Why Yoga is so much more than a workout
By Indira Das-Gupta
Whilst practising Yoga in Rishikesh, India last year I was scolded by the teacher:
"You Westerners all treat Yoga like a workout!"
Perhaps this is a sweeping generalisation. I myself do Yoga for many reasons. But the fact is that in the West we definitely have a tendency to focus on the physical side of Yoga above all else.
A someone who is passionate about getting more people to do Yoga, anything that encourages them to take that crucial first step has got to be a good thing in my book. If that means you book your first Hot Yoga class on the basis that your mate told you it will help you get "Michelle Obama upper arms" is that any less valid than booking a class because you want to learn how to meditate?
In the process of sculpting your arms you may discover many of the other benefits that Yoga has to offer and start exploring other teaching styles. Before you know it you might be coming several times a week and beginning a home meditation practice.
On the other hand, perhaps you will never delve in to the more spiritual side of Yoga and just approach each class in the same way you would if it was aerobics, as way to tone up and burn calories. You'll still release those feel good endorphins which are an antidote to stress and will sleep better too, as you would after any physical exercise.
If you go for the latter approach, that's completely your prerogative of course, but to do so would be a bit like going on holiday and never leaving your hotel. Yes sure you'll feel better than you would if you didn't do Yoga at all, but essentially you're just scraping the surface of what it has to offer.
In truth, I didn't really "get" Yoga until several years after I first discovered it. I used to get bored in savasana (relaxation at the end) and dismissed the more spiritual side of it as a "bit too out there". The biggest change for me was developing a daily practise at home and then some years after that, incorporating a daily meditation practice.
Before this point I had what most would describe as "anger management issues", I lost my temper frequently and excessively. I still do lose my temper occasionally but nothing like on the scale I did before. Yoga and meditation have made me so much calmer and patient Now I wonder how on earth I ever managed without Yoga. If I don't do it every day, I just don't feel as good. Here are just a few more of the improvements I have experienced because of Yoga:
I breathe better
I sleep better
I worry less
I deal with stress better
I eat better
I have greater self awareness
I look after myself more
When we feel better in both body and mind we are happier and basically just nicer to be around. When we are happy we want to spread the love, but when we don't feel good about ourselves we tend to begrudge other people's happiness.
So whether you come to Yoga to tone up or cultivate a greater sense of calm is up to you. But if you really want to reap the rewards then exploring all it has to offer could be one of the best decisions you ever make.
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