The practice of yoga has taken off in recent years, becoming one of the most highly recognized methods of stress relief and healing. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of Americans practicing yoga grew by 50%. Currently, there are over 36 million Americans practicing yoga. Why? Yoga is not just another workout. Yoga has the power to transform your life from the inside out. The pranayama (breathwork) corresponds with our nervous system allowing for better sleep, stress management, and reduced physical pain.
What does that mean? More than 90% of people come to yoga for flexibility, stress relief, health, and physical fitness. Yet, the primary reason for doing yoga changes. It is estimated that two-thirds of yoga students and 85% of yoga teachers have a change of heart regarding why it is they practice yoga, the most common linking to spirituality, or a shift in self-actualization. Yoga invites us to be with ourselves in the journey of conscious awareness.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not all lululemon, pretty mats and vegan diets. Yoga is not about how flexible you are or if you can balance well, as it is a practice. It’s just that. You practice. You show up to your mat and you do your best, whatever that might look like. You breathe, move, and get out of your head. You feel and you listen to the story your body is trying to tell you and doing so without judgment but with compassion.
When people claim that they want to try yoga but don't because they aren't "flexible enough," it is important to remember yoga isn't about attaining the perfect pose. Use as many blocks as you need. Modify the pose to feel comfortable in your own body. It's not about being "good enough" or "right.” Yoga is about removing any judgment and letting us be present to who we are now.
While the physical component of the practice is important, it is not the core reason for doing yoga. The physical postures, also known as asanas, are there to support one in reaching a meditative state as we disconnect from the external world and are focused on our present, internal world. It quiets the mind and allows us to listen to our heartbeat.
The truth is that the practice of yoga is not about changing the brain, body, headstands, or even about gaining greater happiness and joy. If it were, it would be like any physical form of activity. Yoga aims toward transcendence of all those things. In a culture in which we rush from one day to the next, constantly trying to change our health, our body, or our emotions, or to plan our future, yoga opens up the possibility of connecting to what we already have -- to who we already are.
For beginners, check out a gentle Hatha class, a slow flow or maybe even a restorative. Nothing ever worth having comes easy, so keep coming back. Thank yourself and your body for showing up. Cultivate love and gratitude for the ways in which you are able to move, whatever that looks like. Everything is always exactly as it should be.
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