Q: I'm a female in my late 50's and am interested in starting an exercise program. I would love to lose a few pounds and improve my health, but given that I have knee problems, I'm slightly wary of doing something high impact. I've been hearing a lot of things about the benefits of yoga and am wondering if I'm too old to practice. How do I begin--and could yoga actually help me lose weight?

A: In the words of my highly esteemed colleague and dear friend Sara Ivanhoe, "Anyone can do yoga. And I mean anyone." You are definitely not too old to begin practicing yoga, and you've taken the best first step by asking this question.

The ideal way to begin is with a teacher in a class setting. While you may not find the optimal class on your first try, don't lose hope- -try several. You will eventually find a teacher (or hopefully teachers) who will help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your strength.

On the days that you are unable to make it to class, you can still fit in your yoga workout with a DVD. There is a large selection of yoga DVDs available for each type of student. Element Yoga AM/PM for Beginners would be a good fit for you--it's patient, concise, and precise, using repetitions of poses to deepen your experience of your breathing while also strengthening and toning your body. Any method of enhancing our breathing is healing for us on many levels.

In regards to your knee problems, there is a specific style of yoga known as Anusara Yoga that may be very beneficial. Seek a local teacher of Anusara Yoga (an international listing of teachers can be found at Anusara.com) who is experienced in therapeutic Anusara Yoga to help learn how to stabilize and align your legs to both empower and help heal them as you practice. Desiree Rumbaugh created a wonderful DVD entitled Yoga to the Rescue, which focuses on therapeutics for your whole body.

As for weight loss, practicing yoga can be a valuable addition to any weight loss-aimed regimen--one that should also include some type of cardiovascular activity (such as brisk walking). The cardio keeps your systems whirring and purring, and the yoga will help instill patience and gratitude. Once you're at your optimal weight, practicing yoga will keep you more in tune with your body, so you'll always treat it respectfully and eat relatively well going forward.


Elena Brower is the founder of Virayoga in NYC and star of the Element: AM & PM Yoga for Beginners DVD.