Why is it that some people fall hard for yoga and carve time out each and every day for their practice and others downright hate it? Like most things, there are fans and there are haters. What I find interesting about yoga though is that opinions are polarized. There is a camp of near-worshipers and a camp that can’t stand it. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s indifferent about yoga and could take it or leave it. Why is that?
What I find equally interesting is that those who claim to hate yoga are often among those who would benefit the most from a yoga practice. Why am I convinced of that? I believe that yoga can have benefits for all, but it comes down to whether or not yoga is introduced to someone at a time when they are open to receiving its benefits.
Have you ever started reading a book and part-way through you realize that you simply do not want to spend another second of your life reading that book? That happened to me years ago. My father had read “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and sent me a copy. It was receiving so much praise and I was excited to dive into it. Because of where I was in my life at that time, the opening chapters that dealt with not wanting to become pregnant, then divorce and learning to trust the universe rubbed me in all the wrong ways. I tried to push through but just couldn’t connect with the book. I was working in a stable job and the stability was its best feature since my husband and I were trying to get pregnant. I stashed the book away and it gathered dust for years. I found it again much later and decided to give it another go. I started the book over and enjoyed it immensely. I hadn’t been ready for the messages contained in the book when I first received it. I truly believe yoga is like that book was for me. It must be approached at the right time. It requires one to be open to receiving its benefits. Yoga demands a willingness to explore discomfort and to feel a connection to self in a way that can be supremely uncomfortable if not in the right frame of mind.
There are so many types of yoga styles and classes these days. I was recently asked if I could teach a yoga fusion class…I’m still not entirely sure what that is. To make a very complicated matter quite simple, yoga is the practice of uniting or connecting body, mind and soul. Sure, there is movement and different class styles will require different levels of physical and mental stamina but the goal is always about connection.
Interestingly, the top three reasons I’ve heard over the years for disliking yoga are: a lack of physical flexibility (body), an inability to sit still (mind) and discomfort with the “extra” stuff such as focussing on breath, intention-setting and chanting (soul). It makes complete sense to me. If your muscles are super tight, you may not exactly enjoy stretching and come to believe you’re inflexible. If you’re the type whose mind is constantly spinning, sitting quietly in stillness may make your palms sweat and your anxiety shoot through the roof. If you’re used to continuous movement and little introspection, slowing down your nervous system, practicing mindfulness and letting go of what others may think and letting go of your own expectations of yourself can certainly make you queazy. I venture that for a love of yoga to develop, the student must be open to a practice that will challenge and encourage that mind-body-soul connection.
If one approaches yoga strictly from a physical standpoint - which many often do - yoga will likely fall short. Of course yoga is great physical exercise. It will increase flexibility and build muscle strength. Will it burn as many calories as a cardio fitness class? Maybe not. Is it the quickest way to lose weight and get fit? Nope. Yet, more and more physicians and physiotherapists are recommending yoga to their patients. So why does it get a cult following? Simply put, it has the potential to change your body and “extra” stuff, like how you deal with stress and anxiety and maybe even alter your inner dialogue and relationships with others.
I developed an introduction to yoga program for tweens and teens. The main points that I reinforce with these groups each and every week throughout the program are listed below. I teach a variety of yoga poses, of course, and yet I keep coming back to the lessons below. They are what I truly want the participants to retain. These points are the main reasons why I love yoga and why many others do too. When you practice these points consistently, the benefits reveal themselves:
Your time on your mat is for you to feel connected and supported just as you are
You can modify a pose or take a different one altogether. Notice how your body feels and do what feels good
It’s not about how it looks and it’s not about performance. It’s about connection
Notice the information your breath shares about how you feel
Send your worries, your thoughts, your interpretations, any heaviness out of the room. This is your time; take a break and let that stuff go
Give yourself permission to be okay with how you show up on your mat today
Connect to your body, to your breath and explore how it feels to be you at this specific moment in time
You can meet any challenge one breath at a time
I remember reading a short online article about the benefits of yoga. This was years ago and I’ll beg forgiveness because I lost the source. I choose to raise it because one statement really stuck with me. The author said that a natural consequence of a regular yoga practice was that by the time you’ve lost weight, feel stronger and fitter, you usually no longer care about the number on the scale - even if that was your original goal for taking up yoga. The practice itself invites the student to connect with oneself, to practice self-compassion and to approach challenges with calm and with breath. The practice becomes about connecting to body, to observe sensations and thoughts and to consider one’s purpose.
So, yoga haters, if you can’t touch your toes, maybe you need to consider whether or not that’s okay. Is it an indication that your body is stiff? Could it eventually have an impact on your range of motion? If your mind is like a hamster in a wheel, could you use a break? What do you stand to lose by slowing down and resting? If your yoga teacher is annoying you with all this talk of inhaling and exhaling and being kind to yourself, what are you truly avoiding? That’s a tougher one. Is yoga intense? It can be. Will it stir up a whole bunch of emotions? Without a doubt. Is it worth it? Most definitely. Yoga will be there for you when you’re ready to connect to yourself.
And yoga lovers, keep doing what you’re doing. Namaste.