YOGA may typically be associated with hermits living on mountain tops, trance-like meditation and a life of self-deprivation, but two yoga teachers in Hongkong have been trying to dispel the myths. And a growing number of people are learning that yoga is as beneficial to the body as more ''normal'' types of exercise - and as much fun. Doctors are beginning to recommend yoga - because of its focus on the importance of deep breathing - to patients suffering from everything from arthritis to severe period cramps. ''It differs from other forms of exercise because it is slower and not as jarring,'' said Laura Faye, a 29-year-old American who has been teaching yoga in Hongkong for three years. ''Most exercises don't promote relaxation while yoga does. It can also contribute to strength-building, weight-loss and working on the cardiovascular system like other exercises and sports activities.It increases oxygenation to the tissues and promotes overall well-being,'' she said. Another teacher, Sravaniya, who looks far younger than her 41 years, agrees. ''The poses work on nerves where bio-electric energy is stored and gives people the patience and ability to cope with stress. What happens in normal life is the nerves become worn out and depleted, and it becomes hard for people to cope because they are not feeding their cells with the energy they need. So the immune system becomes low and the organism sick,'' she said. The two yoga teachers agree that the deep, relaxed breathing and slow but gentle movements benefit the body in ways that conventional medical care or other sports do not. ''Yoga works on the organs, joints, muscles and nerves and helps to align the body and fix problems,'' Sravaniya said. She has seen people suffering from arthritis, impotence and high blood pressure feel much better. ''It takes time, patience and discipline, but anything involving natural health care is like that,'' she said. ''Sometimes serious therapy is needed, but it is drastic and while there are benefits, side effects kill another part of the body.'' Sravaniya teaches 19 classes a week and frequently receives reports of the holistic healing nature of the technique - body, mind, spirit and emotions. Ms Faye was introduced to yoga when she was a dancer in California. ''I went to a class and loved it, even if I found it easy because of my background.'' She went to Pune in India to study with B. K. S. Iyengar, a leading yoga proponent, and continued training under her US-based teacher Ramanand Patel. ''I find many people are drawn to yoga because of its metaphysical and even esoteric aspects, which is something other sports and exercises don't even begin to touch.'' Flexibility and muscle strength usually increase in about two or three months if the technique is practised regularly. ''If they don't start feeling fitter or more loose or comfortable, something is wrong,'' Ms Faye said. ''There are usually big breakthroughs with people being able to stretch a little further each time, and after a while there is more openness in some parts of the body.'' Headaches, particularly migraines, stress and stomach problems are said to ease with regular yoga. People suffering from insomnia, asthma and depression have also reported improvements. Each yoga class - either one or 11/2 hours - takes the form of groups of poses, either standing, back bends, sitting or twisting. ''Each group is different - standing postures are invigorating while back bends are good for anti-depression as they open the chest and cause the breathing to increase,'' Ms Faye said. ''Depression and sluggishness are often caused when the breathing is not effective and the brain doesn't get enough oxygen.'' There are about 84,000 classic yoga poses which work on every part of the body. St Louis-born Sravaniya has been teaching for 11 years in Taiwan and Hongkong. She became interested in the practice when she was 17 and started teaching herself from a book. She made her way to India where she studied under Swami Achyutananda in 1974. She continued studying the poses and the philosophy of yoga in ashrams in India and the US, and concedes to adopting a spiritual approach. ''Like most people, I find yoga gives you faith and confidence through every change in life, allowing people to believe they can prevail over anything. Patience and determination are also a result of yoga practice. ''I have seen some miraculous changes in people from doing yoga regularly because it is a preventative approach to health. It keeps you healthy rather than helping you when you are pathologically ill. ''Through yoga, you are sensitive to the changes in your own body, can understand other people better and are able to relax.