And here’s why you need to start:
Almost a year ago I sat in the general session of a work related conference and noticed the phone case of the guy sitting next to me: it had this Hindu artwork of a lotus (I think,… memory is fading) and I immediately thought “Huh, look at that! Guy in a suit & tie with such an artsy case. Wonder if he’s into yoga…” Always wanting to grow my network of healthy minded people, I started chatting away and later found out that he was actually in the middle of getting his yogi certification. This suit & tie guy? A Yogi?? Right!? That’s what I was thinking too and immediately slapped myself (figuratively) for stereotyping not just the suit & tie people but also yogis. Because stereotyping sucks and keeps you from meeting great people and adventures, but also because yoga is SO for everybody. Suit or no suit. Old, young, male, female, big, small, short or tall. Seriously!
Fast forward a few months to when I had this blog started, and the idea to write a post on why yoga is just so damn great (for everyone). I asked Justin (that’s his name btw) if he’d be ok to answer a few questions on yoga and so my first real interview session was born. Well, it actually took me another 5 months to do the actual interview but better late than never, right?
I didn’t want to just rattle down why I love yoga, because that’s just my personal story. I wanted to add to it from the perspective of someone that actually studied yoga (if you can call it that), somebody that has the real facts, the inside scoop so to say. And he’s a guy. Why does that matter, you ask? Well, up until a few years ago, I always thought only women do yoga because I had never seen a guy in any of the classes I went to. Maybe that’s because in my BC era (= before children) I worked out in gyms. Now I don’t work out so much anymore. I just work. Except for Saturdays and/or Sundays – that’s when I go to my local YMCA for yoga. And there I see guys at yoga. Old guys and young guys. Old girls and young ones, big and small, short and tall. I love those classes but more on that later.
So here’s what I asked the Yogi-in-Training:
5bites: So what is yoga? Can you give a definition for the everyday person?
Justin: There’s no set definition for yoga as a practice, but more so for what it is about and what it means. Yoga is about stillness of the mind. It’s about eradicating the fluctuations of your mind (that are caused by our ever so busy lives). In yoga, you focus on your own breath and movement in order to learn how to be in the moment, to be present and aware, and to gain control over your body and mind. The postures and movements are done so you can achieve stillness at the end (of the class). (5bites note: If you’ve ever done a yoga class you’ll notice how relaxed yet totally alive you feel after class.)
Yoga is about linking breath & movement.
Yoga is about noticing where your mind goes when you ask your body to do something unfamiliar or scary.
5bites: What are the benefits of yoga?
Justin: Yoga is about creating mindfulness and awareness and we could all use a little more of that. We just stumble through life and our routines without thinking too much, so yoga can help you create a sense of presence. Connect your body with your actions, so to see how your actions affect your world and the people around you.
(5bites note: Yoga REALLY helps to relieve stress and unclutter the mind. It helps you gain strength and flexibility, and the stretches can even improve your digestive system, and help you get longer, leaner muscles. More on that here.)
5bites: There are so many different types of yoga classes – which one should I start with?
Justin: the best beginner yoga is vinyasa for all levels. It’s a flow of movements that can always be modified for different body types. Ask your gym/yoga studio if you’re not sure how intense each class is. They’ll be happy to help.
If you’re totally new to yoga and working out in general, start with a yin class (you can google these on YouTube if you want to try that at home first). This type of yoga is a great preparation for other classes as it’s all done while sitting or laying on the floor. It works on increasing your elasticity and flexibility. Poses are held longer, opening the hips, and shoulders, and stretching your muscles gently.
Know this: You don’t have to be super flexible, or spiritual to enjoy yoga.
5bites: Do you have any tips for someone’s first ever yoga class?
Justin: Introduce yourself to the teacher and let him/her know that it’s your first time. That way they know to keep an eye on you and can show you modifications to the poses you may have difficulties with. You don’t want to injure yourself. The beauty of yoga is that there are so many modifications for whatever level you’re at and it will still be beneficial to your body and mind.
Get in front of the class, right by the teacher. As intimidating as it seems, you don’t want to be hidden in the back of the class where the teacher can’t see you. You want the teacher to see you, so he/she can help you check your alignment and offer help.
Don’t be concerned about others in the class. Everyone is on their own mat, in their own universe, in their own moment. Don’t worry about what the teacher may think (if anything, they’re proud of you for coming). There’s no such thing as being bad at yoga.
