1st August 2003 at 01:00
Yoga is a gentle way to introduce your body to regular exercise, says Roxanne Clark

Thinking about exercising is as close to doing it that many people get. But faced with stressful situations, our body prepares us to fight or flee, and exercise is a sure-fire safety valve that releases this tension and counters the acute and long-term consequences of stress.

So it is essential that you create time in your hectic life to exercise.

You will feel a lot better if you do. People who exercise regularly increase their awareness of how they feel, recognising muscle tension, stiffness, aches and pains earlier and alleviating these signs of stress more easily.

Being fit helps you think clearer and faster. You feel healthier, your recovery rate from illness is quicker, you cope better, and develop a sense of calm. But it is important to do something you enjoy - that you can look forward to, and can build into your life and do regularly.

Now is a good time to prepare yourself to start exercising before the pressure of work and the new term begins. It is better to build up your effort slowly. If you are over 35 and haven't exercised for a while, go to your GPfor a check up before you start. Erratic and extreme exercising can be as bad for you as none at all.

Yoga is a good introduction and can quickly become a passion. It is balanced physical exercise that develops strength and flexibility, improves breathing and calms and focuses your mind. Try this taster:

* Stand with your feet hip-width apart, spine long and arms hanging at your sides.

* Inhale through your nose and slowly raise your arms upwards.

* Holding your breath, stretch your whole body, trying to touch the ceiling with your fingertips.

* Exhaling, release the stretch and slowly lower your arms back to your sides.

* Repeat four times, then slowly roll your chin on to your chest and continue to curl your spine forward and downwards.

* Slightly bend your legs and hang your upper body downwards, gently shaking your arms, shoulders, neck and head.

* When your upper body is completely relaxed, slowly inhale and uncurl your spine, keeping your chin on your chest until you are completely upright.

* Close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly.

This exercise can be practised any time when you feel yourself becoming stressed.

Roxanne Clark teaches yoga with Pilates and holistic stress management in business, adult education and schools. Contact:

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