There are a lot of reasons people don’t start a yoga practice or they try one class and decide it’s not for them. I’m just trying to convince you to give it more than just a passing glance. I do not teach yoga for a living any more, so whether you take classes with me on-line or from somewhere else, I will not gain, but you will. I’m so sure of it that I write these blogs simply because I think the world will be a better place if more people practice yoga.
The fact is, you may never LOVE yoga. You may not love broccoli either, yet when you eat broccoli, your body is better for it, and you will feel better in spite of your disdain for the vegetable. However, you may discover that you learn to like it, even love it. You may realize you thought you didn’t like it, but it turns out, you just didn’t like it one way, but tried a different way, you enjoy it.
However, yoga will love you even if you don’t ever love yoga. Your job is to find a class, style and teacher that you like, even if you don’t love it, and you will still reap the benefits because yoga loves selflessly and unconditionally. And one day, you may have to begrudgingly admit that you have noticed how yoga has benefited your life.
Some people LOVE to exercise. Some LOVE sports. Some can’t wait to get to the gym. For the rest of us, we have to learn to appreciate whatever form of fitness we find and love what it does to our bodies and how it makes us feel. My only hope is that yoga will be one part of your fitness regime. It shouldn’t be the only activity you do, but I think it will complement your entire life.
With this post, I’m writing to two primary groups of people:
- Those who already exercise, but think that yoga is too chill, isn’t enough of a workout, and who would prefer to do another type of exercise. I’m going to try to convince you to ADD yoga to your fitness life.
- Those of you who can’t quite get motivated to exercise, I want to convince you that maybe yoga is just what you need to feel and be healthier.
Feel free to skip part one and go to part two if you are not already a gym junkie.
Part one: Yoga as a complement and a foil to an existing routine
One of my friends is a total fitness junkie. She competes in triathlons; she walks on the treadmill while she works in her home office; she plays sports with her child; she lifts weights with trainers. She hurt herself earlier this year pretty badly when she pulled her hamstring, which she did because she was not flexible enough for her strength and gravity. Once she completes her rehab, I’m begging her to join my class.
Most exercise that people do is for building strength, and without proper stretching, the muscles build in a contracted, shortened way, which, over time, may lead to pain and injury. You can also endanger your joints. Yes, you want to build strength, but too much strength and not enough flexibility can lead to, not only pulled muscles, but worse, torn ligaments and tendons. Also, too much strength in some areas, but ignoring other areas can also lead to long-term pain and even injury. We should build strength in balance.
Adding yoga to your routine can increase your muscle flexibility, improve joint health and increase strength in the areas that tend to get neglected in traditional exercise, which often focuses on form over function.
I encourage you to find a class that suits your personality. My last post breaks down the most common styles you will find. If you want to feel like you are getting a workout, sweating, breathing heavy, try ashtanga, power or vinyasa. I recently started adding weights to some of my practice (I call it Yogatōn), but for years, I only practiced yoga and Pilates, and strangers would come up to me and ask what I did to keep my arms so toned. My answer? “Lots of chaturanga dandasana.” And my abs? Regular Pilates. Yoga can very much be an intense workout.
I know that some people are super into weight training, but adding yoga can increase your muscles’ resiliency and flexibility. I’m not suggesting NOT to weight train, but add yoga a couple of days a week to balance that intensity, and give your muscles the rehab they need.
Some of you love the intensity, sweat and the heart-pumping energy of cardio. Cardio is great! I’m with you. I LOVE biking FAST, I miss running, but now I’m a speed walker. Cardio-vascular health is super important, so I am not telling you to stop that. I’m simply offering two suggestions: 1.) Adding yoga to your life can balance out your cardio routine and 2.) More intense practices of yoga can give you a cardio workout! Don’t believe me? Try an intermediate or advanced vinyasa, ashtanga, or hot yoga class. You will be breathing hard, sweating and your heart rate will be up. I promise!
Finally, while cardio health is important, and strength building is important, so is relaxation, focused breathing, flexibility and meditation. What you will get out of an intense yoga class that you will not get from another style aerobic class, a run, or a session of weight training is stretching and flexibility work, focused breathing, which is very important for lung health, and relaxation. If you are a person that finds yoga “boring,” you are just the person who NEEDS yoga. We all need to relax. All of our muscles need down time. If you take yoga, and then rush out before savasana, you are missing the point. Take that time to allow your body to do nothing after all the hard work. Give your mind, body and soul a break. It is important for both your mental and physical health, and yoga can counter the intensity of other forms of exercise.
In addition to your workout, find a relaxing, stretching, chill yoga class to give yourself the opposite of what you are already doing. Balance is the key! MANY people I know came to yoga for the physical elements, but fell in love with the other aspects of it when they realized yoga was not just another for of exercise.
Part two: Yoga as a good option for people who hate exercise
Some of you hate to sweat. Some of you wrinkle your nose at the mere thought of a gym. Some of you don’t want your arms to be muscular. That’s fine. I am not going to try to convince you that you should run a marathon. Maybe you should. Probably not.
