I cannot count how many times I’ve had the same reaction. I tell people I’m a yoga teacher and their faces take on a look of mixed interest and unease. Their minds are already racing ahead to think of excuses. Should I start propounding the virtues of a yoga practice and why they wouldn’t be a good candidate to try. The excuses arise from the misconceptions people have of yoga and I am here to debunk those myths.
Babies are flexible. Most kids are flexible. Adults? Not so much; save for those very few bendy people whom nature favours and who are snapped up by the Cirque du Soleil. Most of us run right from the school desk to the office desk. The sedentary lifestyle that the majority of North Americans indulge in can be blamed for the increase in chronic and life threatening ills, due to poor cardio-respiratory fitness.
But the overlooked by-product of this lifestyle is the under-use, misuse and abuse of our joints and limbs. In a hundred years when kids visit the museum and observe the skeleton of a 21st century person, they’ll gasp in horror and ask what happened to him. The teacher will reply, “He was an office worker, dear.”
You do not have to be flexible to enjoy yoga, but yoga will help you to rediscover your flexibility. The simplest of poses – bending forward to touch your toes – might seem impossible today. Your arms may be dangling a foot from the floor, but tomorrow that floor will be an inch closer, and closer still, the day after. Yoga helps you to rediscover the ease of movement you had as a kid. You will never be pushed into bending yourself into a pretzel. Strict observance to every student’s degree of fitness is rigorously respected.
I’m Too Over-weight
The misconceptions here are two. The first is that yoga will miraculously melt the pounds away. Not so. Serious and lasting weight loss can only be achieved by adopting healthy food choices, portion control and heart pumping, metabolic kick-starting, fat burning exercises on the order of walking, dancing or running. There are aerobic “type” practices of yoga, such as Ashtanga or Power Yoga, but at a beginner level of fitness it is more advisable to take up a gentler practice, such as Hatha Yoga.
The second misconception is that yoga studios are replete with skinny, toned, fashionably out-fitted yogis and yoginis. There are those to be sure; but they’re also in your office, neighbourhood and grocery store. If the thought of working next to these blessed creatures is what keeps you from joining a yoga class, be of good cheer. Most studios are recognizing that privacy is a positive motivation for the rounder members of our population and are designing separate classes for inclusion in their schedules.
It’s Too Expensive
For first timers, most studios offer a free class. Single classes run anywhere from $12 to $16 each. Weekly, monthly and yearly passes are available at an exponentially reduced rate; some as affordable as a year long gym membership.
With yoga’s increasing popularity, comes an increased number of teachers, many of whom work out of their homes. A six week introductory class can be had for $72. From your initial outlay, come the rudimentary skills that will allow you to start a home practice via tapes and DVDs which your local library provides for free.
I’m Too Old
A couple of years ago I was getting set to teach at a condo up the street. As the students wandered in, I noticed a tiny Oriental woman among them. When asked, the woman gave her name, her age, which was 76, and with quivering lips told me that her husband had passed on the week before and she needed to be here. I gasped inwardly and immediately thought I can’t do this. I’ll break her. But this remarkable little woman had the heart of a person half her age and what she couldn’t do, she wouldn’t do. It was a simple as that.
Community centres, retirement communities and some studios have tailored classes to fit the needs of the senior sector. Gentle poses are performed with the aid of chairs, pillows and blankets. At 88, B.K.S Iyengar is one of the most senior, still practicing, masters of yoga. He and my little student are living proof that age is merely another state of being.
I’m Not a Buddhist
Yoga is not a religion. It was a practice designed over 5000 years ago to unite body, mind and spirit. To the yogi, the three are inseparable. The basic principles are: non-violence to self and others, inward reflection, reverence towards life and nature, respectful regard for the body (your soul’s home). All of these observances and restrictions were designed to help one live the best life possible.
In a yoga class, all denominations lay their mats side by side in harmony. At the beginning of a class you may be asked to close your eyes and meditate silently reflecting thoughts of loving-kindness to yourself, your fellow students and the world beyond the walls. During class, the teacher will ask you to respect your body and never push it beyond what it can do. After class, you’ll lay on your mat awash in peace. Yoga is simply a practice of moving meditation, and everyone is welcome.
Don’t let your misconceptions become your excuses. Knowledge is power and you’ve been given five powerful reasons to try yoga.