stable" or "sweet and calm." So if you're straining to push yourself into a posture suitable for a magazine cover, that's gymnastics or calisthenics but not yoga. Yoga invites you to move into each posture only to the point where you feel a sensation of pleasant stretch, then allow your breath to help the pose deepen and unfold. If it hurts — back off!
6. Yoga is not just a workout. Yoga is a powerful form of mind-body medicine that approaches health in a holistic manner, recognizing that physical ailments also have emotional and spiritual components. In one recent small study researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found yoga was better than walking to improve people's moods. The tools of yoga are postures, breathing practices and meditation, which work together to balance and integrate mind, body and spirit.
7. Ask for help for a smooth start. Consult your doctor for specific recommendations — especially if you have heart disease or any chronic health condition, if you've had surgery or are taking medications. Tell your doctor that you're planning to take yoga and ask for guidance, particularly about any specific movements or positions you should avoid. People with osteoporosis, for example, should usually avoid certain movements that can cause fracture — including bending forward from the waist and twisting the spine to a point of strain — movements commonly done in certain postures taught in many yoga classes. Responsible yoga teachers will ask you about your health and, in some cases, may seek your permission to work with your physician to create a yoga practice for you.
Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., is codirector of the Yoga for Seniors Teacher Training and the author of Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain.