By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
Why haven’t you tried yoga? There is always some excuse not to try it … I’m too stiff, I’m too old, I need more than just stretching, it’s really just for women, it’s a weird religion. As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I have heard them all. And, as excuses normally do, they show an inaccuracy of knowledge regarding the practice.
So you say you are stiff? GREAT! Stiffness is a wonderful obstacle to have when beginning a yoga practice. One of the overall goals of yoga is to develop awareness. So, if at every turn you are confronted with a sensation, then awareness may come a little more easily.
Flexible people, who may be able to “assume the position” easily, lack the immediate feedback that comes from resistance on the physical level. Whether flexible or stiff, however, practicing yoga postures helps you develop physical strength and stamina.
To say yoga is “easy” or just a class for “stretching” is a telltale sign you have not experienced a well-rounded yoga class. Yoga is a “discipline” that can help to balance whatever other sport you may do, but also stands on its own as a great overall physical activity.
The full discipline of yoga brings balance, flexibility, strength and stamina in both body and mind. Without repetitive movement, yoga works the entire body (including internal organs) and typically avoids the development of overuse injuries.
Instead of focusing on any one area of the body, yoga develops a deeper level of strength and alignment throughout the body. Along with the physical, yoga also has immense benefit for the mind and immune system, heading off illness and injury in the future. This is why yoga is good for all ages, all genders, at all stages of life.
Iyengar Yoga classes are taught by teachers trained to offer variations on every pose. Students with ailments or injuries — or, even just “stiffness” — can practice propped and supported variations that offer the same benefits as the classic versions of a pose. Yoga is an ageless practice that uses a holistic approach to teach the body to keep moving and the mind to stay focused. Although you can start a yoga practice at any time, it is, of course, useful to start when you are healthy so you have the physical and mental tools you need as you age or when you experience illness or injury.
This is really what sets yoga apart from other physical activities. It is a practice not only for the body, but for the mind as well. Through age and illness, our bodies will change, and other physical activity may become impossible. But yoga, with its many variations, is always possible.
As we use postures to enhance the health and cleanliness of body, we begin the inward focus of the mind. Our increasing self-awareness decreases distractions of the mind, and we are better able to objectify all changeable things, including our own body. So, when the body becomes feeble, we are armed with a strong and stable mind to carry us through.
In Iyengar Yoga, when the body may not have the strength, there is always a prop or support to help create the physical space for the breath to move and the mind to steady. BKS Iyengar, himself now 93, has practiced his whole life through all the usual changes, and continues to this day.
This focus on a mind-body-spirit connection is what may cause many to confuse yoga with religion. And because yoga has its origins in India, there is an assumption that it is a “Hindu practice.” Yoga does have a philosophy, but it is not a religious practice. Yoga philosophy describes a process of eight steps designed to quiet the fluctuating mind, which is recognized as the source of much of our mental and physical distress. These eight steps include moral precepts and the disciplining of the body and breath that serve to move us away from all unnecessary distractions and toward our own inner truth.
In an Iyengar Yoga class, we traditionally chant at the beginning of class — not as a religious ritual, but as a remembrance of the long line of yogis before us, teachers and sages that handed down the teachings so we have the opportunity to practice today.
So why not yoga? Make any excuse you please — but then, give it a try!
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2012, issue