If I say the word "yoga," what comes to mind?
If you're like most people, you probably think of some insufferably skinny blonde sorority chick doing the latest workout fad. Or some unbathed, unshaven, hippie-dippie dude wearing tie-dye. Or some deeply spiritual Hindi/Buddhist Eastern individual twisting himself into a pretzel.
I bet you don't think of a 50ish-year-old lawyer. Or a guy in his 60s whose friends come with him to yoga because he had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago and the doctor suggested yoga. Or a first-grade teacher. I bet you don't see a 30-year-old woman who started yoga almost 8 years ago because her job was about to give her a meltdown. I really bet you don't think the yoga instructor is a former Episcopal school teacher.
But if you show up at North Main Yoga on Tuesday night at 7:15, that's what you'll get (hint: I'm the 30-year-old woman). I've been doing yoga for what will be 8 years in April, and I have seen a crazy amount of variety when it comes to who takes my yoga class. There are men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages and races, with a variety of careers, hobbies and health concerns.
In other words, all of your preconceived notions about yoga are probably wrong.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says to me, "Oh, I hate you, you're so skinny" (and I get this fairly regularly). When I then tell them what I do to stay healthy and I bring up yoga, there's invariably some argument. I'm not sure why everyone pooh-poohs yoga, but they do. So please, since this is my blog, allow me now to invalidate all the reasons why you think you can't do yoga.
"But I'm not flexible!"
This is definitely the most common argument I get. Now let me give you my rebuttal: IT DOESN'T MATTER.
Once more, with feeling: IT DOESN'T MATTER. The teacher is not going to make you turn yourself into a pretzel and then kick you out if you can't.
Let me tell you a little story. When I first began yoga nearly 8 years ago, I was obsessed with perfecting my downward-facing dog. If you're not familiar, it's the pose where your hands and feet are on the floor and your butt is in the air, kind of an upside-down "V." For me, there was just one problem: my heels didn't touch the floor. And so I worked and stretched obsessively, trying to be able to do DFD with straight knees and feet flat on the floor. I'm your standard type-A firstborn, after all, and I wanted to do it perfectly. I felt like my yoga was sub-par because I could not perfectly perform this basic pose.
But here's the thing: I don't HAVE to have my heels on the floor in order to stretch the things DFD is meant to stretch. I don't have to have straight knees in order to reap the benefits. The benefit of yoga is not in perfection, it is in the action of doing the poses and doing your best deep breathing while you do them. If you're aiming for perfection, you've already lost the main point of doing yoga.
So I have tight hamstrings and calves, the result of years of gymnastics and cheerleading. Guess what? I have an incredibly flexible spine and hips, also the result of gymnastics and cheerleading. My heels are still nowhere near the floor in downward-facing dog, but pigeon and cobbler's pose are ridiculously easy for me and I frequently do the level 3 versions of these poses or else I don't feel any stretch at all.
It doesn't matter what your yoga poses look like. As long as you are getting a good, healthy stretch (not pain!), then you're going to be perfect at yoga. And unless you're going to a really bad studio, no one is going to judge you. Everyone's body is different. Stretch what you've got, and don't look back.
"But I have to do cardio!"
Don't get me wrong, it's good to get your heart rate up. But I've read several articles that say long-term weight loss and maintenance is better served by weight training. And what better form of training than using your own body as the "weight"? Besides, I'm a little partial to this strategy because it's worked so well for me.
When you go all hardcore on the elliptical for an hour after work, my guess is that you're starving when you get home. Some of you may eat an appropriate portion of grilled chicken breast and steamed veggies, but I'm willing to bet that most of you eat more than you normally would because you're so hungry, and are more likely to crave fattier foods.
I know I eat ridiculously less food after yoga than after the gym. I'm usually not very hungry after yoga - that's how Tuesday Night Salad Night got started for B and me. I just don't want anything heavy. I want something light and healthy.
Yoga is also easier to stick with. For me, there's less dread in going to yoga than the gym. It's easier to maintain. And this is probably the most important thing I'll have to say about exercise: it's better to do something less intense you can stick with than something super-hard that you can only manage to do for two weeks. I'm not a runner. I never will be. I cannot stand it. But I love to bike. Maybe it doesn't burn as many calories as running, but if I can maintain it over a month, a year, a lifetime, then I'm better off than if I tried running and lasted a week. Yoga is easier to maintain.
Again, this is not to say I don't believe in any cardio. I do a half-hour on the elliptical or bike a couple of times a week at the gym. But adding yoga won't make you fat. Conversely, I think you'll find that over time you'll start making more mindful eating decisions.
And if you don't think yoga gets your heart rate up, try holding Dolphin pose for a while and then let's talk.
There are a couple of gyms that have decent yoga classes (SportsClub here in Greenville is one). But if your gym's yoga class is extremely fast-paced and focused mainly on the poses, with little to no attention paid to your breath, that's not a yoga class. I call it "yoga-robics," but whatever you want to call it, it's not what you should be doing.
Find a yoga studio that ONLY does yoga (the yoga/pilates combo places tend to be aerobic-focused, as well...that's where you tend to find the sorority chicks). Make sure your teacher has attended a reputable in-depth training program.
I'm a little spoiled - in fact, I don't think I'll ever be able to leave Greenville because I don't think I can ever find a better yoga studio anywhere on the planet. I've been going to the same class, with the same teacher, for almost 8 years. I have cried in yoga more times than I can count, and haven't felt a lick of self-consciousness while doing it. It's a fantastic, supportive community atmosphere. The teachers truly care about their students as individuals. There is no judgment. The focus is always on the breath.
That is not to say you'll instantly click with every teacher. I LOVE my teacher. I want to be her when I grow up. She and her husband own the studio. While he is a super teacher as well, his classes don't quite match up with my needs. If you go to a studio and don't like it, be sure to try several other classes and teachers. One bad teacher can ruin yoga for you.
If a studio is more concerned with your body than your overall well-being, get out. NOW. You can thank me later.
"But I go to yoga classes at my gym!"
"But yoga is anti-Christian."
Yes, I have actually been told this before. No, I don't know what the person who said it was smoking.
I don't know any other way to respond to this but to laugh. You are breathing and stretching. Yes, meditation is involved. No, meditation does not make you a Buddhist or Hindu. I like to ride bikes on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. This does not make me Lance Armstrong.
How yoga affects your mind and spirituality depends on where your mind and spirituality are before you get on the mat. You don't lie down on a rectangular piece of rubber, do some stretches, and then poof, suddenly you're a Buddhist. It just doesn't work like that.
I personally think yoga makes me a better Christian. During our final meditation in class, I often use that time to pray. More specifically, I use it as a time of thankfulness, to thank God for all I've been given. Yoga quiets the mind and minimizes the everyday stresses, and that helps cultivate gratitude. I have grown so much and become such a calmer, kinder person, and I think yoga has a lot to do with it.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting some of the kindest, considerate, friendly people I've ever met. When you're around positive, uplifting people, they make you want to be a better version of yourself, no matter your religion (or lack thereof, in some cases). And that is something worth celebrating.
"But, but, but..."
There are a thousand reasons not to do anything. It's scary trying something new for the first time. It's hard to take that first step.
If you're nervous about going somewhere new, bring a friend. That's what friends are for.
If you think you're too out of shape, take a beginner's class. Everyone starts somewhere.
If you're known for slacking off, buy some cute workout clothes and a nice mat. It's amazing what some new workout clothes did for my motivation.
Just try. Throw the excuses out the window and try. Imperfection is part of life, and it's also part of yoga. Embrace that, and get out there on the mat. I'll see you out there.