What Is Yoga And Who Should Do It?

What is Yoga?

In order to offer a definition of yoga, maybe the best way to start is tell you what it is not.

It is not a religion.

It is not just a technique or form of stretching.

It is not only for flexible people

and

It is not only done in hot rooms.

Instead, think of yoga as a discipline, an incredible full body exercise, a practice, and for some, a way of living life in a more peaceful and serene manner.  There are die-hard   yogis who take the practice to the max and there are a few religions that use it to get into a more meditative state in order to worship.  To call yoga a religion, however, would be like saying that doing Karate and Jujitsu made you a Buddhist or that doing the Hora made you Jewish.  You can bring religion into any form of exercise if you choose; in the same manner that music is adapted into all religions. Fact is, even though some religions use yoga as a spiritual practice to become more in tune with their deity, it is really a series of body movements that are so universal they have been mimicked and incorporated into many forms of exercise for centuries. 

Who Should Do Yoga?

EVERYONE at any age can do this exercise. Yoga can enhance balance, maintain or create flexibility and strength in your spine, joints and muscles, and increase concentration no matter how young or old you are.  It brings your body back in time to a child-like state of flexibility, agility and endurance.  Can you remember when you could put both your feet behind your head?  Probably not, but I’m sure you have recently seen a baby who could lay on the floor, grab his little toes and bring them to his nose.   Although most people may never make this their yoga goal, we are all thrilled, even youngsters, when we can move ourselves in an agile manner.  

THE STRONG: Many people, especially athletes who weight train, run or cycle, believe they are too inflexible to do yoga, and   I tell them, “on the contrary!”  Everyone can do yoga because it is the practice of bringing more flexibility to your body no matter what state you are in.  If you are a human pretzel, yoga would seem redundant.  Instead the more inflexible you are, the better your practice can become and the more results you will experience.  

I like to tell the story of my friend Bobby Nystrom who is a famous hockey player on Long Island from the 1980’s.  When I met him, he was into ice climbing and many extreme sports leaving him in incredible physical shape.  Although he was interested in taking yoga, he believed he was too stiff.  “I can barely bend!”  He told me.  “Great!”  I responded, “If you are stiff because you are muscular, it means you are strong!”  Even though brawny muscles have a hard time bending, I told him not to consider stiffness to be a weakness, but instead to add another dimension to his exercise routine enabling him to become even more powerful.  “Yoga can take that strong muscle and teach it to be flexible.  That’s a combination that can’t be beat!”  One month later, he was in a yoga class along with 14 friends he had convinced to go, and I have been using his name to entice other men into taking yoga ever since.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who are stiff because of injury or arthritis, age, weight or just lack of exercise.  Yoga is the absolute best way to ease into any exercise routine!  Most other forms of exercise,especially sports, come with a certain amount of injury risk.  Yoga however can support an injury-free transition into a more active lifestyle.  I have students who are only able to start with breath work and others who mediate during my class who are only able to imagine themselves* in the positions because of severe injury or recent surgery. 

No matter what condition your body is in, with the right instruction and attitude, you can start yoga and slowly build back your stamina, muscle strength and flexibility.