You've decided it's time for a change. You want to get healthy and fit - but for real this time. Or you're tired of the same old routines (or the faddish new ones) without getting the results you want. Your favorite local gym or fitness center is a great place to start and they likely have a ton of group classes and activities to choose from. You could hit the weights, try a Zumba class, go for a swim, and even go shoot some hoops. All of these activities will get you closer to your fitness goals, but who has the time to do all of them? If your time is limited - and whose isn't? - where can you get the best bang for your buck? Which activity will bring about the greatest change - a change you can be proud of?
I've been in a gym in one way, shape, or form for 20 years now. I've swam, ran, lifted, pedaled, punched, kicked, pulled, jumped, danced, and stretched - all in the name of becoming more fit and healthy. After giving all of these activities a legit try, I've put my chips on yoga as the most effective, efficient, and holistic means to developing and maintaining my physical and mental fitness. And here's why - 5 of 10 reasons why: (You'll find the other 5 in PART II):
1. It’s Accessible and Customizable. Yoga is for humans of any age, shape, size, and ability. Bodyweight and breath are the main components, so if you have a body and it’s alive, you already have everything you need. If you don’t feel that yoga is for you, it is likely you just haven’t found a style or teacher that resounds with you. If this is where you’re at, keep looking. There are many styles and fusions - from the more traditional to the wild and wacky. You owe it to your health, your peace, and the peace of your family, friends, and colleagues to explore a bit more until you find something that resounds with you. Sometimes the timing isn’t right. It took me months before I had heard about how yoga could help me before I finally came around to giving it a try. If this is you, file this information away in your browser bookmarks or brain and check out what yoga can do for you in your time – when you’re ready.
2. It’s Minimalistic and Non-Materialistic. I personally LOVE this aspect of yoga. We live in a culture of materialism where tangible products are pitched as the answer to our every problem. There are those preying on our vulnerable sense of body image as a way to sell us gimmicky health or fitness products, supplements, or fad diets – as if the only way to be healthy is to buy something - and a tangible product no less?! To practice yoga, you won’t need a barbell, a Total Gym, a Thigh Master, a Shake Weight, an iPod, or a FitBit – you won’t even need shoes. All you'll need is a body (CHECK), your breath (CHECK), and the force of gravity (CHECK). In my line of work, I’m often approached by "fitness" companies who want me to promote their latest supplement, product, system, etc; but as a principle, I don’t sell or promote tangible products. Health is not a matter of materialism – it truly is a case of MIND OVER MATTER. In yoga, we work only with what you already have: breath, movement, and stillness – that’s it! Admittedly, it does help to have about an hour of free time, about 20 square feet of space, and a knowledgeable guide;)
"Health is not a matter of materialism – it truly is a case of MIND OVER MATTER. In yoga, we work only with what you already have: breath, movement, and stillness – that’s it!"
3. It’s Been Demonstrated as Effective by Scientific Research. In recent decades, more and more people have become distrustful of modern medicine and are turning to other therapies to find healing. This growing skepticism for the white lab coat has come about by many factors including (1) the exorbitant cost of treating diseases as opposed to preventing them - and treating the part instead of the whole, (2) the unscrupulous tactics of the pharmaceutical industry, their lobbies, their commercials, and their sales forces to maximize profits by creating patient dependence via repeat business, and monopolizing market share, (3) the growing belief that “natural” is better, (4) because celebrities have been known to endorse alternative therapies, and (5) alternative medicine practitioners are often times charismatic, convincing, and charming. Yoga is one of many complementary and alternative therapies – a group including homeopathy, chiropracty, acupuncture, reiki, faith healing, crystal healing, among many others. While traditional western medicine has relied heavily on modern scientific research methods to demonstrate its effectiveness, studies supporting many if not most of the alternative therapies are sparse. The studies we do have are mostly small and often poorly designed. So how do we know which alternative therapies work and which are snake oil? Though yoga research is still in its infancy, what has been demonstrated thus far is that it is effective for many afflictions facing modern humans over and above, dogmatic conjectures, anecdotal stories, and placebo effects.
4. It’s BOTH Communal AND Individualistic. Yoga can be done in Times Square with hundreds of other yogis, or it can be practiced alone on your bedroom floor - or in a secluded mountain cave for that matter. Some thrive on the community aspect of yoga and get a real boost from the energy other yogis put forth in their poses. Others prefer the solitude, silence, isolation, and inner connection they get when practicing by themselves. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Communally, others nearby may be a distraction or a motivation in your practice. Individually, it may be easier to relax in your own safe space, but a lack of motivation or an uncertainty about what exactly to do, and in what sequence, may be obstacles to getting the most out of your practice time. My advice: try both. Take a class that is right for you and give a home practice a try when you feel you're ready.
"You can’t win yoga! The goal of yoga is to be healthy - and health is always a moving target. With each pose and breath the aim is to bring your body - with its unique genetic predisposition, its traumatic history, and its daily fluctuations - ever closer to its most perfect expression of health and symmetry."
5. It’s respectful of your body’s limitations and capabilities. Professional athletes have impressive physiques and their diets and training programs aid in producing amazing results on and off the field. However, playing football, basketball, or hockey, dancing ballet, competing in gymnastics and any other number of professional or world-class sporting activities can bring about more bodily harm than good in the long run. For proof of this, turn your television or radio to ESPN; it won’t be long until you hear the long injury report for the upcoming match or game. The main goal of each of these activities is not health, but rather peak performance leading to competitive or comparative success. Bodily health certainly helps athletes in finding success in their sport, but it’s a means to winning rather than the end goal in and of itself.
In yoga, the main goal is not to stand on your head or to be thin. It’s not to get a deeper backbend than the person practicing next to you in class. You can’t win yoga! The goal of yoga is to be healthy - and health is always a moving target. With each pose and breath the aim is to bring your body - with its unique genetic predisposition, its traumatic history, and its daily fluctuations - ever closer to its most perfect expression of health and symmetry. As for exploring your bodies capabilities with yoga, the sky's the limit. There will never be a time when you'll run out of poses to work on, breathing exercises to try, or meditation techniques to explore. Yoga is a deep, deep ocean to swim in, and as your body ages and changes, so will your practice. No matter where you start or end up on your yoga journey, they'll always be plenty of yoga to do in the vast (and safe) space between your limitations and your capabilities.
For 5 MORE REASONS to use yoga during your fitness time, click HERE.