Sound far-fetched? We thought so too; then we did our research. Recent studies have shown that yoga can increase lung capacity and reduce asthma attacks, help manage diabetes, and relieve lower back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Of course you still need your doctor; if you have injuries, or are menstruating or pregnant, be sure to do your yoga with a qualified teacher. Otherwise, you're good to go on your own. Use the following poses to alleviate some of the biggest mind and body woes you've come to know and hate. You just might find that bending and stretching like Elastigirl is your healthiest bet—and the best tool in the house.
Oil that Creaky Back
Nothing makes you feel old before your time like a stiff back; back pain is the second most common reason for missed workdays, right behind colds and flu-type illnesses. So as not to go all grandma, ease into these yoga moves, which "relieve tightness in the back by stretching and strengthening the muscles along the upper, middle, and lower spine," says Baxter Bell, M.D., a Hatha yoga instructor who leads back care workshops in Northern California. Remember, we said ease.
Kick Cellulite to the Curb
Besides whipping your leg muscles into sexy shape, yoga can help smooth spongy thighs. "Cellulite is a symptom of reduced lymph circulation," says Atma JoAnn Levitt, M.A., R.N., head of the integrative weight loss program at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts.
For those of you who skipped biology class, lymph is the somewhat yucky bodily fluid that contains white blood cells. "Yoga causes lymph to flow more freely through fatty areas, flushing toxins and reducing cellulite," Levitt says. Inversions or upside-down positions are especially good for moving lymph along.
Chill Out Anxiety and Stress
It could be your boss or it could be a bossy 5-year-old, but your entire body is clenched and your blood pressure is climbing through the roof. Time to break the emergency glass and take out your yoga. How's it work? When you feel threatened or overstressed, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, shooting out adrenaline and raising your heart and breathing rates.
Yoga experts like Timothy Bergin, founder of the online resource yogabasics.com, say practicing—especially the deep breathing—activates the opposing part of your central nervous system—"the parasympathetic, which calms the body down so it can function properly."
In some of his workshops, says John Friend, the creator of Anusara yoga, "I hook people up to monitors, then I have them do breathing exercises and they can actually watch their heart rate and blood pressure drop."
Increased awareness of the breath and chest-opening postures also improve respiratory function by expanding the lungs and opening up the chest cavity. Taking in extra oxygen is beneficial for all of us, but especially for asthmatics; some studies suggest they can learn to breathe more easily through yoga practice.
Make Peace with PMS
"Nothing 'cures' PMS, because it can manifest in such a wide variety of ways," says Machelle M. Seibel, M.D., a gynecologist and coauthor of A Woman's Book of Yoga. He's telling us? Hey, we know premenstrual syndrome offers a variety pack of crappy symptoms, from cramps and breast tenderness to mood swings and diarrhea. What we didn't know: "There are some simple yoga poses," Dr. Seibel says, "that can help just about everyone."
See a slideshow of some yoga moves to help with these problems here.