I just watched a short video clip on Facebook, where they were interviewing Bryan Kest who is a well-known and very popular yoga instructor in southern California. One of the things that he said was, "if you can breathe, you can practice yoga". I've heard this many times before and thought it would make for a good blog post.
So, let me repeat that: If you can breathe, you can practice yoga. A lot of people that have never practiced, may think that they could never do yoga because they aren't flexible. I can't even count how many times I've heard people say that. The thing about yoga, is this: you would think that yoga is about being flexible if you only saw the show off pics of some advanced yogis. The only thing that those pretzel pictures really tell you are that they have been practicing alot for a very, very long time. Trust me, yoga is very slow medicine and it takes decades of daily practice to get into the really advanced postures.
Yoga is not about achieving the weird poses. (That's just the fun part!) Yoga is a much larger system, of which the poses are only one piece. All in all, the poses are intended to keep the body and mind fit.
Every yoga posture can be adapted to fit all levels of fitness and all body types. In my classes, you will typically hear at least two or three variations for the majority of the poses held in class. This is not meant to confuse people, or to make you decide that you need to compete for the toughest variation with your neighbor. It's meant to accommodate everyone in attendance and make everyone feel comfortable in the pose.
Yoga balances out the body on many different levels. A well designed yoga practice will activate nearly every muscle in your body, front and back, left and right, top and bottom. The poses are held isometrically while the breath is controlled and counted. The breath work has a somewhat meditative component to it which begins to literally balance out the hemispheres of the brain. When you hold the pose, practice even deep breathing and focus your attention on nothing but your present moment experience, it is called "mindful awareness". When this happens over a period of time, the actual structure of the brain changes and you are strengthening the areas of the brain responsible for our relationships, our emotional life, and our physiological response to stress. This is what people are referring to when they say things like "mind, body, and spirit".
I went to a yoga class last night, where the instructor was referring to a quite famous teacher who said, "people like yoga, because it tastes good." I love this. It's totally true. Once people get over the hesitation and excuses, and try it out a few times, they realize how great they feel after the class.