What is Yoga and why should I do it?

Simply put, yoga is a series of movements utilizing all of your major muscle groups so that you can sit down on the floor comfortably without any pain or discomfort. It keeps your body strong and supple. The technique was created thousands of years ago so that practioners could sit in meditation for hours on end without having any physical or mental distractions. (Though, who has time for that today?)

The practice of yoga is a form of, and gives the benefits of, meditation. With yoga your thoughts become quieter and you feel more at ease; your body becomes more open, long, lean, flexible and strong. All of which makes you feel better, and helps to prevent physical ailments and illnesses in the future. For example, I used to have severe wrist pain from countless hours behind my computer typing and playing video games; I also had chronic lower back pain from minor scoliosis. Both these conditions are now back to normal, in fact, they’re better than ever. Added to that, in the 15 years that I have been practicing yoga, which is known for boosting immune systems, I’ve only had the flu twice.

All you need to get started are a few minutes a day. It’s actually much better to practice for 15 minutes, four times a week, rather than for one hour once a week. Regularity is the key. While you practice your muscles and mind react to the changes taking place in your body. Unfortunately, when you stop, they try to go back to where they were. That’s why the sooner you can practice again, the better it is for you. Of course, the longer you practice each time, the deeper and more flexible you become. However, by beginning with smaller practices you begin to familiarize your body with what it is you are actually trying to do. In return, your body will become, and stay, more supple.

I’m not going to kid you, there will be some initial discomfort. Many people have the idea that yoga is nothing more than lazing about, stretching and trying to grab your toes while making humming noises. There is much more to it than that.

The physical practice of yoga is challenging, it develops strength and focus both mentally and physically. Initially, your body and your mind won’t want to change, they’ll fight against you using the ‘weapons’ of pain and aggravation. There’s no simple answer to this, all you can do is push through it. Bare in mind, you’re going to feel the benefits after your practice, not during it. At least not in the beginning. You will probably be sore the next day too; this is your body’s way of telling you, it’s working. The best thing you can do is practice again as soon as possible.

When I first started yoga I hated it. I was 21 and couldn’t touch my toes. Quite simply, I had been a fat and lazy child, and I hadn’t changed much by that point. However, I did a lot of research on yoga before I began to practice. I knew that it would be good for me, especially as, at that point, I did no form of exercise and hated going to the gym. This was something I could do on my own, at home, whenever I wanted.

Initially, I bought a few books and forced myself to practice for half an hour a day, five days a week, when I came home from work. To begin with, everything hurt and I just wanted to curse the entire time I was doing it. But, once I was finished and was able to lie down and relax, I felt a wave of contentment come over me as a huge smile came to my face.

After forcing myself to practice like this for a few months I noticed a shift in my mind and body. All of a sudden it didn’t hurt anymore. Sure, it still wasn’t easy, but the discomfort was different. Now it felt good to be stretching my muscles and using my strength. I actually started to look forward to my practice. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t because I enjoyed the practice so much, but because I enjoyed how it was beginning to make me feel. The slow changes were influencing my body and my mind and I was starting to feel taller and longer. I also noticed that I was more calm and content.

Only you can decide whether or not yoga is for you. You just have to be open to trying something new as well as wanting to get to know your body, how it works, and what it can do for you.

People coming to practice yoga for the first time are often nervous and restless. They generally fumble and stumble through their first lesson, however determined they are to keep up. I can see the aggravation on their faces as they push through the practice. However, after the lesson it is a totally different story; it’s as if they are a new person. They are calmer, smiling and obviously more relaxed. I almost have to pull them off of their mat and out of the studio when its time to leave.

I can’t say yoga is for everybody, as some people do have specific physical limits. But, if you are in a general state of good health, you can start at any time. You don’t have to be special or fit into some stereotype of what you think a ‘yoga person’ should be. I don’t sit around eating mung beans and drinking rain water all day, and neither should you.

Yoga is something you can incorporate into your normal life without having to change anything about yourself except putting the time aside to move around and try to get to know your body a little better. Any other changes will simply arise from the sense of awareness that is created by a regular yoga practice. You will start to feel and hear what it is your body actually needs and wants. Once you feel it, try to stick with it.

Our bodies are constantly telling us what we should eat and drink, when we should exercise, and how we should live. Listen to your body; you’ll be glad you did. Though, you must learn to separate what your body is saying from what your mind is telling you. Your body will occasionally tell you that it wants chocolate; if you’re craving chocolate every day, that is your mind talking... you don’t have to listen!

You don’t have to have a guru either. Yoga is not a religion and therefore you don’t need a high priest, or anyone else for that matter, telling you what to do, let alone when and how. Sure, it is nice to have a teacher in town that you can relate to and attend classes with, but you don’t need someone telling you how to live, eat, read, breathe and treat your animals. You just need someone who can correct you if you are making mistakes in your practice, or show you a few things that might be good for you. But again I stress, getting familiar with, and listening to your body, can give you all of these things as well.

In fact, you don’t even have to go to classes if you don’t want to. I started with books because I hated going to group lessons, especially as a beginner. I didn’t want to look foolish and be the obvious ‘new guy’. If you simply pay attention to what you are doing, really feel each movement and only go as far as your body tells you it wants to go, its difficult to get hurt doing yoga.

Don’t be fooled into thinking yoga is just for women or woolly hatted tree dwellers. You can still be macho and do yoga; it’s an intense physical practice after all. You use all of your major muscle groups in fluid motions to increase your body temperature and heart rate so that you can stretch your muscles even more. You sweat a lot, you breathe better and deeper and you become much stronger the more you practice.

Basically, yoga brings a change within your physical and mental self. Simply by practicing a small amount a few times a week, you can begin to see the possibilities that lie before, and within, you.

Expect a challenge and expect a fight with your ‘self’. But be aware that that fight will stop once your body and mind realize the benefits of what you are doing to, and for, yourself. They will both come to love yoga in the end. There is nothing better than the feeling you get after a proper practice; it seems that nothing in the world can bring you down. If there’s a rule, it is simply to keep going when the going gets tough.

People say yoga is not a competitive sport and I strongly agree, but, it is a competition with your mind. The great thing about this competition is... you can’t lose!