I’ve had the conversation dozens of times:
friend: “I’m feeling stressed / tense / uncomfortable / anxious.”
me: “I think you could really benefit from checking out some yoga classes.”
friend: “That would just make me more anxious.” …or… “I’m not flexible / strong.” …or… “I’ve never been to one before. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
and every time I have the conversation, I’m more inspired to paint a clearer picture of what yoga really is for any and all perspective and beginner yogis. I think the best way to do that is to start by telling you what yoga is not.
Yoga is not a religion. Many people link yoga with Hinduism or Buddhism, which is largely because it comes to us from India where most people practicing yoga also identify with one of these religions. But when practiced correctly, yoga is intended to enhance any religion you practice by cultivating a deeper connection and devotion to whichever deity you worship. And if you don’t identify with any religion or deity? Yoga is for you, too.
Yoga is not a group activity. Sure, you’ll go to yoga classes and there will be 20 other people in the room. But what isn’t made clear enough, is that yoga is a personal practice. It is a journey, not a competition, and everyone’s journey is different. Your mat is your own, personal yoga bubble and for that hour or so, all you have to concern yourself with is you. Avoid looking around the room and comparing yourself to others. Try to turn your focus inward instead.
Yoga is not a body-sculpting routine. Yup, I mean it. Traditional yoga was never intended to be practiced for aesthetic benefits. Did you know that the physical practice of yoga–AKA every yoga class you’ve been to that has focused solely on physical postures–is only ONE EIGHTH of what yoga is? There are seven other limbs that are equally important. In fact, many argue that they are more important than physical postures or “asanas”.
So if yoga isn’t any of these things, what is it? Thank you for asking.
Yoga is an ancient practice. We’re talking ancient; it has been dated back to 5th & 6th centuries BC. Originating in India, yoga was kept alive for hundreds of years by oral tradition: the passing on of information from teacher to student. It has since evolved in different directions under the influence of various gurus over the years.
Yoga is for everyone. Feeling inflexible? Not feeling particularly strong? Are you brand new to yoga? Yoga is for you! These and so many more are the reasons why you should begin practicing yoga. Every master of anything was once a beginner, right? Right. The beauty of this art, is that all of our bodies are not only capable of practicing yoga, but they crave it. Don’t believe me? You’ll see what I mean once you get started.
Yoga is effective. Western medicine says so! In various studies done in 2015, it has been scientifically proven that yoga eases chronic neck and back pain, sharpens the brain, improves cardiovascular health, reduces stress and anxiety, controls diabetes, lowers the risk of cancer, lengthens the lifespan and youthful energy, and so much more! All of that for just one hour a day of practice? Heck yeah!
Have I convinced you to at least give it a shot? Here are a few steps to help you get started:
- Buy a mat. (Gotta start somewhere, right?)
- Research studios in your area. Read reviews, pay a visit, chat with the instructors. Make sure to find a studio where you feel comfortable.
- Hint: check out deals on Groupon or ask studios if they have a new student offer. This will allow you to pay much less (or even go for free!) as a trial basis to test out the waters.
- Not ready to practice in a group yet? Check out online classes from reputable sources like YogaGlo and Gaia. You can do a huge variety of classes in the comfort of your home and whenever you feel like practicing.
- Get a friend involved. We all tend to stick to new practices more when we have someone to hold us accountable. Choose someone who is also new to the practice so you feel supported and understood when you’re just starting out.
- Stay within your own limits. It can be tempting to try to wrap your leg around the back of your head on day 1 when you see other people doing it. But remember, yoga is a personal journey and it’s important to be mindful of the limits of your body.
You can do it! You can absolutely do it! Once you move outside of your own mental limitations, all of the incredible benefits of this practice are yours to absorb. You owe it to yourself to feel good.