What holds people back from trying yoga?

BREATHEThe other day, I was out with some friends and since I can’t help talking about yoga, I started talking about….wait for it…wait for it…yoga. I have no self-control. At any rate, one of the girls had just started practicing with some friends who are also in yoga teacher training (not at my studio…) Turns out, she likes it! I’d been trying for a few years to get her to go. Although I wasn’t the one to finally get her there, I’m glad she has. Just trying to spread the yoga love.  Now that she’s enjoying it, we then started strong-arming our other friend to give it a whirl. She’s got injuries that will need to be modified, but seems slightly game.

Then, we started talking about why people are so reluctant to take that first class? What’s holding them back? This is a topic that came up during our first teacher training session. The consensus was that a lot of people mistakenly believe that yoga is some weird religion, one that doesn’t jive with their own belief system. This is an argument I will save for another day. For the record, I adhere to no religion, a personal choice I made decades ago.

While we were discussing whether or not yoga was religious and the many ways it isn’t and the hows and the whys, I started thinking about the reasons that inhibited me from trying even though I’d been fascinated for years. Religion was not a factor in my decision. However, one of the items at the top of the list was that I just didn’t look like a Yoga Journal cover model, which is the most outward facing picture of yoga that many people have. For one, I physically did not resemble these women and two, I didn’t know what the hell I would wear. I didn’t own any cute yoga clothes. And, once I got past the shallow appearance-based part of my fear, I couldn’t even fathom how my body could contort itself. There’s no way I could put my leg behind my head. Or balance on my arms. And surely, I would be horribly out-of-place in classes if I couldn’t do these things, right?

The secret that nobody told me is that these yogis, these perfect-bodied, flawlessly posed yogis aren’t really the norm. After I started taking classes, there was usually only one, maybe two who came close to this stereotypical ideal. Instead, I was surrounded by people of all levels of ability. Some who were skinnier than me, some heavier, older, younger, more flexible, less flexible, stronger…What was I worried about? I fit in just fine.

And then the second secret (which really isn’t so much a secret, but what I didn’t take time to consider) was, most of these yogis started out exactly where I did and only through due diligence of hard work and practice, practice, practice were they able to conquer some pretty impressive asana (which isn’t even the most important part of yoga.) Granted, you’ve got your former dancers who come to yoga post-injury or to de-stress and they come armed with impressive flexibility, but I believe the majority of people start out as terrifically average human beings who just want to learn.

To come full circle with my now seemingly endless endorsement of yoga, I’m still continually met with people who share those same fears that I had…that yoga is something they just can’t do.  And that’s just not true.

As a yoga teacher (in training), I just wish I could shout it from the rooftops that you don’t have to be perfect. You’re not expected or required to perform fancy postures. It’s all just this deeply personal, marvelous, unfolding process. The gains you get from moving with intention and mastering the breath through pranayama are worth more than any no-hands, headstand.

Tom Selleck, Prana Vayus and Bandhas

Tom Selleck on the red carpet at the 1989 Acad...

T’Om’ Selleck, get it? Ok, I’m just being cheesy…

Last Thursday night I went to my usual 6-7:30 p.m. yoga class, which is a  practice class before my teacher training session. I was all geared up to go through some massive Kundalini with the pixie sprite yoga teacher, but alas, she was sick and we had a sub. I’ve had this sub once before and she got major points for showing up to teach in a Tom Selleck t-shirt. I really like it when a yogi isn’t deadly serious all the time. A little levity goes a long way. Although she had a really sparkly personality, she was no joke about the asana she was having us practice.

An hour and a half later, we had a little bit of time before teacher training started, so we ran across the street to get some nourishment, which we typically do as the teacher training Thursday sessions have thus far been lecture classes. Unfortunately, this was a practice class. Now, I’m all about the practice. The more the merrier, but I was starving. I hadn’t even had a chance to uncork my kombucha or shove more than 2 or 3 almonds in my face.

Once I got past my hunger grumpiness, it ended up being a pretty fascinating practice. We learned, via movement, about the 5 Prana Vayus (the 5 vital currents that are continually moving through us and the universe in all directions):

  • Apana: downward energy
  • Prana: upward energy
  • Samana: inward energy
  • Udana: outward energy
  • Vyana: expansion in all directions, all-encompassing.

To illustrate these concepts, we paired movement that matched the direction of energy. It was a fantastic way to reinforce what we were learning. Fascinating stuff in general!

Then, we learned about the bandhas. I’ve used the bandhas before, but I never really grasped their implication in the blocking and redirecting of energy. Even more fascinating! We also did asana to incorporate the bandhas. Let me tell you, downward dog is a whole different beast when you’re engaging your mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara bandhas at the same time! I love this idea of harnessing the energy and reversing its course and directing it where I want. So awesome.