Yoga for Real People
Is this "real people" yoga? Maybe for some...
After a few years of largely ignoring yoga, I've returned to the mat. I was really hesitant to do so, but I'm very happy I did.
The backstory: I had been practicing yoga on a fairly regular basis (once or twice a week) since the 90's. It was a part of my exercise regimen along with rock climbing and chronic cardio. When I embarked on my self-care odyssey back in 2010, ignoring the slowly surfacing manifestations of my actual organic disease but well-meaningly trying to find what worked to lower my stress levels, yoga was one of my mainstay activities. But after my brain surgery and recovery, I found strength training. Yoga fell by the wayside as I became addicted to the physical and mental gains in strength and confidence that I experienced with weight lifting. On the rare occasion that I did go to a yoga class or pop in a DVD, I struggled to maintain balance in single-leg poses and barely controlled chaturangas without doing a belly flop onto the floor.
For many people, physical activity is an essential ingredient in their black bags for self-care. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Pravin Kothari, who had been suffering from stress-related digestion problems, recently wrote in Forbes.com about how adopting a daily yoga practice saved his health and his business. Because of its marriage of movement with mindfulness, yoga seems to be an ideal activity. A recent article from the Yoga Journal about "getting back on the mat" after a hiatus summed it up well:
"There are different postures and sequences and styles that can accommodate all ages and stages of life. And the combination of breath and movement, along with guiding our ambitious minds toward nonstriving, creates a magical alchemy that few other physical endeavors can."Guiding our ambitious minds toward nonstriving... what an excellent phrase! I'm not particularly flexible, and I would not ever consider myself to be "good" at yoga, but that (according to everyone) shouldn't be the point of yoga. And yet, I still catch myself looking around the room and comparing myself to others. Is my leg as extended as that girl's? Does my belly fat stick out during this pose? An article from Whole9 called Yoga for the Type-A explores the internal tensions of doing yoga when you're a driven, goal-oriented person. I'll bet a lot of us can relate! And that's exactly why it's such a good thing to try.
So how can we fit yoga into our busy lives, in the midst of work, other fitness or personal activities, family and home responsibilities that make up our Realms of Balance? Again, think of nonstriving... but do show up. Find a yoga style that works for you and a practice length that fits in your schedule. You don't have to sweat through the 90-minute steaming-hot class, mat to mat with 50 dread-locked devotees in order to reap benefits! There are many styles that run the spectrum from simple meditation and breathing to athletic, flowing poses. This article by Jen Keck of Beauty Lies in Strength does a good job outlining the many different types of yoga (in addition to reiterating why you can't ever really be "good at yoga"!).
Many local libraries lend yoga DVDs, and there are tons available for purchase (usually under $20) with detailed reviews on Amazon. When perusing, start with the "most highly rated" picks and work from there, identifying ones that fit the length of time you want to practice; here is the link to the Amazon Listmania yoga DVD page. Classes are often offered at universities and community colleges, in addition to standard gyms like 24-hour fitness. The DVD route obviously offers the most flexibility for working schedules. And for a really cheap alternative where you can preview the practices without even leaving your couch, turn to YouTube. It has a plethora of yoga videos lasting anywhere from 10 minutes to 90 minutes. I especially like the Yoga Journal To Go and Yoga Download. Check them out!
Me? About 4-5 days/week, I have personally been mixing it up with the following: hour-long vinyasa-style classes at my gym on weekends or days off, carefully chosen 30-60 minute DVD routines, or short YouTube videos when I'm pressed for time. I noticed a difference in my physical balance, flexibility, and temperment within a few days of starting this! Some days I am not very motivated to practice, but on those days if I just do a short video or self-guided sequence of my favorite poses, I feel SO MUCH BETTER. Happier. Calmer. It has helped me to stay present in this time of "nonstriving" toward other goals.
Do you use yoga in your self-care or exercise regimen? Good luck finding your perfect practice, and namaste.