However, much like food that is good for you that you may not like, exercise is good for you even if you don’t like it. I make the continued argument that you need to find the class, the studio, the teacher and the style that best suits you. Hopefully, as your body begins to adapt and the practice gets easier, you will actually learn to like it.
There are plenty of beginner, slow, gentle and mellow classes, which will focus more on moving slowly in a gentle flow or working on simple postures without flow. These classes will build strength, but they are unlikely to build “bulky” muscles. They will elevate your heart rate, but they will not likely have you sweating heavily. They will improve your core strength and your flexibility and, like all yoga, you will get the benefits of relaxation, breathwork and meditation.
One of my aunts was not really an athlete, but she had always been active. She has always been in shape because of her active daily life, but this did not include running, lifting weights or going to zumba classes. Many years ago, she started practicing yoga. She practices an Iyengar form of hatha daily, and her practice is not an intense, sweaty mission to twist herself into crazy shapes. She is 60. She can do a handstand at the wall and a head stand in the middle of the room. Combined with lots of walking and occasional biking, her daily yoga practice has her in excellent health, but you would never mistake her for a body builder. You may, however, mistake her for a saint. Her kindness, gentle demeanor and overall Zen-ness are amazing to be around, and this is also thanks, in part, to her daily yoga practice.
I have often taught class to nonathletes, and have been told flat out to my face by women that they DO NOT want their arms to look like mine. No worries, I can work with that. Some of these same women, however, have told me that after weeks of practice, their neck pain has reduced. They have said that they like the new shape of their arms. They have noticed that their pants fit a bit less snugly. People have commented that they “look different,” which is often simply because they are standing taller with healthier posture. They have found that they enjoy the relaxation and breathwork, and that surprised them. They were not certain that yoga was for them, but they trusted me, and they ended up seeing the benefits.
The “point” of yoga is that it can benefit your mind, body and soul as part of a holistic approach to your health. I would NEVER suggest it is the only thing that you should do, but I will absolutely suggest that yoga will benefit you whether you currently exercise or not. Maybe it will be the final piece of your already healthy fitness regime, or maybe it will be the first step towards getting healthier. Either way, if you commit and practice regularly, I would be very surprised if you didn’t see the benefits of it after weeks, months and years of practice.
Even if you never learn to love yoga, yoga will love you, and I think you will see the benefits and the point! You will find strength in your body in new ways. You will increase your flexibility overall, and you will have less back pain and/or prevent future back pain if you don’t suffer from that now. Your posture will improve, which helps keep your lungs healthy. Yoga may positively impact your weight, metabolism, digestion, blood pressure, lung health, bone density, libido (yes, seriously) and immunity.
I argue that it is almost never too late to start exercise or yoga, but it is not necessarily ideal to start later. I have had men and women in their 60s, 70s and older who do not exercise at all come in and tell me their doctor told them to try yoga. I have also had SUPER fit young men and women tell me something similar. I have worried just as much with each group. While I appreciate western medicine embracing eastern approaches to health, you can hurt yourself doing anything if you throw yourself into to quickly. If you have a very low level of fitness, that’s okay, but don’t start with a class that is going to have you risking injury or simply demoralizing you. Same goes for someone who is very fit, but mostly does weight training and maybe some running. In yoga, there is no room for ego, and it is very much about self-awareness and being connected to your body. Start with restorative classes or pure breath and meditation classes. Move on to gentle, beginner, chair, senior or pre-natal classes even if you are not a senior nor pregnant; just explain to the teacher why you are there, so they don’t think you are just a weirdo. lol. Or, best yet, work with a teacher 1:1. The point is, walk, do not run, to a more challenging class. Set your self up for feeling good by taking it one step at a time regardless of your age, ability or fitness level.
You have nothing to lose, by trying. However, yoga is not a magic bullet. You will not see results if you just go to classes randomly a couple times a month. You must commit to a regular practice a few times a week. Find the classes that fit into your schedule and commit to them. Give it time. Yoga is a marathon, not a race. It is a journey, and you can practice a form of yoga until your very last breath, so think of it as a life-long commitment to your overall health.
The point of yoga is the journey,
so take the first step and see where it leads you.
- Yoga Myths (and excuses) #1 & 2#: “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga” and “I am not good at yoga”
- Yoga Myths (and excuses) #3: “I don’t like yoga”
- Yoga Myths (and excuses): #6 I am Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic, etc., so I Can’t Practice Yoga
- Yoga Myths: #7 Yoga is Just Another Type of Exercise
- Yoga myths, excuses and questions: #8 Is Yoga an Example of Cultural Appropriation?
- Yoga Myths and Excuses: #9 Yoga and Pilates are for Women (and I’m a Man)
- Yoga Myths and Excuses: #10 I Don’t Have Enough Time (or energy) for Yoga