Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 3:18PM

I’ve been a teacher for a long time—I try not to push my passion onto every passer-by and usually manage to bite my tongue when people tell me why they don’t do yoga. (and that is fine! Do what works for you!) However, I have heard the following so often that I can no longer hold my silence. Please take it for what it is, and keep in mind, I’m a yoga teacher and am therefore extremely biased. I hope to convert you all, that is my secret plan!

1          “I like to sweat when I work out”

The people who say this have either never tried yoga, or haven’t tried it long enough to really understand the work they are doing. I sweat in every yoga class! Well, if I don’t actually sweat on the outside, I am certainly hot on the inside. And what is the obsession with sweating, anyway? I can stand in line for a friggin’ hot dog and sweat, that doesn’t mean anything. In my classes, I challenge my students to build heat (agni) to limber the muscles, burn calories, and get energy moving. We want to build tapas (heat/fire) to burn up all the crud that causes our energy or light to stagnate. But sometimes we want to contain the heat, we don’t want to sweat it out! Does that mean we are not working? Not toning and building muscle, burning fat, or cleansing our systems? Of course not! Rod Stryker says: “The aim of practice: divine light and love. In other words, fire. The bridge to realizing the aim of practice, fire. Yoga is dedicated to building fire. If your dull, dense mind is ever going to be lustrous enough to out-shine ego and be capable of perceiving and being guided by Divine love, you better bring dry matches and lots of wood and come ready to brighten the blaze that is the real you.” So I challenge that while sweat may mean you’re hot, or that you’ve climbed 80 flights of stairs in one spot for 45 minutes, to find internal heat is something entirely different—and it affects all of you, not just your glands!

2          “I don’t get enough of a workout in yoga class”

I don’t mean to offend, it’s a fact--this one is often said by men or workout-fanatics (who are a little masochistic in my opinion. No, I don’t like to be in pain, I like to take some breaks or stretch, but I am still strong!). To me it seems pretty obvious, as you don’t often see out-of-shape yoga teachers. Please tell me you are not quaking, shaking, squeezing your eyes shut, burning in discomfort! Because that is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do! Yoga will challenge your body to be sure—but it challenges mind and spirit as well. Can you abandon ego long enough not to worry about what your pose looks like or how long you’re able to hold on? Can you get to a point where you listen to the messages (pain) your body is giving you? Can you love it enough to understand that what it needs may actually feel good? I wonder why so often improving your body has to be defined by how sore or miserable you are by doing it? Yes, most of my practice actually feels nice—sometimes I am sore, sometimes I’m not. I don’t define the success of that hour by the fatigue in my muscles, but by how my energy moves, by my mood, my insights, how well I interact with others or even by how well I sleep at night. I’m not saying abandon running or weight lifting (although I want to say that because it sucks)—but to have balance in how you view “exercise” or “working out.” I can speak for myself—I’m in better shape now, at 35 (eek) because of yoga than I was at 18, 20, 25 when I was in cross country, running mini-marathons and triathalons. The workout in yoga is a whole experience, sometimes more mental than physical, but it is deep and you will get stronger. My husband can bench like 350lbs (seriously)…can he hold a handstand? Nope. Strength is relative to what you’re doing. But please believe that we workout in yoga class!  

3          “I’m not flexible at all”

Chances are, if you’re a human over 15 you’re not very flexible any more. If you’ve been an athlete, had an injury, sit for long periods at a time in front of a desk/computer, drive a lot, don’t work out, have weight to lose, are a man, are tall, are short, then you probably have issues with flexibility. What I’m saying is, yoga helps create flexibility—you don’t need it to walk in the door. You can’t touch your toes? Great! It’ll be easy for you to measure change in your body. Any yoga teacher would rather work with excessively tight bodies than excessively limber. When a body is tight, the muscles are usually short, over contracted—but they are at least supporting your joints. Because your body won’t allow it, you often can’t move past your flex threshold into injury. If you come to yoga regularly, your body will open up. You can’t tackle tight hammies w/ hamstring stretches—it’s a whole-body issue. Once we work out the tightness of your feet, work some more strength deep inside that core, the back will start to let go a bit! Trust me! This is why we offer blocks, straps, bolsters, walls, chairs—yoga is for every body.  You may need to start with a restorative class, where the opening is more passive. The less flexible you are, the more you need it! Ask Kevin, he’ll tell you. Once a self-proclaimed “cripple” due to tight muscles (he’s a runner), he’s now twisting, bending, and folding like a gymnast. It’s taken some time and much dedication, but his body has completely transformed.

4          “I get bored” or “it’s too ‘out there’ for me”

I put these two together because it’s usually the same type of personality who avoids yoga either because it is slow and boring, or too spiritual/esoteric. I hate to break it to you, but if you fall into this category you’re in dire need of tuning in. Those who have trouble in yoga class because it’s quiet or slower than the normal pace of life are distracted. It’s difficult at first to have to sit with your thoughts—what if you come across a thought or feeling you don’t want to acknowledge? You think of all the other things you could be doing…or perhaps the idea of the “inner you” or your “spirit” is too far a reach for your grounded-in-the-real-world type of personality. I urge you to stick with it. You’ll find that with regular practice, the silence becomes golden. In the hustle-bustle time of your life, stillness is a much-needed gift of restoration! What else could you do that is more important than listening to yourself, loving yourself, taking care and improving your body, thoughts, and actions? Visualizing, breathing, placing body parts deliberately can feel very hard (or we find it boring because it takes a lot of effort), I understand that! But talk to anyone who practices yoga—maybe they started in the same place—we’ll tell you the quiet, soulful part of their practice is the reason we keep coming back.  Think of it like a mini-vacation just for you, providing everything you need: All-inclusive support, love, strength, power, and spirit.

5          “I Don’t have time” or “it costs too much”

These are difficult to address because while they are sort of excuses, they are very real factors for all of us. But honestly, can anyone out there tell me you have enough time and money to do everything you want to do? How about to do everything you NEED to do? Please consider how you spend your time and money…I for one am positively addicted to Starbucks. I have to go there every day and whole-heartedly admit it’s a needless expense. (In fact, most of what I make teaching goes directly to coffee.) But if it was between yoga and starbucks, I’d easily abandon my caffeinated love-child. Probably all of us have something we could trade for the cost of yoga—it’s a small price to pay for health (in all its forms). If you dig deep and honestly don’t have the cash—take advantage of the many opportunities in town to do yoga for no cost: community days at all the studios, public classes at the library, work-study programs (lotus has one). Ask for yoga as a gift this year! As for time, I know that after working all day (and yes I consider moms at home working), it is difficult to get outside and come to a class. But maybe if you change the definition of practice it won’t seem so daunting…how about a 20 minute segment of yoga free on Comcast? Maybe 10 minutes in the morning before you get into the shower or evening before bed? No one said yoga is only yoga in 60 minute increments of time—sitting in your car driving or waiting in line? BREATHE!! I know we are all busy and financially strapped right now—but one hour and $12 a week? Every other week? Once a month? I know you can find it! (and I won’t get into this, but compare the time and money you’ll eventually spend at the doctor, physical therapist, or on medication later if you neglect your body, lets life’s stresses pile up, and stifle your feelings!)

So there you have it. I’m sure there are more reasons for those of you who swear by your favorite workout (or lack of one), activity, or passion…but I’m also sure I can combat every single one with a reason why you should, in some form, bring yoga into your life! Like I said, I’m biased.

I hope to see you at class!