Well, summer’s over and with it so is my summer yoga hiatus. In returning to yoga, I got to thinking about the whole middle aged guy practicing yoga for his main exercise thing I do. That, in turn got me to thinking about why more middle aged guys don’t include yoga in their regular workout regimen.
I mean, I’ve written a lot about living a healthy lifestyle, centered around regular, vigorous exercise, and I might have mentioned, a time or two, that yoga is an excellent choice for that vigorous exercise program.
Over the years, I have discussed this with many people, and have asked them why they don’t do yoga. Their answers to that question have revealed to me a few widely held false beliefs about the nature of yoga. Today I seek to dispel a few of those myths.
First myth, that you’re “doing” yoga. You’re not doing yoga, you’re practicing yoga. I know this may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it’s not, it’s actually a cornerstone of the problem. If you’re doing something, there is an end goal, something you expect to have completed at the end. Yoga isn’t like that.
Yoga is a process of continual improvement, and there being no end goal can be a problem. Many people exercise with a specific goal in mind; lose a certain number of pounds, or bench press a certain weight, or run a given distance in a given time. There really isn’t anything like that in yoga, so if your exercise is purely goal oriented, yoga will be hard to adjust to.
On the other hand, because there’s no end goal, there’s no end to yoga. Where does a process of continual improvement end? Well, perfection, and while we may strive for perfection we ain’t getting there.
Second myth, that you have to be flexible to practice yoga. I’ve been told, in these exact words, “I can’t go to yoga, I’m not flexible enough.” This is a big one, and a belief I myself also once held. The best response to this that I’ve ever heard is, “That’s like saying, ‘I can’t go on a diet, I’m too fat.'”
This joking response perfectly encapsulates the myth, and the response. Properly practiced, yoga will do for you exactly what you need it to do. One of my instructors liked to say that some people are born in the noodle factory, and some people are born in the steel factory. I was born in the steel factory. When I began regular yoga I could barely reach my mid shins in a straight forward stretch. Less than a year later, I could lay my palms flat to the floor.
In short, you don’t need to be flexible to practice yoga, rather, yoga will help you gain flexibility.
Third, a similar myth, I don’t need to do yoga, I’m already flexible. Yoga is not just a flexibility/stretching exercise, it is much more. I’ve written extensively on this topic, but simply put, yoga will provide for you exactly what you need. If you need to lose weight, you’ll lose weight. If you need to get stronger, you’ll get stronger. If you need to improve your balance, you’ll improve your balance. If you need stress relief, yoga will relieve your stress. It’s so much more than just flexibility.
Fourth, “No way I’m going to do yoga, it’s for girls, and hippies, and girl hippies” (I might have held this belief, once upon a time). I once asked a manly man why he didn’t do yoga. When I drilled down below the surface of his answer what I discovered was that he actually does do yoga, he just doesn’t call it that. Call it what you will, but his entire home workout being based on yoga principles to me means, he does yoga.
As for yoga, and girls, and hippies, here’s a small list of yogis who are none of the above. Perhaps you’ve hear of some of them. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Mark Messier, Connor McGregor, Evan Longoria and David Beckham. Seriosuly, it’s really not just for girls and hippies.
Fifth and finally, “I can’t get into all that spiritual mumbo jumbo, with the crappy music an incense” (another belief I might have once held). There are many kinds of yoga, and some of them are certainly tied to Eastern Mysticism, but when we use the word “yoga” we are generally referring to the physical practice.
I’ve mentioned, once or twice, that my main yoga practice is Bikram hot yoga. 90 minutes of stress, strain, pain and sweat in a heated, high humidity room. Always the same postures and breathing exercises, always according to the same script. No music. No incense. No mysticism. Just exercise. Hard exercise. Kareem Abdul Jabbar hard exercise (he was a friend of Bikram’s and a regular practitioner).
As with anything in life, people unfamiliar with yoga hold certain beliefs about it. Some of those beliefs may be completely true. Others, as listed above, are wildly inaccurate. Before choosing or refusing an exercise, it’s better to hold an accurate view of what it really is, don’t you think?