Yoga isn’t just for fit, skinny people who can contort their bodies into impossible-looking poses. Family yoga is accessible for people of all ages and holds a range of wellness benefits, both physical and mental.

Practised regularly, even the most basic yoga poses (or asanas) help improve your balance and body health in various ways. There are simple standing poses to improve your overall balance as well as leg and core strength. Other floor-based poses boost your flexibility by stretching your chest, neck and spine, and downward-facing poses stretch your back, hamstrings and shoulders, and help strengthen your upper body.

Yoga also teaches slow, deep breathing, and this, together with the physical poses and movements, helps prevent injuries, improve your body’s recovery time, reduce stress, and promote overall wellness in people of all ages, abilities, and physical conditions – from young children to the elderly, and everyone in between.

“Yoga has a lot of benefits for everyone,” says Dr Konrad von Hagen, a Mediclinic GP and sports physician. “First, there are the physical benefits of stretching, balance, and bodyweight training. Then there’s the benefit that comes from just spending time with yourself. Yoga makes you slow down and quieten your mind, which helps a lot with stress. There’s a very powerful mindfulness aspect to it.”

Improved wellbeing at all ages

Several years ago, American researchers found that a group of older people (average age 78) who practised hatha yoga twice a week for 12 weeks were less afraid of falling and experienced a 34% increase in their lower body flexibility. Hatha yoga is a gentle form of yoga than can even be performed from a seated position if necessary.

Another US-based study was done among third-grade children who showed signs of anxiety. The children experienced improved wellbeing and emotional health after doing yoga and mindfulness activities at school. Researchers said their psychosocial and emotional quality of life scores improved, compared to their peers.

And although yoga is often considered gentler than a full-on aerobic workout, studies have also found it can produce similar and unexpected benefits, enhancing many of the same brain structures and functions that benefit from aerobic exercise.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown that yoga also holds benefits for older people, protecting against cognitive decline. One of its effects is to increase the volume of the hippocampus, an important region of the brain involved in memory processing, which shrinks with age. This is also the structure that is first affected in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Because the practice of yoga helps improve emotional regulation, it reduces stress, anxiety and depression, which in turn helps to improve brain function.