Why You Don’t Have To Be A Yogi To Do Yoga
Yoga can be intimidating to someone who’s never tried it before. “I’m not flexible” and “It’s boring” or “I can’t concentrate for that long” are common responses when I talk to clients or friends who have never done yoga but there are a myriad of benefits to this ancient practice and you don’t have to be a yogi to reap the rewards of a yoga practice.
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India but fairly recently became popular in Western cultures as the physical practice of “asanas” or stretching to increase flexibility and relaxation. The word “yoga” means “union” and specifically, “union with the divine” but generally in Western culture, the spirituality aspect gets stripped away and most people think of yoga as a group of exceptionally flexible people, standing on their head and twisting themselves up into other seemingly uncomfortable positions. While this certainly happens among those with an advanced practice, yoga has so much to offer the average Jill or Joe who care to optimize their health.
Yoga is for everyone
All ages, fitness levels, shapes, sizes and abilities can do yoga. There are many different levels and types of yoga classes, so no excuse not to find a class, no matter what your goal may be. Practicing yoga can build strength, balance, coordination and endurance and is commonly thought to be therapeutic for physical and mental conditions. Many studies have found yoga’s effectiveness for treating back pain, stress, depression and vertigo to name a few.
Yoga for all
It can be intimidating to see well-practiced yogis standing on their head but fundamentally, the focus is inward; a no judgement zone. A yoga class is led by an instructor but ultimately your guide is your body. Most yoga teachers encourage you to listen to your body and meet yourself where you’re at, pushing gently outside the comfort zone, quietly encouraging the body to grow at your own pace. It’s YOUR practice and every BODY is different.
Yoga can be a great workout
There are many types of yoga classes so be sure to look for a description of the class before signing up. Some practices are hot and intense and others are a gentle, restorative class. Most yoga classes are a great balance between strength and flexibility. I’ve gone to many classes where my legs, shoulders, or core muscles are quite sore afterwards and I’ve gone to others where I’ve left feeling stretched out and restored. Whether you’re really looking to sweat or gently push your flexibility boundaries, there is a yoga class for everyone. Yoga is wonderful to supplement your workouts in the gym or to take a class on rest days to promote recovery and injury prevention for when you do go hard in the gym.
A huge element of yoga is the breath work. When I was first starting out as a personal trainer, I was shocked to find that many people didn’t know how to breathe well. Poor posture combined with shallow breathing can actually cause major tightness and pain in the upper body and neck. Focus on breath is an integral part of yoga. Breath is a part of the movements and specifically, yoga guides one to control the breath and breathe consciously. Being able to control one’s breath can immediately have a stress-reducing, biological effect on our mental, physical and emotional state resulting in a relaxed mind.
Relaxation and meditation are other major benefits to an integrated yoga practice. Controlling your breath and quieting your mind has a meditative effect on the body encouraging you to be more mindful and aware of the present moment without passing judgement on yourself.
It’s A Practice
It’s called a practice for a reason. It’s more than just stretching and moving your body into different poses. The awareness you cultivate over time is what makes it a “practice” versus a workout to be completed. There is always room to grow. There is always a way to make a pose harder. (You think standing with one foot off the ground is easy? Try closing your eyes!) Your body will likely become more flexible practicing yoga, but so will your mind. Yoga is exercise for the mind, body and soul.
Since starting yoga, my workouts have gotten stronger, my runs have gotten longer and overall I feel more mobile and pain free! Up until I began practicing yoga, I thought I was going to have to live with certain aches and pains because I’m getting older and “that’s just what happens, right?” But it doesn’t have to be that way if you take control of your health and step a bit outside of your comfort zone for the sake of long-term health. If you’ve never tried yoga, I encourage you to give it a try. You may not like the first or even second class, but try different classes and different instructors and keep an open heart and mind. What you’ll take away from your yoga practice is much more than getting a bit stretchier.