If you practice yoga, chances are someone is going to ask you what yoga is and why you do it. I have answered both of these questions time after time over the years and it never ceases to amaze me how much misinformation is circulating, based on stereotypes or without thinking.
I was talking to my brother a few weeks ago, expressing how great yoga would be for my niece who is a very flexible athlete. His response? “She’ll start yoga when she’s 50 and starts to slow down.” You would think I would have taken this opportunity to inform him of the various styles of yoga available, the mental and physical benefits of yoga for all ages, and the need for an athlete to balance sports strength and power with the flexibility and healing benefits of yoga—but I didn’t. Instead I sat there stunned.
After a few weeks of mulling the subject over, this is what I’ve come up with to inform him and others who have the same mindset about yoga.
What is yoga?
The word yoga originates from the Sanskrit word yug, which translates as “to yoke” or “to join.” In the modern practice of yoga, this is considered joining the body, breath, and mind through a series of asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation.
Originally, the asanas were used as a way to prepare the body for meditation by building flexibility and strength in the body to allow staying comfortable in a seated posture for long durations.
What style of yoga is best?
Many people think that yoga is just stretching. However, the world of yoga has evolved over the years to include many different styles of yoga to fit the needs of a very diverse population. The options range from a cardio, heat-building power flow like Vinyasa; to holding deep stretches for two to five minutes to increase flexibility around the connective tissue in Yin Yoga; perfecting alignment in Iyengar yoga; and relaxing in the yogic sleep of Yoga Nidra.
Anyone can start a yoga practice. Flexibility, range of motion, and strength do not matter, as the practice of yoga increases all of these areas in a balanced, healthy way.
How can I bring yoga into my life?
There are a variety of different platforms to practice yoga, so that it can fit the individual’s schedule and budget:
- Podcasts, online videos, and DVDs are a great way to practice yoga at home.
- A gym or recreation center is a wonderful way to experience the group energy of a yoga class while focusing on some yogic philosophy combined with the asanas.
- A yoga studio is a good space to explore the spiritual side of yoga and chanting along with the asanas.
What are the benefits of yoga?
A regular yoga practice will bring more physical and mental awareness to your life along with increased flexibility, range of motion, balance, and compassion.
Yoga brings a calm mindset, while also toning the body. It helps us find peace within us and honestly evaluate our relationship to others, the world, and ourselves.
So, the next time someone asks you what yoga is and why you do yoga or, as my brother did, makes a hasty generalization about yoga, take a moment, take a breath, and share with all of the compassion and flexibility that yoga has given you.