What’s so scary about Yoga?
Debunking common misconceptions and reservations about practicing yoga.
By Matthew Ceurvorst
Yoga draws people in for a myriad of reasons: perhaps it was a doctor’s recommendation, the testimony of a friend or family member, or just sheer curiosity. Regardless of the paths that have led to this point, most people encounter the same obstacle when starting a yoga practice — fear.
For those of us who have never been to a yoga studio, our minds are brimming with spectacular fantasies of exotic mysticism. Images of angelic human-pretzels flowing effortlessly through a combination of dance and contortionism fill our imaginations. These expectations — coupled with the media’s projection of spandex-clad perfection — are enough to dissuade anyone from beginning a consistent yoga practice. First, we must ask ourselves: What is Yoga, and why should we practice?
The first thing you may notice when entering the doors of Asheville Yoga Center is the large piece of wooden farm equipment proudly displayed on our wall, a yoke. Why is there an antiquated piece of farm equipment hanging in a yoga studio? It is an homage to the true meaning of the word yoga. Yoke and Yoga are derived from the same Sanskrit root, yuj, meaning “to join” or “union”. We can allow this definition to guide our understanding of yoga, as it applies on many levels: the union of the mind and body, the breath and movement, experience with the present moment. Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh delineated possibly the most useful definition: “[Yoga is] the integration and harmonization of head, heart and hand.” Yoga is a system of practices aimed at cultivating wellbeing and harmony in our lives.
Using this understanding as a foundation, let’s address some of the most common fears about starting a yoga practice.
Fear #1 — I’ve never done Yoga before.
That’s where yoga instructors come in. They will guide you through the practice, step-by-step, breath-by-breath. Many instructors dedicate their lives to the study, practice and dissemination of Yoga, so for them there’s scarcely something more rewarding than introducing a beginner to the practice. AYC offers 37 beginner-friendly classes every week, and those are great places to start. More often than not, you’ll find that you’re not the only newbie on the mat.
Fear #2 — I’m out of shape, too old, or have past injuries.
Unlike a gym where it’s all too easy to drift aimlessly from station to station and risk injury, every yoga class is led by an experienced, well-practiced and certified instructor. These instructors are trained to offer variations and adjustments for every posture to adapt to each individual’s unique abilities. Instructors put time and care into ensuring a pleasant and safe experience for all students, so rest easy and know that you are in good hands. Before the beginning of each class, please let your instructor know about any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions.
Fear #3 — It conflicts with my beliefs, I don’t want any spiritual fluff.
Yoga is not a system of beliefs, but rather a set of practices aimed at cultivating well-being and enhancing communion with any belief system.
In fact, certain practices like yoga and meditation are some of the most wide-spread empirically supported systems of wellness and stress-reduction. Using a combination of postures (asanas), breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditative techniques, yoga promotes overall health and well-being in several ways:
- Yoga helps to balance, tone, and increase flexibility, creating an upright and effortless posture.
- Regular practice yields improved circulation, deep relaxation and enhanced sense of well-being.
- Yoga helps with the regulation of blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health.
- Yoga may help alleviate stress-related mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety.
Fear #4 — I’m afraid of being judged.
You can leave your shoes, cellphone and worries at home. Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, pioneer of prenatal yoga, eloquently and succinctly puts this fear to rest, reminding us that, “yoga is not about self-improvement, it’s about self-acceptance.”
Interested in overcoming your fears and starting your yoga practice? Try starting with our Intro Series Four Week Workshop lead by Carole Synder beginning on October 30, 2017. Click here for more details & to register!