5bites: What questions should I ask my yoga instructor?
Justin: Not so much a question, but definitely be sure to tell them about any kind of injuries or limitations you may have. That way they won’t try to put you in a pose that could injure you. If you’re not sure if anything may affect you doing yoga, ease into the poses and stop or modify if you feel any discomfort. Never be afraid to ask for assistance – the teachers will be more than happy to apply their knowledge and show you modified poses that will work for you.
5bites: I see people using blocks. Do I need those or is that for advanced yoga people?
Justin: You should definitely try using yoga blocks
– they help if you’re not as flexible or balanced. Use them as an extension of your arm when you can’t quite reach the floor, or sit on them when you’re in lotus (legs crossed in front) to get more grounded and comfortable. Ask your teacher about how to best position them.
5bites: What do I need for my first class?
Justin: Get yourself a mat – the studios sometimes have mats, but often they’re thin and not enough of them. Also a couple of blocks, to help you with the poses. Water, and comfortable clothes. (5bites note: Yoga is done barefoot, so you don’t need to buy any special shoes. Don’t worry about getting fancy yoga pants. Just wear what’s comfortable and stretchy.)
5bites: What would you tell someone who thinks this: “I tried yoga once, but it was too hard. I couldn’t do the poses and lost my balance – so friggin’ embarrassing… so I gave up.”
Justin: Keep going. We’re so self conscious at times that thoughts like these keep us from doing what we really want/need. Even I still get that way on some days…, thinking I’m not that great, but everyone is on their own journey. Their own mat. Nobody is looking around the room, checking other people out, and you shouldn’t either. Stay focused on your own progress.
(5bites note: this made me think of this quote I read that rings true here:
Focus on results and you won’t see any progress.
Focus on progress and you’ll see results
5bites: What if there are no classes offered where I live? Are there any good videos on YouTube or other online classes I can do at home?
Justin: There are some great videos by Rodney Yee which you can do at home, but really there are lots of online resources, tutorials, and videos.
5bites post interview note: whenever I can’t make it to class, I try finding one on YouTube – I just search for “yoga for beginners” and pick one that has more than a few hundred views. If it looks like a wobbly home video, maybe keep looking. Nothing wrong with teachers that practice in their home, but pay attention to their commentary. If they’re just plowing through without giving you any explanation why this or that pose is beneficial, or offer no modifications, then go on and find another video.
I just started watching Yoga with Adriene and really like it, but others may not. Click on a few and see who speaks to you.
5bites: Some people say yoga is not a workout and it doesn’t help you lose weight. Is that true?
Justin: While the main goal of yoga is not to lose weight, but gain mindfulness, it can still help with your weight loss journey. The physical benefits of building your stamina and focus will help you achieve more during other physical activities. There’s “bikram yoga” which is practiced in a hot room and that will definitely make you lose some more weight, but I don’t recommend this type of yoga for beginners.
(5bites note: There’s somewhat of a chain reaction from doing yoga to experiencing weight loss: you stress less, you crave less bad foods, you ward off belly fat, you move more, you sleep better, you’re more mindful, you’ll keep the weight off better.)
If you have more questions for Justin, please let me know and I’ll schedule a follow up interview.
So here’s why I believe Yoga is not a sport:
It’s not about being faster or stronger than someone else. It’s not even about you being stronger or faster than you yourself were last week. It’s about being as strong as you are that day, in that moment.
Yoga is not about who had the greater sweat, or lifted more, ran longer, or had the better shoes. Yoga is not about being fit, losing weight, or dieting.
Instead, yoga is about trying to make yourself a better person. For yourself and for others. It’s about finding peace and accepting yourself and your abilities in that moment. Whatever happened in the past happened, and whatever is in the future has not happened yet.
Yoga is about discovering balance and being nice to yourself when you fall.
Yoga is about fixing things from the inside.
Yoga is still physical exercise though – there are MANY different levels for every different kind of person.
Yoga can help you tremendously in living a healthier life, and it really is for everybody. Remember when I said I really love the classes at my local YMCA? That is because a slice of everyone is going there: old, young, male, female, big, small, short, and tall. It makes me happy to see people from all walks of life enjoying that hour of yoga. Everyone in their own way, on their own mat, in their own universe, for their own, personal reasons. Namaste