Yoga for Everyone?

Yoga has become one of the most popular forms of exercise in recent decades.  Despite this popularity, there are still many misconceptions about this excellent method for whole-body fitness.

In the same way that many people still believe that tai chi is “just for old people,” many think yoga is “just for girls.”  This probably comes from the misconception that women are more flexible than men – not true!  This idea has been perpetuated by culture and has nothing to do with physiology.  For that matter, it’s worth dispelling the myth that yoga is about stretching – again, not true!  Yes, there is a component of yoga that stretches your muscles and soft tissues, but that is just one piece of the puzzle.  Practicing yoga will help you improve your flexibility and maintain a high level of mobility, but it’s the misunderstanding that yoga is about flexibility that keeps many prospective enthusiasts away.

The truth is, yoga is as much about strength, endurance, balance, respiration, and body awareness as it is about flexibility.  One of the unique things about yoga is that it merges these components in a very balanced way, restoring your body to its natural ease of mobility. Actually, many people over-emphasize their stretch and hurt themselves or stunt their progress.  It’s not the pose – it’s the action.

This leads me to seeing yoga as a conditioning program.  As far as conditioning goes, yoga is one of the absolute best all-around body workouts.  Its versatility allows you to adjust a session to focus on strength, balance, flexibility, or endurance.  Even if yoga isn’t the cornerstone of your workout program, you should definitely consider it as an invaluable addition.

Another major misconception is thinking that you’re not “in shape” enough to do yoga.  Yoga is adjustable to nearly all walks of life.  Regardless of age, sex, build, weight, or current fitness level, you can do yoga.  Most of the time, this is an issue of embarrassment.  No one wants to be the “worst person” in a class, or look “stupid” trying to do something, falling or “messing up.”  This fear is crippling if you let it be.  Don’t!  Yoga is about you.  It’s not about the ex-gymnast next to you.  There is no level you’re supposed to have already achieved.  There’s just where you are, and where you want to be.  The road to get there is: show up, try hard.  Compare yourself tomorrow to the you of yesterday, and no one else.

There are a lot of different methods and philosophies on yoga out there.  This variety is wonderful, but it can cause some confusion.  While most yoga methods use the same postures (asanas), they can vary widely in approach.  Some yoga methods choose less demanding postures and hold them for extended periods of time (like Yin), while others are dynamic and demanding (like Ashtanga).  Some focus on fluid transitions, others on alignment, and still others focus on the breath work and meditative aspects.  It’s worth it to do a little research and see what method fits your goals and personality.

As a martial artist, I’ve benefited from yoga tremendously.  I was lucky enough to train in a school where yoga was part of our program, and I’ve carried this into my own teaching.  The flexibility, balance, and strength gained in yoga are of obvious benefit to a martial artist, but it’s the body awareness and alignment that has continued to pay dividends in my martial arts.  The internal martial arts that I practice relies heavily on the body’s ability to transfer force from and to the ground.  My yoga practice has given me more aligned and “open” joints, making my body a clear and strong conduit for energy.  The balance of strength and mobility I’ve gained has helped make my movements smooth and powerful.  All in all, I wouldn’t be the martial artist I am without my yoga practice.

The particular style of yoga we teach at Darsana Martial Arts is based upon the Anusara method, which employs five Universal Principles of Alignment (UPAs) to enhance and refine each pose.  I love this system because it applies the same truths of body and mind to each pose, allowing you to “unlock” difficult poses and surpass your limits.  I’ve experienced this transformative power and seen it take people past boundaries they thought impossible to overcome.

If you’ve never tried yoga and you’ve been thinking about it – go for it!  If you’ve done yoga before and have been meaning to return – start now!  If you’re a practitioner of another discipline – yoga can enhance your performance and give you grace and ease in your movements.