Sometimes…exercising stinks. It’s hard, it’s sweaty, and there’s very little extrinsic reward right off the bat. No one makes you exercise, and it’s not a requirement for adult life – like say paying your bills. So all of the motivation and all of the reward (at least in the beginning) comes from you.
Like most of you, I was active in high school, did a couple of things in college, and then moved into my sedentary adult life. The combination of sitting all day, eating junk food, and a family history of heart disease and diabetes doesn’t add up to a healthy lifestyle in anyone’s book, but it took me a long time to realize that something needed to change. And when I was ready for the change, I had no idea where to start.
After lots of failed experiments (including one particularly gruesome trial of crossfit training that left me in tears) I finally found the right kind of exercise that works for me, and that’s yoga. Not only does yoga do wonders for my body, it helps clear my mind and gets me focused on the things in my life that really matter like my family and my goals.
“But wait”, you’re saying, “how does that help me?”. Well, I think some of the reasons yoga was so wonderful for me, might make them great for you too if you’re willing to give it a try and go in with an open mind. Here are five reasons yoga for fitness is a good idea for the beginner (or an expert for that matter):
Short Learning Curve
If you’re anything like me, you hate sitting around in class trying to figure out what’s happening – you just want to know how to do it and get on with your bad self. While it may not seem the case, after a few seconds, each pose in yoga is pretty easy to replicate, and once you’ve done a pose once, you’ll usually remember how to do it again as soon as you see your instructor or classmates assuming the pose. Also, a lot of the yoga poses are very similar to stretches or movements that we made as children and often feel very ‘right’ when assumed correctly. Although it may take a while to get the flow down, getting into the actual poses is a lot easier than say, shooting a free throw.
For some of you the sky may be the limit when it comes to spending money on exercise. Most of you, however, are like me and have trouble even finding the time, much less the money for gym memberships, special shoes, race registrations, and the host of other supplies different kinds of exercise require. All you need to do yoga is a mat, and technically you don’t necessarily need that either, although it really helps keep you focused and adds cushion to help relieve the stress on your knees and wrists during the poses. You should wear a top and bottom that is relatively tight fitting (avoid wardrobe malfunctions) and you should be barefoot on the mat for maximum control and flexibility. A mat can cost as little as $10, and a good one costs about $25 depending on the brand. And most gyms or yoga studios will have mats that you can rent or use for free during a class.
This may seem like a small thing to mention, but to me it could easily be one of the most important. When you’re in a yoga class, the goal is to focus on your own breath and body. Every person in the class is busy working on their own thing, and unless you have a particularly rude neighbor, no one will pay attention to you except the instructor. Unlike team sports, no one depends on you to get it ‘just right’ so that the team can win. And unlike other solo sports, yoga isn’t a competition and no one sits around bragging about the time they spent doing a specific pose or how many minutes they stayed centered on their breath.
This is another thing that doesn’t really come up unless you’re differently-abled or just getting started in fitness. But each yoga pose has several modifications and forms you can take to ease tension on the body. The work that you’re doing involves muscle resistance and sometimes that can be particularly stressful on body parts like your knees or your lower back, but yoga encourages you to explore that threshold and make accommodations when necessary. In fact, often whole classes are held around yoga for people with specific body types or physical limitations. And, if you’re at the other end of the scale, there is also room for modification of the poses to become increasingly more difficult. Because the tool you’re using is your own body, there is always room to arch a little more or raise the arms even higher. Experienced yoga praticioners often increase the intensity of their exercise as their body can accommodate.
It seems cliché, and it probably is, but yoga is more than just a physical activity – it’s also about cultivating a state of mind. Some of the best yoga teachers I’ve had incorporate many of the Eastern Philosophies into our classes and we use the time to reflect on things like how we treat ourselves, what are we focusing our time and energy on, and how can we be more in tune with the world around us. At the core, yoga generates a heightened awareness; of our bodies, our minds, and our world. Many people have similar kinds of experiences running or bicycling long distance, but if you’re like me then you might need the guided discussion to get you thinking down the right path (as opposed to thinking about the grocery list, the dirty dishes, the work that still needs to be done…).
I started exercising because I felt like my life depended on it. I could see the writing on the wall and I knew I had to do something. But fear isn’t what keeps me coming back; it’s love. I love when I make it through the whole class without any pain. I love when I reach new levels of insight about my life and my connection to the world around me. And I love walking out of class with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning, and feeling like I can conquer the world if I wanted to.
So give yoga for fitness a chance…you might really love the results.