It’s the third Friday of the month and you’re out for cocktails with the usual group. Early into the evening you notice one of your friends has lost some weight and initiated a self imposed one drink limit. You ask what’s up. Her eyes light up as she begins to eagerly espouse the benefits of yoga. You spin the conversation over to a recent episode of Jersey Shore as quickly as possible.
You’re leaving work behind a small group heading to the parking lot with yoga mats under their arms. You hustle to the other side of the lot, suddenly grateful you came in a little late and had to park in the back.
By the time you turn around in the supermarket isle to find a woman taking a deep forward bend to retrieve something on the bottom shelf, you’re pretty sure you’re the only one not on the yoga band wagon. But the reservations remain.
I’m too fat, too old, too inflexible, deeply opposed to pants with fold over waists, I don’t sweat in public.
No matter what excuses have kept you from taking that first step onto a mat, they can probably be boiled down to a fear of failing and not fitting in.
Here’s the honest truth of why your fears are a complete waste of your valuable energy:
- First, in a good yoga class, within 3 minutes everyone’s eyes are glued to their own mat. If they were looking at (or even thinking about) you, they’d fall over.
- Second, I’ve never met a human being with a heart beat that couldn’t benefit substantially from improved internal and external physical health, increased mental focus and clarity, and an enhanced sense of well being and confidence.
- Third, there’s a yoga class that is absolutely appropriate for any shape, size and physical condition.
Starting a yoga practice can be intimidating for anyone, but there are a few forms of resistance I hear more often than others:
I’m too heavy!
To varying degrees, depending on the style of yoga you choose, yoga will help you lose weight. Power and Vinyasa yoga torch more calories than other styles. However, all yoga increases the efficiency of your internal systems so that your body and your metabolism are working optimally.
Sure twists and forward bends can initially be challenging. A good teacher can modify poses for someone with no head and one leg. Modifying for different shapes and sizes of bodies is no big deal.
A gentle Hatha yoga class is good place to start.
Hatha is an umbrella term for most yoga styles taught in the US. In these classes you will learn the fundamental poses at a pace that is moderate enough to find the modifications that work for you.
If you are so inclined, there are also classes that specialize in yoga for overweight people that make ample use of props (bolsters, straps, blocks, walls) to assist students in exploring poses without straining joints.
I have grey hair!
Last year, on my grandmother’s 102 birthday, I took a picture with her for my newsletter in which we were both doing tree pose.
She then decided to show off and started doing warrior poses for the camera. Age is not a deterrent to a yoga practice. As our bodies age, our lungs, and the connective tissue between our ribs, become less pliant. Over the years we become accustomed to shallow breathing. We then start to cave in our chests and hunch our shoulders forward making it even harder to take full breaths. Our ribs eventually become a steel-like straight jacket confining the expansion of our lungs and the movement of a now weakened diaphragm.
The yoga practice of pranayama (breathing exercises) can prevent and correct this decline.
In addition to improving overall strength and flexibility, yoga helps increase balance and decrease bone lose. All big concerns for seniors.
A beautiful senior option is chair yoga in which a full practice is modified for sitting in, and holding onto, a chair. Chair yogis enjoy all of the benefits of a mainstream practice without ever rolling out a mat.
I’m a guy!
Translation- I’m not flexible.
The image of a yoga class as a rehearsal for Cirque Du Soleil is an urban myth. Classes abound where you don’t have to chant or turn your body into a pretzel. Iyengar and Anusara yoga take a slower pace in which you hold poses longer and focus on aligning your body properly.
Bikram and Power classes take a more athletic approach. On these classes building muscle strength is emphasized and you move more quickly between poses adding an aerobic workout to the practice. These styles are often taught in heated rooms so your muscles relax quicker and you are able to go deeper into the poses.
No matter who you are, when you’re starting a practice, a yoga studio can seem like a secret club where you have to know the handshake.
I’ve traveled around the country and taught in many different types of studios. I’ve taught in spaces with buckets on the floor to catch the rain. I’ve taught in gyms with weights clanking in the background. I’ve taught in a huge banquet hall, and a tiny home dining room. I once taught in a parking lot when no one showed up with a key. Still, I feel a small twinge in the pit of my stomach when I enter a yoga community as an outsider.
My experience is always the same – everyone is there for the love of the practice.
Once you jump in, yogis are inclusive and overwhelmingly receptive.
Your practice, on and off the mat, will advance quickly when you allow yourself to try, and to fall.
The best gift your yoga practice can give you is to realize the joy of living without the constant commentary of that critical voice in your head. No matter what shape, size or physical condition you’re in, everyone can use that.
Kim Shand, founder of Rethink Yoga, is a certified yoga teacher.