When Body & Seoul first opened, yoga classes were considered a must. Having practiced yoga on and off for ten years, I knew quite well the physical demands that positions like Downward Dog, Chaturanga, and Warrior required. I remember the initial mental challenges involved in trying to concentrate on the correct breathing and following instructions when all I could think of was breakfast, the laundry that I needed to do, and that spot on the wall. Why am I so sweaty? Why are they speaking in Sanskrit? The concept of the union of the body and the mind was entirely lost on me.
But having read about the supposed benefits of yoga, and knowing I wasn’t getting any other exercise at the time, I decided to give it a chance. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Besides making me stronger, more flexible, and more balanced, it provides relief for my chronic back pain while preventing injuries from all the other training I now do. It also helps to clear my mind and remain equanimous in challenging situations. Where before I got anxious or lost my temper, now I just breathe through it.
My appreciation for yoga admittedly didn’t happen overnight. It took several DVDs, the patience of various instructors, and a trip to a detox center in Bali (where there was nothing to do EXCEPT yoga) to really cement it for me. When I realized how much I had improved and that this was something I could do for the rest of my life and continue to see improvement, I decided to keep at it.
Now that I’m older and wiser (ha!), I’m realizing more and more the physical and mental benefits of yoga. It truly is the “journey” that you hear many yogis refer to it as. Again, it’s not something a lot of people realize immediately, especially skeptics. As yoga instructor Euny Lee puts it, “Many initially look to yoga for health reasons, fitness and/or stress relief and find that it’s powerfully effective in all areas. Gradually you discover that it unexpectedly metamorphoses into this expansive practice of evolution and transcendence.” If that’s too much yoga-speak for you, she also adds, “And it’s fun!”
As the owner of a studio, I’ve heard (and empathized with) every reason possible for not doing yoga. I see a little bit of the old yoga me in most hesitant newcomers. Some of the most common reasons are:
Reason #1: I’m not flexible (or strong, patient, graceful, supple) enough.
This is the perfect candidate! Nobody becomes better at something unless they actually take steps to improve it. Flexibility means stretching the muscles; there is no other way. It’s a common misconception that people who do yoga are born super bendy and can fold themselves into pretzel-like contortions. This is only true for the most advanced yogis. Many can barely touch their toes when they first start out, but regular classes will bring an improvement. It happens gradually, but it WILL happen. Marsha Taylor, co-owner of the restaurant Bào Stir-fry, who spends a lot of time on her feet in a high-stress environment, noticed a difference in only a couple of months. Citing improvements to her posture and flexibility, she’s also felt mental benefits which have transferred to her work and daily life.
Reason #2: It’s too slow, so I get really bored and my mind wanders.
This is probably the toughest part for most people, especially those who live active, busy lives. Sometimes we rush into a class after traveling halfway across the city on public transportation, usually after a stressful day at work. Understandably it’s hard to slow down our thoughts. We’re either thinking about what happened at work that day, what’s going on in our personal relationships, or what we’re going to do with the rest of the evening. One of the great things about yoga is that it focuses on your breathing, and makes you pay attention to what’s going on with your body at that moment. When you focus on those things rather than the past or future, you become more aware of the present, and time seems to almost stand still. This ability is highly meditative and healing. It helps you let go of tension, stress, and worries. If your mind wanders, just come back to your breathing. With practice, this gets easier. Yoga instructor Dawn Kang puts it this way: “A yoga practice gives us the training to shift our focus from the chatter in our monkey minds to a deeper awareness of experience which allows us to flow—that Bruce Lee state of being like water, where the right action comes effortlessly.” Sounds cool, right? Who wouldn’t want to be more like Bruce Lee?
Reason #3: Yoga is for girls!
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Did you know that yoga was originally created and practiced by men? History aside, yoga is a great complement to weightlifting, sports, and other traditionally “manly” activities. It cuts stubborn belly fat and creates a base for developing muscles by activating ignored areas of the body. “Yoga widens your range of motion and increases access to more muscle fibers, allowing for more substantial hypertrophy in any given muscle group,” says Kate Abate, a certified trainer and yoga teacher. That basically means that yoga allows you to have bigger muscles! Even if weightlifting isn’t your thing, yoga is great for providing relief from sore muscles after playing sport and allowing the body to protect itself from future injuries. Paul Thompson, MMA fighter and kickboxing coach, swears by it: “It’s great for helping me stretch my muscles. I like it because after my MMA training the stretching helps to alleviate the soreness in my body.”
Reason #4: I’m already in shape. I don’t need yoga.
Sometimes it’s the people who work out the most that need yoga the most. Especially if you lift heavy weights or play a sport that can be a bit rough on your body, yoga can reverse, and in some cases, even prevent damage, since flexible bodies and supple muscles are less prone to injury. “There’s nothing like yoga to alleviate back pain for me. It relaxes my back since it’s so tight from training, and I feel like yoga takes the damage of a workout away,” says Michael Ahn, professional MMA fighter and coach. When asked where he thinks his back pain originated from, he adds, “It’s definitely strain-related, from lifting, wrestling, and fighting, and yoga does the exact opposite for it. It stretches and relaxes it.” Yoga is also great for people who use a lot of repetitive motions, such as running. Runners will find relief from lower back pain, knee pain, tight hips and hamstrings, and any number of ailments caused by repeated stress on the body.
Wherever you decide to begin your yoga journey, we recommend taking some classes with an instructor present so they can correct your posture and alignment. DVDs or online classes may be convenient and cheap, but they cannot replace the personal instruction of a certified teacher. Doing the poses incorrectly not only cancels out the benefits you would receive, but could even cause injury. So be careful, enjoy yourself, and…BREATHE.
Body & Seoul offers regular Yoga, Yogilates and Pilates classes in addition to a range of martial arts.
Body & Seoul Website: http://www.seoulmartialarts.com/
Body & Seoul Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Body & Seoul Phone number: 02-749-2485
Drishti Yoga (Hongdae): http://www.yogadrishti.co.kr/about_e.php