First off, let me put your mind at ease about something. I will never be a graceful yoga person. If you’re looking for someone who is *graceful* and beautiful while doing yoga, I am not your girl and this is not the post to read.
I am a real person experiencing yoga for the first time(s), but only recently decided to write about it. At the time of this post, I have “practiced” yoga four times. I’ve figured out that you don’t attend a yoga “class,” but rather, you “practice” yoga, and that’s exactly where I am – practicing.
The best way to describe the sessions I attend is “traditional.” Every week is a different focus, and it’s not hot yoga, tabata, hatha, or any of those (except for hot yoga, I don’t even understand or know all the variations anyway).
As a health coach and fitness instructor, I understand the benefits of all kinds of different strength training, and yoga is no exception in that regard. If you’re looking for:
–Increased flexibility, muscle strength and tone.
–Cardio and circulatory health
–Reducing your chances of injury, and
–Looking for something gentle on your body (depending on what kind of yoga you choose),
then yoga is a very good whole body gentle movement exercise for you.
I can also tell you what yoga is NOT:
–It is not Satanic;
–It is not shrouded in Eastern mysticism (unless you’re into that sort of thing and want to explore it.
–It is not people sitting cross-legged with their middle fingers touching their thumbs humming, “OHM OHM”
–Is not a practice that tries to teach you where your mind should go.
I’m not sure at what point these misconceptions got mixed in with Yoga, but the yoga practice I attend is none of these things.
I chose to try yoga for a couple of different reasons. Being a fitness instructor for any type of workout is hard on your body physically. As I age and my body changes, it needs different workouts that are a bit kinder in nature, and yoga fulfills that need.
It also is hard emotionally. Think about it – instructors must work out regardless of being tired, sometimes ill (talking colds and sinuses, not flu and such) and being moody. It’s not just yourself you have to consider – it’s the students that come to class expecting to have a good workout. It’s like the old joke about the boy who doesn’t want to go to school one morning, and his mother scolds him by saying, “You have to go; you’re the principal!” You must be there to set the tone of the class, and if you feel bad and harbor those emotions, I can guarantee your class will pick up on it and you’ll have a less than stellar class.
Secondly, cardio and hardcore workouts can leave your muscles tired and sore. So can yoga, but it’s a different kind of soreness because you’re more in tune with your body and how it feels with different poses, both in the pose and when you come out of them. And it’s *always* okay to do what you can and no more – as in any class. Particularly with yoga however, your mind is concentrating on what your body is feeling. Is it tired? Is it strong? Is one side stronger than the other?
If you’re a person who also has some anxiety issues (<—- like me), yoga is also a quiet hour to just be calm and still, listening only to what the yogi (instructor) is asking of you.
So what can you expect at a yoga class? Each class is going to have its own “tribe and vibe,” but one thing I’ve noticed is the quietness of the gathering. Be prepared to bring a mat, or call ahead to see if mats, blocks and any other equipment is provided. I prefer my own mat simply because I don’t want to have to wipe down a borrowed mat afterward – it’s a timesaver issue. When the hour is over I generally want to get out and go on to the next thing.
Your yogi (instructor) may or may not have a little discussion beforehand to let you know what the focus of that particular session will be. The four that I’ve attended concentrated on spinal alignment, balance, relaxation and just overall stretches. The yogi should also reassure those attending for the first time that modification is key and to go at your own pace. It is perfectly acceptable to modify any pose if you can’t perform it the way it’s demonstrated – and I often do just that.
The last few minutes of the class are devoted to peaceful relaxation. An uplifting quote or story may be read and suggestions made on how to protect our health, physically and emotionally, while serving others. It’s just a variation on the theme I go by, which is “put your own oxygen mask on first.” I think this is where some of the misconceptions that yoga somehow is “wrong” for a person of faith come into play. Quiet meditation is a time you use however you interpret it. Sometimes I’m still and try to empty my head of the chatter that goes on pretty much all the time. At other times, I’m praying for whatever needs I have in my life or in those of others near me. I listen to what’s being read and ask myself if there’s anything I can take from it that’s useful. As with anything, I take what I want and leave the rest. Never once has any suggestion been made to go outside myself, let my mind reach unknown or unexplored dimensions, or anything “woo-woo” like that. If some of the people attending with me are doing that, well, that’s really not any of my business because this is their time to use in whatever way they need. I assure you no one has tried to levitate (or if they have, they certainly haven’t succeeded).
I leave the sessions feeling relaxed, as if I’ve had a really good stretch session. It’s almost the same feeling I get after a massage, as if I have to be poured into my car. It’s that relaxing!
I hope this post has dispelled any myths and misconceptions you may have or have heard about the practice of yoga. As with anything, try it for yourself and form your own opinion – don’t rely on what someone else is telling you. You don’t know what insecurities they’re having to tell you something inaccurate, especially if they themselves have never tried what they’re dispelling.
Are you a yogi? Do you like to go to yoga or have you ever tried it? Leave me a comment and tell me what kind of yoga session you attend and how it benefits you!