I’ve been teaching yoga for over five years, and I practice about five times a week. I can’t imagine not practicing yoga. I know the impact that yoga has on my body and life. I feel achy and cranky when I miss a day of practice. As a teacher, I want everyone to feel better through yoga, but I know that there are concerns, misconceptions, and just plain old excuses that hold people back. When a current or prospective students tells me one of the following reasons for not practicing yoga, here’s what I have to say.
I’m not flexible. Many people think that you have to be flexible to practice yoga. But, yoga postures are not designed to help you contort your body like a Cirque de Soleil performer. In fact, yoga should help you become straighter, longer, and leaner–creating clean lines in the body rather than more bends and curves. Don’t you already bend over your computer all day long? If you practice consistently, you will become more flexible as you find more lightness and openness in your body. But flexibility is not a prerequisite for practicing yoga, nor is it a goal of the practice.
My balance is no good anymore. Sure, our balance changes as we age. And it’s true that many of the postures you’ll do in yoga will challenge your balance. But very few of us have truly lost our balance. We may have to work a bit harder to find it, but yoga trains the body to move from a very stable core. In addition, you will learn to use muscles that you never realized you had to support your balance. In doing so, you will compensate for differences in the mass and strength of larger muscles, and find ways to use your whole body to support movement and stability.
I took a yoga class once and I didn’t like it. I meet some people who have taken one or two classes (sometimes decades ago), or who popped a DVD into their player and followed along. And they have concluded that they don’t like yoga. (I have to confess that I hated yoga for the first few times I tried it.) But there are so many types of yoga…power, vinyasa, Ashtanga, restorative, Iyengar, Bikram…to name just a few. And there are probably over a hundred different yoga teachers in the Lansing Michigan area alone. Each type of yoga is different. Each teacher is different. It usually takes more than one or two classes to find a style or teacher who fits your needs and personality.
Yoga is too easy/hard. Yoga is as easy or hard as you want it to be. Yoga teaches you to move in a connected and mindful way. It teaches you to respect your own body and find your own edge. That edge is different for each of us. And it changes from time to time. Some days yoga will feel like the hardest, sweatiest thing you have done in a long, long time. Other times yoga will feel sweet, soft, and light. In large part, it’s up to you. By suggesting many different ways to practice a posture, and by making sure your body is in good alignment, an experienced yoga teacher will help you find your edge, and help you adapt your practice to what you need and want from it.
I want to lose weight, so I’d rather spend my time in the gym. It’s probably true; the workouts you’ll get with a skilled trainer will have a more direct impact on weight loss than a yoga practice will. But, yoga has a powerful indirect impact on weight loss. Yoga makes you much more mindful about all things—including what you eat. If you practice regularly, you’ll become more attuned to your body, and you’ll want to eat better out of respect for yourself. I have struggled with my weight for years, and becoming a member of State of Fitness helped me turn a corner. But the most powerful influence on my ability to lose weight was what I learned in yoga—which was to accept my body and treat myself with kindness. Until I learned those lessons, I don’t think I would have lost more than a few pounds.
Yoga is too weird for me. Traditional yoga is multi-faceted and speaks to mind, body, and spirit. The mind and spirit part is uncomfortable to some people. And that’s OK. Yoga is not a religion; you don’t have to believe in the whole system of yoga to benefit from a yoga practice. You can come to yoga to focus on moving your body and ignore the other aspects and traditions. I predict, however, that if you keep coming to your mat, one day you will become curious about what else yoga has to offer.
So now you know. If you have used any of these excuses to avoid practicing yoga, what are you waiting for? Find a good studio; one where teachers are well trained and make you feel comfortable. When I travel, I find that studios that offer teacher training programs are often the best choices. Find a teacher who focuses on alignment and safety in the physical practice. And talk to your teachers. Tell them about any concerns you have with your body or with your practice. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a person who’s looking to take up healthier habits, get on your mat and into the studio. Try it for a month, and let me know how you feel.
Watch for my next blog post, where I’ll explore how yoga complements strength training and conditioning.