As a yoga instructor, I regularly espouse the benefits of yoga to anyone who will listen. However, there are times when my own yoga practice doesn’t meet up to my expectations. I don’t make time for it. There’s an injury. Life happens. But I really know better than that. Because making yoga a part of your wellness program shouldn’t be a source of stress or judgement, it should be quite the opposite in fact.
Yoga is not a competitive endeavor and that makes it hard for naturally competitive (or type A) people to let go of the tendency to push their limits. Unlike some forms of exercise (and technically, yoga was not founded as a form of exercise but rather as a form of getting in touch with your spiritual self), yoga is undoubtedly low-key.
At its core, yoga is not about being the “best” or anything to do with judgment at all. However, to many people, yoga has an aura of intimidation about it. We bedeck ourselves with designer yoga gear (no judgement here as I also find motivation in cute workout attire) and there are uber competitive forms (bikram yoga, acrobatic yoga, marathon classes and more). Some yoga poses (asanas) seem to require the flexibility of Olga Korbut and the balance of a cirque de soleil performer. Some instructors take on the persona of drill sargeants and push participants to hold poses until their muscles give out. And there is a place for that. In fact a good strength based yoga class is an amazing workout. Using body weight in place of lifting weights can give amazing results. Long, strong, flexible muscles.
But yoga, at its origin, is not about the outfits, impressive poses or judging ourselves. It’s about focusing on your own abilities, your breath, your body and connecting the two. Connecting breath with movement, focusing, flowing, clearing the mind. The physical aspect of yoga leads to the benefits of better focus, less stress and a sense of inner peace.
So how does one find the best form of yoga for their needs and to integrate that practice into life without the pressure of adding one more thing to an already packed schedule? The answer is to change the perception of what yoga will bring to your life. Make it a gift and not a chore. Find a class that you look forward to attending, one that you enjoy participating in and one that leaves you feeling energized or relaxed or focused or grateful, or whatever your needs are.
If you can’t take a class or prefer not to, you can integrate yoga into your morning or bedtime routine. Or spend the last five or ten minutes of your workout doing yoga asanas and stretches. Even just a few poses integrated with deep breathing can have an amazing affect on your mind and body.
Its entirely possible to fit yoga into a busy schedule. Case in point; For the past several years, I’ve taught Yoga classes to College football players during the off-season (although for training purposes, they really don’t have an off-season). Keep in mind that these are well conditioned, very strong elite athletes who can go through rigorous training on daily basis.
You’d think yoga would be a walk in the park for them. But the thing about yoga is that’s it’s not about brute strength, superhuman speed or endurance. Yoga draws on other areas of fitness; flexibility, balance, mental focus and body awareness. And relaxation. It’s the final piece of the puzzle for total fitness. And the coaches have figured out that it’s an asset to have players with better flexibility and balance and the ability to focus and destress.
It may surprise you that these college athletes, when given the option to attend the class (which is held on Saturday mornings) actually make the choice to show up. They come with a positive attitude, pay attention and often make the effort to say “thank you” after class. And this occurs throughout yoga studios and gyms on a daily basis with us “regular” people as well, because once you experience what a good yoga practice feels like, your body and mind responds with a sense of well being and gratitude. You want to show up.
Yoga is for everybody, everywhere. Last year, I went on a mission trip to Costa Rica. I found myself teaching yoga to a group of adults in a disability center. I speak very little Spanish and they spoke no English and also had a range of cognitive disabilities. There were no language barriers. I demonstrated basic poses, focused on deep breathing and they followed along with big smiles and sparkling eyes. They were fully engaged. This summer I will be traveling to Haiti and plan to teach yoga to children and nannies in the orphanage we will visit. I can’t wait. I’m finding that yoga is a universal language!
I’ve often said that teaching yoga is one of the most rewarding “jobs” I’ve had. I always feel lighter, more at peace, centered and grateful after teaching or participating in a yoga class. So instead of placing expectations as to the number of yoga classes we take or the difficulty level or how our yoga pants look, let’s just make the simple choice to do what we can, when we can and be kind to ourselves.
Basic yoga information and getting started :
There are many forms of yoga (ashtanga, vinyasa, hatha, bikram, etc) and many class descriptions (gentle yoga, relaxation yoga, strength yoga, chair yoga, etc) and many instructor styles as well. If you’d like to try a class but not sure where to begin, I suggest starting with a gentle or flow yoga. If you want a challenge and are athletic, try a strength yoga or hot yoga (Bikram is a specific form of hot yoga). Yoga videos and websites are very helpful as well. I started with Baron Baptiste videos and went through YogaFit training (www.yogafit.com). There are also several free yoga apps available.
In addition to Yoga, I currently teach BalleYo (a combination of barre exercises, yoga and Pilates) and integrate yoga into my Full Body Challenge (FBC) classes at Mettler Center in Champaign. They offer many excellent yoga classes each week. View their class schedule at Mettler Center. Www.mettlercenter.com
Feel free to contact me for suggestions for integrating yoga into your routine or for class recommendations. I guarantee that yoga will enrich your life.
(Namaste is spoken at the end of a yoga class or as a closing and is translated to mean: “The light in me honors the light in you”)