Let’s put yoga contests, yoga scandals and the multi-billion dollar yoga industry aside for now. Those are distractions and diversions. I believe that yoga truly is for everyone. It may be that the kind of yoga that’s best for you isn’t proffered on the major news outlets and on the magazine rack at the market checkout. Rest assured, there is a yoga practice that can bring unimagined grace and flexibility into your life, whomever you are.
You may insist that you wouldn’t be caught dead in those skin tight butt-crack-hugging leotard-looking faux jeans and you don’t fancy being crammed into a sauna-like room attempting slippery contortions inches away from a sweaty stranger. On the other hand, you might love that. I have (well not the tight pants part) and still love a vigorous workout. But that’s not necessarily yoga; at least for most of the human population.
The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years. Though it may often be taught with references to Hindu dieties, it’s not a religion. It’s not a creed. It doesn’t come ladden with dogma or riddled with social clicks; at least it shouldn’t. Again, those things are the attachments and diversions of us humans who are struggling to deal with our own peculiar kind of suffering.
There are many styles of yoga listed by various organizations (here’s one). Some styles, like bhakti yoga involve very little focus on physical work and instead practice primarily meditation and acts of devotion and service. New styles are “born” in the west every year. Many of these styles fall under the hatha yoga umbrella and will fade as they are really business and marketing ventures; a slightly new take on the ubiquitous vinyasa flow practice. There are yoga styles, like Viniyoga, that are geared towards individual practice and therapy and recent studies are proving their therapeutic benefit.
This is all to say, in the words of Boston area yoga teacher Jovielle Gers, that if you desire a practice that will help you be a calmer, more compassionate, more joyful human being, yoga can “set you on your way.” And while you’re at it you’ll be giving your body some lovely stretching and strengthening as well.
No matter if you are a grandmother, a puggy middle-aged guy or a twenty-something recovering dancer, the best part is that you can start right now, from anywhere on the planet. There are many options if you have an internet connection and if not there are many good quality DVDs out there. What’s key is that you should be comfortable with the class or teacher and the yoga style should address your specific needs and not cause you any pain. The “no pain, no gain” approach to fitness is not a mindful practice. I don’t recommend that approach for anyone. Once you have practiced a bit and are aware of your abilities you can be the judge of what is a healthful challenge and what is ego-driven misguidance or down right bad for you.
If you are in the Boston area, as I am, then you have a plethora of choices when it comes to yoga. A good place to start your search for a studio or teacher is the Boston Yoga web site. It’s out of date but still valuable. They have a list of local studios and a teacher network. If you are fine with weeding through hundreds of results you should try a search on Yelp also.
Good luck and let me know how your practice is going and feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of Synergy by Jasmine