Yoga….not interested?

I have heard it said: “yoga doesn’t interest me” and “yoga is a specialised practice” or “yoga is not really exercise” .  I totally respect that everyone has their own thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes and I would be the last person to take that away from anyone, what I am not sure of, and maybe you can help me out through your comments, is what people think yoga is when they make these sweeping statements and why they think it is not a practice for them. When I mention I am a yoga teacher the response most of the time is pretty much the same; people think it is for relaxing or a form of meditation, lots of people mutter “om” at me or strike a meditational expression. Now yoga can be both of these things, but it is also so much more.
Obviously the relaxation benefits and spiritual aspects of yoga are what most people seem to associate most readily with when we mention yoga, so if you are not interested in relaxation or spirituality, meditation and chanting, why should you try yoga?
Physical health & fitness
Yoga asana (postures) work on the whole body; massaging internal organs, releasing toxins,  increasing flexibility in muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints, strengthening and toning muscles, balancing the nervous system and improving circulation and blood pressure. The asana can be physically demanding and challenging, however they are adapted by the teacher to suit people of all ages and flexibility to make it a fitness practice that is available to everyone. If you are an active athlete in another sport, then the stretching and stamina building aspects of Yoga can help you become a better overall athlete, yoga can be a perfect complement to other sports and activities. Yoga’s holistic health benefits can help to prevent injuries, health conditions and disease and can also help to improve existing conditions.
Just one more thing about starting yoga classes in a physical sense here; the teacher and many of the other students have probably had a lot more practice than you if you are a beginner, they also have a totally different body than yours, don’t think that you can go to your first lesson and be able to do any of the postures with any sort of ease, grace or coordination! The teacher is demonstrating the final posture, and talking about how the breathing should be done, this is what you are working towards and how you should breathe when you have understood what the body is doing….not what you should be achieving now! Don’t approach this with a competitive or a self critical mind, don’t compare yourself to the teacher or anyone else in the room, patience and compassion towards your body is what is required when you practice yoga, this is your experience not the experience of the person stood next to you.
Mental health
Psychologists know that moderate exercise, such as yoga, is good for depression and anxiety. Yoga practice concentrates your mind on the physical sensations of the body and breathing which can work as a helpful tonic people suffering with anxious and obsessive behaviour. Yoga can be a distraction from worry and anxiety as it encourages your mind to focus on the body and the breathing; on your direct experience of the moment. Yoga is a very effective stress reduction and relaxation tool, the various postures require the tensing or stretching and then relaxing of muscle groups and joints, which produces relaxation in much the same way as a massage. Yoga practice draws your attention to the breath, which produces a meditative and soothing state of mind. Yoga also has a physical effect on the nervous system and can also reduce blood pressure. Yoga for stress reduction is generally cheaper than other professional treatments, free of side effects, and more empowering in comparison to medication alternatives and yoga can be used in conjunction with other treatments without any negative impact.
Pain relief & healing
Whether you are experiencing pains, aches or discomfort, yoga may be able to help. When yoga is combined with meditation, it has been shown to have therapeutic benefits for pain control for a variety of health conditions. The increased body awareness, concentration and balance that you develop through regular yoga practice can alter your perception and experience of pain and can also help you to change and release habits, posture, improve alignment and ways of moving to reduce the causes of your pain.
The increased flexibility and strength, the gentle nature of the exercises and increased self awareness that you get from a regular Yoga practice can help you heal old injuries and can even help you prevent new ones. Many people that suffer from pain caused by old injuries and have difficulty finding exercises that they can do comfortably find that Yoga is something they can do without pain or discomfort. 
It is important to tell your teacher what injuries you have or have had so they can adjust your practice to suit your individual needs and make sure you have a teacher who is competent and experienced enough to deal with your injuries.
Some other thoughts about trying yoga...
Try different styles of yoga and different teachers, one style does not suit all, many teachers offer a free trial lesson so it doesn’t have to cost you anything to get a taste of the different styles and teachers, and remember that one teacher may be dramatically different to another, even within the same style of yoga. However, when you find one that suits you, stick to it, there will be times when you think you want to stop or change teachers, this may be because you are close to an emotional or physical blockage and subconsciously you want to avoid it….persevere and you will reap the benefits. Having said that, if you continue to feel you have outgrown what your teacher can offer, move on!
Combine yoga with other sports or activities, if you feel you want or need other physical or mental activity; do it. Yoga is not exclusive, because you do yoga does not mean you cannot also do something else which satisfies your competitive nature or your desire for more aerobic sports or activities or external mental stimulation, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Many people comment that yoga is too slow, they cannot stay still, they get irritated because there is not enough going on, their mind wanders, etc.  Our modern lifestyles and perceptions often dictate that we “need to be doing something”, “need to be achieving”, “need to be active”, “need to be successful”, “need more”, “can’t just sit around doing nothing”….and if we are not doing something then we think “we are failing”, “something bad will happen”, “it is impossible  for me to be still”, “I have an active mind”, “I could be getting so much more done somewhere else”. Sound familiar? Stress, lack of self worth, peer pressure, mental health problems are becoming the norm in our modern societies, most of us not even aware we are suffering from these conditions and living in a state of “fight or flight”  response for the majority of our waking moments. 
Inability to be still and be quiet in our mind can be a symptom of something else, and practicing yoga or combining yoga with meditation can help to address the stress that we are being subjected to on a daily basis and to bring our nervous system, which deals with the physical reactions to stress, back into balance, thereby reducing the risk of stress related diseases and help our mind become more calm, focused and improve our ability to concentrate and learn and improve our memory too. And before you say it, no, I am not saying that because you don’t like yoga you must be mentally ill; I (most likely) don’t know you and have no right, no desire and no qualifications to make any form of judgement about you! All I am saying is ask yourself why you feel you cannot be still and be quiet, if you can give yourself an honest answer and it doesn’t involve stress or other emotional turmoil, then that is great, and what I am talking about does not apply to you, but if maybe there is a little bit of truth in what I am saying, why not try it, what is the worst that can happen if you allow yourself to be still for once?
So whether you like yoga or not, if you have any thoughts, feelings, arguments, etc, please comment, I really would love to hear about your reasons for not being interested in or not liking Yoga or how you used to dislike yoga and what changed your mind…..
Alex has been practising yoga & meditation for over 15 years and started teaching 5 years ago. She has recently launched Stress Management for a Modern World, an online mindfulness based stress management course. Alex is from the Isle of Wight, UK, and moved in 2010 to live in Ogliastra, Sardinia for a simpler and quieter life. You can find out more at her websites at: