Is Yoga Good for You? By: Nicole Souther
Is yoga good for you? Maybe. This is a post for folks newly entering the world of “Yoga.” Yoga classes can be confusing for newbies since it’s not clear if one is at boot camp, gymnastics, a church, a spa, or a photo shoot. Initial experiences can range from “That was great!” to “That almost killed me!” and everything in between. While there are promises of better health and well-being coming from marketing, friends, and the medical community, there is more that one should know before beginning a yoga practice. Below are some common questions and comments that are addressed to help new students navigate this landscape.
“What is Yoga?”
Yoga in its ultimate sense implies Divine union. Esoteric traditions teach that the divine can be experienced by an individual, and there are many practices to help a person achieve this goal.
“Do I have to believe in spirituality to attend a Yoga class?”
No. For now, it’s enough to view a physical practice as a means to cultivate discipline, a deeper relationship with one’s being, and awareness.
“I thought Yoga was supposed to be easy, but that class was very difficult!”
Why did you think it would be easy? Plenty of yogis could give any iron man a run for their money. Postures generate physical conditioning through weight-bearing exercises, expanding one’s range of motion and stamina through the holding and repetition of postures. As a person develops their practice, breathwork, and concentration will also strengthen.
“That class was boring! We did nothing but lay around and breathe!”
Some classes are not based on loads of movement but are held in stillness and led from an intuitive and deeper space. Movements and positions offered may be softer and performed without mentally and physically motoring through the asana (postures).
“Will I get in better shape from doing Yoga?”
Perhaps. Yoga will generally result in increased flexibility. Endurance and weight-bearing movements are taught in some classes, which can also lead to increased strength. A mind-body practice, like Yoga, often results in greater movement intelligence that can carry over into other exercises and movements outside of a class.
“Will Yoga Make Me Calmer? Will Yoga Relieve My Stress?”
An asana class consists of deliberate movement and posturing with increasing levels of Consciousness. Any practice devoted to increasing concentration and developing awareness will result in less reactivity. Yoga won’t take your problems away, but it may help you respond to them instead of reacting to them. One of the joys of moving the body is that its intelligence operates outside of a controlling mind. This allows an individual to experience different layers of themselves and perhaps a sense of freedom.
“What class should I choose?”
When starting out, it’s a bit confusing to figure out where one should be. Over time, a person will gravitate towards the right class, and a person’s practice and physical needs will evolve over time. Read the class descriptions and if you find a class where you’re learning, stay a while and learn. A relationship between a student and teacher is very important, so if a teacher resonates with you, you are lucky.
In the meantime, here are a few pointers to get started.
If you’re in good health and want to explore yoga as a physical practice, start with a beginner's series. It may be slow and not physically challenging, but it will familiarize you with the basic terminology and poses that most classes are based on. It’s worthwhile and can save you time (and maybe difficulty) in the long run.
If you’re recovering from an injury, a class labeled as ‘gentle’ or ‘restorative’ is a good fit.
If you have intense exercise workouts and would like a yoga practice for recovery days, yin, gentle, and restorative are good options.
If you want to be physically challenged in a yoga class and are used to lots of movement, flow, and power classes will accommodate you.
If you want to take time exploring complex Asanas, alignment-based and hatha-style classes usually accommodate this objective.
If the spiritual nature of the practice is calling you, explore classes using words like energy, chakras, solstice, healing, meditation, etc. Descriptions of these classes will be different than the ones that are physically focused. (A 20-minute practice of stillness is recommended as well.)
Check out our schedule to find a class that is right for you.
“Why did my doctor recommend yoga to me?”
Not sure, but my best guess would be one of the following:
1. The doctor thinks you are stressed out and that yoga will facilitate stress reduction.
2. You are recovering from an injury and a slow-paced, methodical movement class will promote healing.
3. Something in your functional movement capacity, such as balance, is lacking.
4. You are experiencing chronic tension, tightness, and somatic pain.
“Will Yoga fix these issues?”
Yoga offers movement in a controlled environment, with minimal distractions, and places emphasis on concentration and focused movement. This is preferred for individuals who have been experiencing any of the issues above, rather than exercises that are more chaotic and high impact.
A yoga practice increases a person’s movement intelligence and capacity. Performing an activity without distraction and with increasing focus and awareness can have a healing and stress-relieving effect on an individual.
“Is Yoga superior to other forms of physical exercise?”
No, there are plenty of health benefits from a plethora of movement exercises. A mind-body practice, such as yoga, can be a great addition to one’s exercise routine.
“How Long Until I See Results?”
While many people start practicing Yoga with a fitness and/or health-related benefit in mind, ultimately, the movement practice unfolds and the original goal becomes irrelevant. Speaking from a fitness perspective, a sustainable practice of any exercise is preferable to diving over a cliff in extremes. Results vary among people and can be immediate or take a long time. Long-term practitioners rarely see the results as they’re happening, but looking back, can realize how far they’ve come.
“What is Authentic Yoga?”
A person’s experience with a Yoga practice is authentic to them, even if it doesn’t make sense to someone else. Also, asanas (postures) are not set in stone and people should be encouraged to explore moving through them on their own. A teaching is a means to pass along knowledge and is meant to be used for continued growth. While there’s a strong case to be made about protecting the integrity of Yoga teaching, this can deteriorate into a dogmatic approach to a practice. One of the joys of moving the body is that it operates outside of a controlling mind. This allows a person to experience different layers of themselves and may give one a sense of freedom.
“Why are there so many types of Yoga classes?”
There are many traditions, trainings, and lineages in Yoga. Also, an instructor’s own experience with their yoga practice, and the students that are in attendance, will influence the class.
Variability is a good, good thing.
“I’m in love with my instructor!” This will pass.
“I hate my instructor!” This will pass too.
“Is the instructor crazy?” Doubt it, and does that matter?
“Why is the instructor touching me?”
Physical assists and tactile cueing were much more common in yoga classes prior to the “Me Too” movement and the COVID pandemic. Touching gives direct guidance that is more efficient than the instructor going into a lengthy description about ‘what’ to do, having the student process what’s being said, and then executing the directions. Touch is also a healing modality. If you don’t want to be touched, just tell the instructor.
“Why am I crying, angry, laughing, and/or frustrated during the class?”
Yoga can get emotional and it can take a person off guard. Focused movement brings attention to the body. Long-held tension and pain can be released during practice, often expressed through tears or laughter.
Asanas (postures) also position people at end ranges of motion and in spatially new orientations. As the nervous system processes these new movements, it’s common to feel frustration, fear, and anger. Also, aspects of the practice will allow a person to feel vulnerable, which is difficult for many to experience.
“Will I get injured in Yoga?”
It’s certainly possible, but it’s not the end of the world if it happens. Injuries are common in any movement. However, yoga encourages a person to listen to their body and move intelligently, which can either prevent injuries during practice or facilitate a speedier recovery if an injury occurs.
“Is Yoga good for You?”
Back to the original question, and the answer is still maybe. There are numerous cited benefits of committing to a Yoga practice. Even if you’re brand new to a practice, you’ve heard them. There are many cited benefits from other practices too. It depends on what resonates with an individual. Any practice that helps one understand themselves and learn how to focus will contribute to an overall sense of well-being. Because it’s easier to relate to the physical landscape than diving into the internal landscape, a physical practice can add clarity and facilitate a connection to one’s own inner wisdom.