When I meet anyone and they first learn I either do or teach yoga, for some reason they feel compelled to tell me about their own experience with it. They tried it in the past and it was awful, they love it now, they have a friend or relative who likes it or teaches it… and/or more famously something along the lines of “I’m not flexible” “I had some sort of injury/surgery/etc” “It’s not for me”. One of my favorite funny lines is from the owner of the studio where I used to teach who said something to the effect of Saying you are not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you are too dirty to take a shower.
If you’ve never done yoga or are a newbie to it, how can you already know it’s not for you? It’s kind of an everybody thing. AND it’s probably not what you think it is.
You don’t have to be flexible or even “in shape” at all. I wouldn’t sign up for anything called “Power Yoga” or the hot yoga classes if you’ve never done it. If you read the description of the class and it says all levels are welcome, they mean it. If it says experience needed (which most don’t) those would be the ones to initially stay away from.
So what happens there?
You bend yourself into a pretzel of course… OH I CAN’T EXPRESS HOW MUCH I’M KIDDING. But I do feel like that is what people think when I tell them I do yoga.
You stretch and move. Often slowly and mindfully. You breath in a way that you control the breath and can notice and appreciate it. Nearly anyone can keep up. Most of the classes I’ve ever taught were to an older, less flexible population who tends to come back regularly because they start to feel a positive shift within themselves. Micro changes in their body, minds and spirits that become macro changes over time.
Folks with all kinds of injuries or past surgeries often attend. In fact, many a student finds yoga after surgery because their surgeon recommended it as helpful and one of the initial few activities the patient can engage in. Unless you are a well-practiced yogi I wouldn’t attend if you are pregnant, have osteopenia or osteoporosis. There are special classes for those students. If you are worried about a medical condition, don’t hesitate to call ahead of time or let the instructor know before class begins. He/she has heard it all before and may often some advice to modify. However the bottom line is always, if it hurts don’t do it.
It’s Movement rather than Exercise.
Yoga is not really exercise as we know it. It will not be as if you are in a group gym class spinning on a bike or doing aerobics, and if you lose pace you have to work to keep up. The teacher is not going to yell at you to keep it moving (high tail it out of there if they do). Most students in yoga classes understand that everyone is at a different level and will not become frustrated if someone is falling behind – if there was even a way to ‘fall behind’. It’s not that type of thing.
Yoga is about listening to your own body. The instructor is providing direction, but you ultimately decide how far you want to go in a pose or stretch. Yoga should never hurt, burn, or pinch in any way. If it does it’s vital to pull back from whatever just created that feeling and either ease into it another way or stay where you were a moment ago. A good teacher will create a space where students are not looking at one another or judging anyone else. Once you understand how the practice works, you will learn there is almost no reason to look past the bounds of your mat (except occasionally to view the teacher). The practice is about you, in your own space, on your own mat – connecting movement and breath.
That’s all you need to do. Move and breath. Then magic happens. Just from doing that somehow all types of benefits begin to occur.
- increased flexibility
- increased muscle strength and tone
- improved respiration, energy and vitality
- maintaining a balanced metabolism
- weight reduction
- cardio and circulatory health
- improved athletic performance
- protection from injury
- improved posture
- prevention against cartilage and joint break down
- better bone health
- increased blood flow
- enhanced balance
- decreased blood pressure
- regulates adrenal glands
- boosts immunity
- eases pain
- supports connective tissue
- manage stress
- maintains the nervous system
- releases tension
- improves sleep
- increase body awareness
- sharpens concentration
- helps to center attention
- provides peace of mind
- gives you inner strength
If you already engage it in you likely know this. And if you don’t – give it a try!