After reading this post over at Elysha Lenkin’s site , I was inspired to discuss some of the common misperceptions surrounding the practice of yoga in hopes that anyone who reads this and who doesn’t currently practice might give yoga a try. One of my goals in LIFE, not just in my professional journey, but in my LIFE, is to witness fellow human beings awakening to their true nature, and assist in that awakening in any way that I can. This is the reason I became a yoga teacher, and this is why I love my job so much; I have the great honor of watching my students transform from stressed out and uptight to relaxed and serene, right before my very eyes, in the span of one class. I have seen this happen time and time again, in students of all ages, shapes and sizes and whose experience with yoga ranges from profound beginner to advanced practitioner.
In the course of nearly nine years of instructing yoga, I have gathered enough data for myself to feel 100% confident that every single person on this planet could find some form of yoga that would resonate with them and benefit them holistically–on the physical, psycho-emotional, and spiritual levels. This may seem like a fantastic claim, but having worked with students from so many varied backgrounds, states of health, financial situations, students in wildly different living conditions, students with different jobs, different family structures, different religious affiliations–and having seen the same transformation taking place in all of them, I know my claim to be true in the deepest fiber of my being.
Before I go any further about how wonderful yoga is, here are some common misperceptions that I’d like to bring out into the open for consideration. Let me know if any of these are thoughts you have had in the past or thoughts that you currently hold as true–I’m completely open to a discussion and encourage your input!
1) “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough.”
Gaining flexibility, my friends, is one of the main reasons that we go to a yoga class in the first place. In the course of practicing, we become more flexible. It just happens. Naturally. Without any apparent effort on your part, besides the effort of showing up in the room. I jokingly say that if you’re flexible enough to walk or wheel yourself into the room, you’re flexible enough for yoga.
2)”I can’t do yoga, it doesn’t mesh with my religion.”
Anybody, of any religious belief, can safely practice yoga without angering their god or their fellow believers, because yoga isn’t a religion, it is a practice of self-awareness. If anything, yoga can enhance one’s experience of one’s chosen religion, by helping the practitioner to be more deeply attuned to the spiritual currents running through them. Whatever your vision of god is, you can bring that god with you into your practice and make the whole thing one long prayer of gratitude, one long statement of faith in action.
3)“I can’t do yoga, I’m not a spiritual person.”
It’s fine to not believe in a spiritual power. It’s fine to have no belief in the existence of awareness that extends beyond the realm of the physical. One the very most basic of levels, yoga brings great benefit to the body by encouraging deep breathing, the release of muscle tension, the stimulation of the lymphatic, digestive, and circulatory system, and the potential for concentrating the mind. As a thinking person, you can discard any of the “woo woo” stuff that doesn’t jive with your world view, and come for the physical benefits alone. If you are a person who doesn’t enjoy explorations of spirituality or believe in the possible existence of a spiritual realm, I totally get it, so I recommend searching for a teacher who focuses primarily on alignment and the physiological aspect of the practice. The medically proven physical benefits of the practice are the best argument I have for making yoga a part of one’s regular routine, all spiritual stuff aside.
4)“I can’t do yoga, I don’t look good in those tight little pants.”
Underneath the layers of our flesh, muscles, bones, and mind, there is pure awareness. My intent as a yoga teacher is to guide students to this essential state of inner awareness during class so that they may experience their inherent wholeness, which is possible regardless of the state of their bodies or minds. When we settle into relaxation and close our eyes, it doesn’t matter what we look like–because we are navigating beyond the physical realm into the realm of pure consciousness. Beyond body consciousness there is being. This is where yoga takes us. If you have fallen prey to current societal standards of beauty and consider your body less than desirable (according to whom, to what??)–and this belief is keeping you from attending a yoga class, I invite you to summon all of your courage, remind yourself that you are truly beautiful exactly the way your are, and get yourself to that class! You can view your practice as a doorway opening into a whole new world of authentic self-love and acceptance. Unshakeable, unconditional self-love is the greatest gift we can give ourselves, and by extension, the world. It might take great strength to take that first step, but know that there is a teacher out there for you who descends from a long line of compassionate yoga teachers and who will be overjoyed to take your hand and guide you back home to your precious essence. So what are you waiting for?
5)“I can’t do yoga. I went one time (or a few times), and didn’t like it. It’s just not for me.”
This one is a tough nut to crack. When I hear this one, the first thing I do is ask the student to describe their first yoga experience(s) and tell me what they didn’t like about it(them). Sometimes, it’s the teacher: their personality, their voice, their choice of music, of incense, the way they interacted with the students. Sometimes the sequence of poses was far too challenging and may have left the student feeling disgusted with their own body and its apparent lack of physical strength, flexibility, and stamina. Maybe lots of thoughts and feelings unexpectedly arose during the class, and that was alarming to the student; while they were expecting a physical workout, they weren’t prepared for a mental and emotional roller coaster, and this scared them off. Any number of factors can influence a student’s resistance to giving yoga another chance. I have seen people discuss their hesitation to practice because they were the racial minority in the room, or their age put them decades ahead of their fellow practitioners. At the very base of all of these experiences, we are dealing with discomfort, anxiety, annoyance, and other emotions that we have a tendency to suppress or at least run away from at the first sight of them. To this I would say, “What a juicy opportunity to take charge of your mental landscape and learn more about yourself and your patterns of thinking.” Yoga isn’t just about physical flexibility and strength–we gain immeasurable amounts of mental flexibility and strength as we attend a regular practice. Welcoming students with compassion right where they are, and finding a class and a teacher that will meet their individual needs can involve time, and lots of trial and error. But if there is even the slightest willingness to try, and to try again, then a miracle might happen! Just one class in the presence of a kind and knowledgeable teacher can help a student to feel calm, clear, and relaxed. Think of what many classes with such a teacher would do. If you have gone to yoga and didn’t like it, I invite you to give it another go. Don’t give up, my friends. Search and search until you find a teacher that you love. He or she is out there somewhere for you, bearing wonderful gifts!
This is all I have time for right now (I’m about to leave to teach a restorative yoga class!), but following this post I’d like to address which kind of yoga practice might be right for you–because there are many, many different kinds of classes out there.
And I’d really like some help from those of you who don’t want to try yoga for reasons other than those I listed above, because I certainly didn’t list all of the reasons. Could you please let me know what is keeping you from yoga? I’d very much appreciate opening a dialogue and discussing with you if you’re willing.