There’s a lot of myth-busting to be done around this question… and I get it, when I started yoga, I thought the same (check out my ‘Why I started yoga’ blog)
So when I ask people what they think / thought yoga was here’s what I get…
Isn’t yoga just…
- A stretch-class
- A waste of time
- For women
- For thin people
- For older people / for younger people
- Too easy / too hard
- Too boring / too spiritual
I will break down each of these myths, one at a time, for now, I will start at the top…
Why is yoga not just a stretch class? Yes you will get longer ‘hammys’ by practicing yoga regularly, but once you truly understand yoga, you understand that a bendy body is the bi-product of the practice – the focus needs to be on creating a healthy mind, your healthy body will follow. I think the simplest way to bust myths and explain why we should practice yoga is best explained by describing the physical and mental benefits of the practice…
The physical benefits of yoga
Alignment – You’ve only got to speak to one of our Trusted Partners,Postural Alignment Therapist (PAT) Ellie Burt to understand, that we are now moving away from the old notion that we focus on the area of injury and usually strap or brace it to stop it moving. PAT looks at the whole body to figure out what is causing the injury in the first place and then gives exercises to strengthen and realign the whole body. A good yoga sequence is designed to bring your body back into alignment which is why so many injuries disappear when you practice yoga, it’s not the injured area you need to focus on, it’s full body alignment.
Strength – Different styles of yoga have a different focus (have a read of ‘which style of yoga is for me?’ to understand the different styles) generally, Vinyasa and Ashtanga will get you strong! Yoga’s a bit sneaky in that way… it looks like a lovely flowy, breathing class, and then you realise you’ve been doing 20 push ups and wonder why your arms are starting to looks so toned, and 20 lunges (on each side) and why your legs look so lean! So much of the sequence involves core strength, moving from high plank to low plank, and the inevitable ‘core’ part of the sequences with your crunches and bicycles, you can’t not get strong! But most importantly, its healthy strength – I see so many gyms these days promoting ‘strong not skinny’ which is an awesome message, but then what they offer to get you strong is so damaging for your body, mostly heavy loading on badly aligned joints, high impact work, and generally working out in a way which seems to be punishing yourself rather than nurturing yourself. That cycle of binge and then punish in terms of diet and exercise is so dangerous and a whole blog in itself (have a read of Weight and yoga) – essentially, make sure if you’re exercising, it’s a healthy form of exercise! If you’re not exercising to get healthy why are you exercising? Check out ‘Values’ to help.
Flexibility – Okay so the science shows that if you breathe deeply your body can see you are in control and will allow you to stretch your muscles, and then with practice, your end point becomes your start point and so your range of movement (ROM) increases. Short breaths makes the body think it’s fallen over, so it restricts ROM to protect your joints. So in yoga, the guided breathing helps you increase your flexibility. Also, muscles work in pairs so if you activate the front muscle you will relax and lengthen the back muscle, and yoga works from head to toe so you will learn how to lengthen every single muscle, a bit like learning how to give yourself a full body massage, what a dream! And that’s what it feels like you’ve had after a full session, you might even experience, ‘the yoga high’.
My opinion…stop reading now if you’ve had enough of that!… Everyone knows yoga is great for flexibility, but for me this was never an exciting appeal? I can’t understand having a passion to be able tie your body into a knot? It’s not useful! I do appreciate the dedication and strength of mind required to get your body to that point (unless you’re hyper-mobile and just born that way), but I do question the motive behind it – health or ego (obviously I’ve written a blog on that… Health or Ego)? Flexibility being a big component of the work I do, I have asked a lot of people about this area (I’m available for dinner parties if you want some exciting conversation) and I have come to the conclusion that people don’t want to be a pretzel, they just want to be able to ‘move freely without pain’. So, that got me thinking, what have they done to themselves which has meant that they can’t they do that now? Why do we lose flexibility? Two ideas sprung to my layman’s mind 1) ‘getting old’ 2) ‘training too hard’. But, I know that neither of those are true. This comes back to PAT – Ellie has explained her theory on ‘ageing’ to me, which is not usually popular (especially coming from a young female…an irritating stereotype which I often come up against – we can’t help it, and we are only sharing science to try and help!). People don’t like it, but…we don’t have to get less flexible as we get older…Illness aside (although there’s a whole other argument for where illness comes from, that’s another blog, Yoga, Ayurveda and dis-ease), usually, when we get older we stop moving as much and surround ourselves with people who do the same thing, so everyone blames it on ‘getting old’, when actually it’s just surrounding yourself with people who have a similar lifestyle. That is not going to be a popular opinion, but what is more empowering – “Don’t worry – just do these exercises and you can come back into alignment, out of pain and do everything you want to do regardless of age!” Or, “nope you’re right, nothing we can do, you’re just old”!? I’ve always preferred to take stick for speaking the truth, I feel it’s far less selfish and braver to be truthful and take the aggravation that often comes with that, then to lie /just tell people what they want to hear for an easier life / to be liked – truth comes from love! As Tony Robbins says…’the truth will set you free’.
-Okay, so age discussed, why else are people inflexible? Moving their body in a way which brings them out of alignment – Weight lifting / repetitive movement with sports / repetitive movement in lifestyle – office / travel etc. So, again, bring yourself back into alignment and then you can lengthen your muscles where they are meant to be! Essentially, it’s all about living in truth – have you decided to create a lifestyle which prioritises your health? If not, what are you prioritising? Yoga brings you back into alignment.