Many of my clients come to me because their doctor suggested they try yoga, and they don’t know why or where to begin. Rest assured you’re not alone if you feel confused by this recommendation!
Western medicine has its limits. Doctors are armed with prescription pads and surgical skills, but when surgery is not indicated and medicinal therapy has failed, patients are left without answers.
But here’s the thing, doctors also tend to only recommend things that are backed by research and clinical outcomes. And that is why yoga is starting to come into the spotlight.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is many things to many people, and I think that’s important because it can be whatever you need it to be.
Research is showing us that yoga may be more beneficial for those with chronic low back pain than traditional physical therapy. Multiple studies have confirmed its stress-reducing powers, and it’s even been shown to reduce inflammation. All of this is catching the attention of the medical community.
Additional studies have found yoga improves balance and flexibility (that’s kind of a given right?!), decreases anxiety, may relieve migraines, may promote improved sleep quality, and increases your strength. Pretty amazing that ALL of these benefits can come from one modality.
If you’re new to the idea of yoga you may have some questions and concerns. So let’s take a deeper dive into understanding what Yoga IS and what it is NOT.
1.Yoga is a tool. Developed over 5000 years ago, yoga is a system, or a discipline, for total well-being. In western culture we focus a lot on the physical aspect of well-being when we refer to yoga, and that’s a great place to start and even stay for many people. But yoga can also be a path to improved wellness mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
2. Yoga has 8 levels, or “limbs”, which I look at as kind of non-linear stepping stones to being a better person. The 8 limbs are include breath control, self-discipline, ethics and integrity, inward focus, concentration, meditation, and, perhaps, enlightenment.
3. Yoga can be viewed as a philosophy. The word “yoga” translates “to yoke”, or to join together. Yoga helps us understand how to be present in our body and our thoughts, accepting what is not what was or what is perceived to be, living truthfully from that place. The teachings of the 8 limbs talk about how to live with non-judgement of yourself or others, non-harm of the self or others, learning to live with contentment in each moment, and living with self-acceptance and self-love, knowing you are a whole and complete being. One way we can practice living by these teachings is by observing how we talk to ourselves in our mat practice, and working to keep our internal dialogue in line with our true nature.
4. Yoga is experienced individually. As mentioned above, it can be many things to many people. For many, yoga is simply a workout, or some stretches that we do for our hamstrings and hips, and there’s nothing wrong with that! It is indeed a fantastic tool for those things. Moving through the physical postures addresses alignment and strength and flexibility while saying calm, and that can help us to feel better, which helps us to treat others better, and so on and so forth. For others the study and conscious practice of the 8 limbs is a lifelong discipline, and that’s wonderful too. You do not have to be flexible, a vegetarian, or a deep spiritualist to be considered a yogi!
5. Yoga is my favorite tool for corrective exercise! In today’s world of sitting and texting we’re losing posture, strength, bone density, and flexibility by the minute. We’re specifically getting tighter in our hips and shoulders, and weaker in our cores and butts. And yoga just so happens to target all of those areas in one practice! I love the physical postures, they benefit everyone from athletes to desk workers to grandparents. And I think because it addresses the body from head to toe, inside and out, it’s bringing forth more meaningful and lasting results that traditional physical therapy. It’s been around a long time for a reason.
Yoga is NOT…
1.Yoga is not a religion, dogma, and you do not have to be, or automatically become, a Hindu to associate yourself with yoga. While it is associated with some Indian culture, and yes some teachers like to use the sanskrit names for poses, practicing yoga does not mean you are worshiping Hindu gods. Remember that yoga can be different things to different people. Yoga is a spiritual experience for many, so you may find teachers who like to chant in class or “om.” It may come across as worship or the intent may be to experience vibrational sound healing. Just as you can perform a sun salutation in a way that worships a sun god, or in a way that stretches your body, it’s all about intention.
2. Yoga is not about perfection. Many yoga poses are down right ridiculous, and in my experience working with and on bodies for 15+ years, I will tell you there are some poses that 95% of the population should not do in it’s “purest” form. If something hurts, or if you have to torque your body in a non-beneficial way to get into the look of the pose, it’s not for you. Modifications don’t mean you’re not “good” at yoga, in fact just the opposite. Make the pose fit your body, don’t make your body fit the pose.
3. You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga. Here’s where some of the philosophical teachings of yoga can come in handy. In yoga we learn to let go of ego and expectation, and we accept what is. Accept that your hamstrings are tight and accept it without judgement! Meet your body where it is at, use props to make the pose fit your body, and start to make meaningful change by honoring your body. Besides, if you’re not flexible doesn’t that mean you should probably do more yoga?! What are your plans to get more flexible?? What are your plans for how you’re going to be moving 10,20, 30 years from now?!
4. Yoga is not about standing on your head, hands, or doing crazy backbends. Instragram may have you believing that yoga is for people training for circus acts, and some of those poses are really fun ways to push your strength and body control to the next level, but that’s not what yoga is about. Each pose has phases that build up to it, and yoga teaches us to slow down, pay attention, and figure out what phase we belong in at that moment.
5. Yoga is not a magic pill. I love yoga and I’ve seen it do straight up amazing things for people young and old. However, it’s not a cure-all. It’s not going to take away your arthritis, and it’s not going to magically fix your degenerative discs. But it IS going to improve your mobility, your ability to get around more comfortably, and your longevity.
Interested enough to see how yoga might help you move better, feel better, live better? Here’s a quick 20 minute video for beginner’s.
Ready for more? Click the link below and try 5 free days of 10-20 minute practices and see what you think! I’ve built these sequences intentionally to help you balance out your body and feel like your most limber self. Be sure to report back and tell me how you feel!