Since I completed my training as a registered yoga teacher (which happened to be in Virginia, hence the clever title of this post) I’ve been intent on enlightening my clients on the benefits of the practice. Most people come to me for personal training and though I’ve only recently starting taking private yoga clients it’s been included in my programs for quite some time now. When I recommend yoga to my strength training clients I am often met with apprehension. They tell me they are not flexible enough, don’t have the patience, and prefer a “real workout”. As I am myself a late convert I completely understand this way of thinking. It took me quite a long time to realize the benefits and to this day they never cease to amaze me. What once was a compliment to my routine has become my staple.
First, let’s dispel the most popular myth: you don’t have to be flexible to practice yoga. Saying you are not flexible enough to practice yoga is like saying you are not strong enough to lift weights. Just as you can become stronger by lifting weights you can become more flexible by practicing yoga. The great thing is gaining flexibility that it is only one small part of the practice. There are many aspects that have nothing whatsoever to do with flexibility: increased concentration, strength building, breath control…the list goes on.
Another myth is that you must have a patient and naturally calm demeanor to successfully practice. The less patient and more anxious you are the more benefit you will find. Most of us spend the majority of our time in management mode, working from the sympathetic nervous system. Though necessary for survival for many of us this system tends to be in overdrive, leading us to feel anxious and unsettled when we would prefer to be at rest. Our bodies forget how to relax which leads to digestive upset, sleep disturbance, high blood pressure…the list goes on. Practicing yoga trains the brain to switch to the parasympathetic nervous system. Just like the repetition of lifting a weight will eventually strengthen a muscle the repetition of mindful movement combined with deep breathing will strengthen certain areas of the brain responsible for producing the relaxation response. It is said that neurons that fire together wire together, meaning we can train ourselves to become more relaxed. Some people are blessed to naturally float through the world in a positively blissful state but for most this takes work. Yoga is that work.
Many people think the practicing yoga is sub-par to participating in “calorie torching” activities such as running, interval training, weight lifting, etc. What many don’t realize is that there are 8 major styles of yoga, varying from intense and sweaty to restorative and therapeutic. You can move as much or as little as you like depending on what you prefer. No matter which type you choose you will find common benefits such as an increase in bodily awareness, learning to stay and become comfortable with relative discomfort, and practicing stillness. All these elements can breathe new life into every other activity throughout your day. An increase in bodily awareness can help improve diet. As you become more aware of hunger and fullness cues you build a greater awareness of how to nourish your body best. Learning to stay with and breathe through discomfort can help you better navigate stressful situations, choosing to act rather than react. Practicing stillness can mean the difference between being fully present to your life and being caught in future or past events.
If you are still unconvinced that yoga has the power to create meaningful change in your life and body I invite you to take a look at this video. The biggest shifts in health and fitness don’t happen overnight. The subtle day to day actions are the things that take us where we want to go, enriching every moment along the way.