A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published January 30th 2014
You have the right to remain silent
As a yoga practitioner for 15 years and teacher for around 5 years, I feel somewhat qualified to tackle this question. I could have titled the article Top 10 Reasons for Not Practicing Yoga', because I've heard so many of them. The most frequent is 'I don't have time'. My response to that is, 'we find time to do the things we want to do'. Simple as that. The latest reason I heard for not doing yoga was, 'I wouldn't be any good at yoga because I'm too tall'! Your height is not the issue. Your flexibility and tight hamstrings might be - but isn't that all the more reason to take up yoga?
I also hear 'but doesn't it just involve a lot of sitting around, holding hands and chanting Om'? Okay, it's true there may be some sitting with crossed legs and there may be some chanting (the latter helps to integrate the group at the start of class). How much of that there is depends a little on the type of yoga you select, as there are some significant differences between the various streams of yoga.
Not sitting around in cross legs! Jacqueline Brumley of Hawthorn/Malvern Yoga Centre www.hawthornyoga.com
So here we go: my list of the top 10 reasons to take up yoga. If you take a serious approach to it--and this will initially involve attending a class of 1.5 hours once a week minimum, plus doing some home practice--I promise you that you will be surprised at the changes you see. Not just physical changes, either.
1. Yoga is for Life
Pretty much regardless of your age, stage of life, or level of fitness, you can practice yoga. Your practise can evolve to suit your agility and level of mobility. There is even 'chair yoga' for people who are less mobile!
Also, yoga involves continuous learning. It's not possible to learn everything there is to know about yoga, nor to become a master of every pose. For me, this is both humbling and exciting, and means yoga will never become 'stale'.
2. Yoga Helps Build Bone Density
There seems to be general agreement in the medical world that weight bearing exercise helps to increase bone mass, which in turn helps to prevent osteoporosis. Yoga is an excellent form of exercise as it incorporates weight bearing poses, and can be practiced in a way that does not stress the joints (as may occur in running, for example).
3. Yoga Helps Your Posture
When I first started going to yoga classes, my teacher said to me numerous times each class 'drop your shoulders'. Because I had developed the habit of rounding my shoulders in a way that made me look a little hunched over. Yoga has taught me correct posture. It has helped me to lift my chest and draw my shoulders back and down. It has helped to build core strength. I find I walk straighter and taller.
4. It Increases Self Awareness
Yoga takes a lot of concentration, and the focus of the concentration is your body and breath. Initially, it's about getting your body to move into unfamiliar positions (or postures or 'asanas' as they're called), and waking up muscles that are not used to working.
In a more advanced practise, we're trying to come to grips with fine tuning instructions like 'rotating calf muscles from inside to out' in a standing pose, or 'evenly opening the backs of the knees'. It can be quite intense.
At all levels, students are encouraged to integrate their breath with their movements in the postures. The more physically demanding the posture, the more important this becomes.
The level of connection with the body helps you to tune into other messages the body sends you. You might find yourself making healthier eating choices or heading to bed a little earlier out of respect for your body.
I found that self-awareness also radiated into other areas of my life. I became more sensitive to the people around me. I became more open to new experiences, and more grateful for what I have.
5. Stress Relief
A yoga class is a period of time dedicated totally to YOU. Walk away from work, from the electronic gadgets, from your family, just for 90 minutes or so, and breathe and stretch. The concentration on your practise that I talked about above also helps you to switch off from the outside world.
I've read some interesting discussions suggesting that it is actually the way students deal with the stress of demanding yoga poses that helps them develop coping mechanisms that work outside the yoga room also. That constant reminder to integrate the breath with your movements is very helpful. There's a good discussion about this in this Yoga Journal article.
Yes, the stretching that happens in yoga does make your body more flexible. The poses lengthen your muscles. They also help to lubricate joints and connective tissues, helping you to retain or improve your flexibility and mobility.
7. Building muscle
You will build muscle strength through yoga. Initially, you may only be able to hold poses for a short time. With regular practice, the time you can stay in a pose will increase, building strength and endurance.
Your younger children will love copying you as you do your practise! Your older children may be interested in joining you in classes. Remember though that there is a high level of concentration required during a class. It's probably not suitable for a child under 15 or so to attend an adult yoga class, however some yoga schools offer kids' yoga classes.
This surprised me as a practitioner. In the early stages, I really looked forward to my next class because it was something completely new for me. It was challenging but wonderful.
As a more advanced practitioner, I was keen (and sometimes surprised) to see what my body was capable of doing. When we started to do backbends (Urdvha Danurasana to use the Sanskrit name), I was really excited - not only did it feel great, but it was enormously satisfying to do a pose I'd not done since high school! I couldn't wait to see what poses we'd tackle next.
Savasana (a Sanskrit word, pronounced shah-VAH-sah-nah) is the relaxation that occurs at the end of every yoga class (or at least those based on Hatha yoga principles). The translation is 'corpse' or 'lifeless body' pose as that is what you are emulating in the pose. The class lies on the floor on their backs, on their mats, arms slightly away from the body, legs apart, eyes closed. Once the body is completely relaxed, the aim then is to soften the senses. Focusing on the movement of the breath, one moves away from thought and action towards stillness. And so it is a form of meditation. The pose is held for about 10 minutes.
In this pose, the student is on the precipice between being awake and asleep, in a kind of suspended state. The restorative quality of this process, especially after a physical practice, is profound. It's sometimes hard for new students to stay awake during Savasana. Interestingly, I've had the experience a couple of times of students falling into a deep sleep during Savasana - and then saying, 'wow, that's amazing, I'm a complete insomniac normally'.
Learning to allow the body and mind to completely relax gives the practitioner a process they can also use when they are going to sleep at day's end.
As an experienced practitioner, Savasana is like a reward for a good practice. It rounds out a yoga session, leaving the practitioner with the sense that mind, body and soul have all been nourished.
Yoga's not for everyone, but there are so many benefits I hope you'll at least give it a try. Remember too that there are different yoga disciplines - some more physical, some more spiritual - so if the first style doesn't work for you, try a different one.
And finally, a bit of yoga humour. What does a dyslexic cow say? Ommmmm. Haha.