Why You Aren’t Doing Yoga (and Why You Should)

I realize this headline is a bit presumptuous… I don’t even know you and now I’m jumping to conclusions about your health habits and speculating as to your state of mind! A bit rude, really.

However, given that this is a blog and catchy titles are helpful, and given that I’ve dedicated years of my life getting people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds onto a yoga mat, here are some educated guesses:

1. I don’t have time. If you live in the modern world in this current economy, this is probably true. If it makes you feel any better, I don’t have the time either and I do this for a living! But I have practiced enough to know that I not only feel better when I do yoga, the time I have seems to run a bit slower. An extra 20-80 minutes a day can make my whole day seem EASIER, a fact I still occasionally forget even now.

Some studios have tips and tricks to help make the timing more convenient. As an example, our studio has a Google Calendar so you can add classes to your smartphone and set text message notifications. Also look for places with a convenient class schedule that fits into your lifestyle.

2. Yoga is too expensive. This is often true. If you go to a studio that charges $20 per class, and you have to have a $100 Manduka pro mat, and you have to have a perfect designer outfit, and all the accessories, it can add up. However, you also probably don’t practice yoga at one of the studios here in Martinez or Pleasant Hill! In addition to the more laid back attitude present in our community, many studios try to offer a variety of solutions to help meet any budget. The yoga “industry” is deeply invested in providing options for the people who need yoga most, so contact your local studio to see if there is a way they can work with you.

At our studio we have discount passes, community donation classes, special events, and even our “street team” where we give free classes in exchange for people helping us out by passing out flyers, cleaning, or bartering some unique skill or talent they have. Some teachers, particularly newer ones looking for more experience, will offer community classes in local parks. In addition, some health care providers will offer discounts. Again, look into your options.

3. Yoga is for airy-fairy hippies and crunchy-granola types.This is completely true. However, yoga is for everyone else as well! There are certainly hippies (and hipsters), but there are also business people, serious athletes, retirees, moms of all stages of parenting, men of all ages, children… Yoga can be, and SHOULD be, just as diverse as our population. Frankly, the people who are frantically clawing their way through this world are the ones who need the benefits of yoga more than those who are already “chilled out”.

4. I’m too out of shape. I don’t know you, so I refuse to comment on the truth of this statement, but I can tell you that yoga comes in many shapes and sizes. Some classes require a lot of strength or cardiovascular fitness, but there are many varieties of classes that can help anyone get from point A to point B. Some classes are structured to teach you body awareness and alignment to avoid injury and give you the knowledge to rehabilitate yourself. Some give you meditative tools to help you overcome the obstacles that have gotten in your way. Some are specifically designed for people who are struggling to overcome an injury, condition, or just general age-related stiffness and/or extra pounds.

In addition, there are types of yoga that are extremely passive and designed to provide the physiological benefits of soothing the nervous system and using gravity to help stretch different parts of the body. When I can’t get the energy up for an active practice, I’ll still try to get at least 10 minutes in one of these Restorative poses.

4A. I don’t think my body could handle… (the heat, how fast paced it is, the crazy contortionist poses, etc.). Not all yoga is like that. While Hot Yoga is… well… “hot” right now, plenty of studios still offer good ol’ Room Temperature Yoga. The crazy contortionist stuff is generally reserved for the advanced or more hard-core classes, and the fast pace is particular to certain styles. Research your options.

5. Yoga is just a fad. Arguably true. When I started practicing in 2003, yoga was just starting to be the next Tae Bo. (Personally, as irritating as Billy Blanks was, I still find him more tolerable than Bikram Choudury.) Target started carrying mats, and eventually even Barnes and Noble had them! It also went through a fashionable phase in the 90s when the medical community began to publish information about its health benefits. [timeline here] It was big in the 70s, especially here in the Bay Area, when Yoga Journal was founded in SF (1975), major modern teachers such as Iyengar and Jois came to the US, and Lilias Folan began her PBS show. It went through a phase of popularity in some coastal areas such as SF, LA and NYC in the 50s and 60s when celebrities such as the Beatles began to study it and westerners like Indra Devi came back to the US to teach it. During the Victorian turn-of-the century health crazes that gave US culture certain cereals and snake oils, Americans learned about yoga as a philosophy and practice from Vivekananda and some of the texts may have influenced the transcendentalists Thoreau and Walden. Will people continue to start and stop doing Modern Postural Yoga? Probably. Do you have to practice it in the same way as everyone else? No. Is it still good for you regardless of the whims of fashion? Yes.

6. I’m not convinced that yoga really does anything. If this is your only reason for not trying a yoga class, boy do I have some news for you! While it is true that the stretching action of yoga is comparable to the stretching action of other physical activities, the unique combination of physical activity, breath, meditation and even philosophy WHEN DONE SAFELY* can accomplish deeply surprising things. Not only can yoga (depending on the class and focus) help with issues like muscular strengthening, cardiovascular conditioning, and physical rehabilitation, but the breath work and training in concentration can help manage stress response problems like depression and anxiety, including PTSD. While many people are used to yoga as a “fitness” class, yoga as a therapeutic practice has an established history that is becoming more and more supported by evidence-based research. One organization dedicated to promoting qualified professionals and scientific data is the International Association of Yoga Therapists who maintain an extensive bibliography of health articles and studies related to the benefits of yoga. [Disclosure: I am a member of this organization and support their work.]

7. I am afraid of getting hurt. After the above issue, this one has probably occurred to you. Make sure you feel comfortable with your teachers and trust them. Listen to both your teacher and your body when they tell you not to do certain things– if your teacher tells you one thing and your body tells you another, be your own advocate and speak up! Ask your teacher if you aren’t sure if something is right for you, and always let instructors know about injuries or conditions. Check your ego at the door and avoid pushing yourself into things because you feel like other people are able to do it more easily. Lastly, try to check the qualifications and education of your instructors before you try their class.

The yoga industry has a few standardized bodies that attempt to ensure instructors are consistently trained and educated, such as IAYT (above) and the Yoga Alliance. Yoga Alliance registration requires not only completion of a 200 hour program in anatomy, physiology, philosophy, and teaching practices, but also continuing education. While yoga at a gym may be taught by a personal trainer who has watched some yoga DVDs or gotten a “certification” of questionable quality, YA registered yoga teachers, called RYTs, have met their registration requirements. Keep in mind however, a lack of RYT does not necessarily mean an instructor is unqualified. As in any industry, there are problems with organizing bodies and some instructors may have chosen not to register or go through the hassle of being grandfathered in, or their annual registration may have recently expired. Some instructors may have years of experience teaching before they applied for RYT status. If you are concerned, contact any potential instructors or studios with questions.

At this time of year, people are looking for solutions to the burdens and obstacles that keep them from living up to their potential. You may have pain, you may have stress, you may have a lack of focus or energy that prevents you from doing the things you want to do. Yoga has the potential to help you become a better version of you, but ONLY if you give it a try!



*The issue of yoga and safety is a big one, and I link to a recent article by William Broad. People do get hurt in yoga, and many medical professionals know of its benefits but are not as familiar with the varying styles, some of which may have aspects that can potentially harm. While the recent article provides some qualification, in my opinion the original article to which he refers was indeed sensationalized and hyperbolic. A good refutation of the original is available here.

This blog was originally posted to my local Patch.com January 14, 2013.