Musings from the Mat

There IS a Yoga You Can Do

If you’ve ever thought about doing yoga, but were daunted by the glossy magazines showing lanky women baring lots of skin, doing pretzel-like poses that look beautiful, but make you wonder whether you’d have to call the Fire Department to help you get out of them, take heart: there IS a yoga you can do.

Yoga is an ancient discipline from India that is thousands of years old. In yoga’s early days, only men did yoga; it was designed to help them stay healthy so that they could sit in meditation and dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits. We’ve come a long way since then. Today, men, women and children can enjoy yoga. Freed of the religious underpinnings that originally were a part of this discipline, the yoga now practiced in the West is non-denominational and appropriate for everyone, of any religious denomination or belief system. Many celebrities do yoga to stay fit, and hospitals and the wellness community have embraced yoga for its benefits for the body and mind.

Some of yoga’s many benefits are:

  • enhanced strength and flexibility
  • improved bone strength
  • better health
  • a sense of well-being
  • improved breathing and lung capacity
  • greater stress-hardiness
  • better concentration and focus
  • a quieter, calmer mind
  • reduced feelings of anxiety and depression
  • a better outlook on life, and a more positive way of viewing one’s world

Sadly, many stay away from yoga, thinking they aren’t flexible or fit enough to enjoy this ancient practice. The good news is that nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone can do yoga – you just have to find the type of yoga that suits you best.

With yoga’s ever-increasing popularity, a plethora of yoga styles have emerged. Many cater to those who want a fitness-oriented workout that sculpts and tones, burns calories, or provides a challenging cardiac workout. However, there are ways to do yoga that are gentle, and that allow people to move at a safe pace, with modifications that make the practice user-friendly and accessible for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Instead of doing complicated, highly choreographed flow sequences, difficult poses that require the flexibility of an Olympic-level gymnast, or yoga done in super-heated studios, one can take sensible classes that offer simple easy-to-follow sequences, or that offer basic poses (called “asanas”) taught with modifications that make each pose safe, easy and fun to do. Adapting yoga for people’s unique needs by making it simpler and less extreme, and by using props and sensible modifications, goes a long way to creating an atmosphere in which each and every student can feel welcome, comfortable and successful. Some studios offer Chair Yoga classes, or classes uniquely suited to seniors, students who are injured, aren’t flexible, or have conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, cardiac disease, or other health conditions that require special consideration. Those embarking on a yoga quest would also do well to seek out classes that aren’t too crowded, so that they can receive the attention they need.

Teachers who create an atmosphere of compassionate awareness, and encourage their students to have a non-judgmental, non-competitive attitude, and who take the time to get to know their students so that they can keep them safe, can make the difference between an enjoyable, fun experience and a yoga “nightmare.” Classes that emphasize that “less is more,” and that go beyond just the physical aspects of yoga to create a contemplative atmosphere that includes gentle breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and meditation, will provide a pleasant yoga experience that leaves students feeling relaxed, refreshed and renewed.

Students can search for qualified teachers specializing in gentle, adaptive, prenatal, children’s, seniors or therapeutic yoga by contacting organizations such as the national Yoga Alliance, International Association of Yoga Therapists, Yoga Journal, and others.

So, don’t let yoga’s daunting image hold you back. If you’re stressed, or a bit out of shape, or just want do some gentle stretching in a non-competitive atmosphere where you can feel at home, know that the right class, and the right teacher, are out there waiting to welcome you. Because there is most definitely a yoga you can do!

There IS a Yoga You Can Do
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