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The myths and benefits of yoga

Free yoga class for Veterans at the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Free yoga class for Veterans at the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

“I'm not flexible enough for yoga.” “I'm too old or injured.”

I often hear people say similar things since I became a yoga instructor. Even though a growing number of people are interested in discovering more about the practice of yoga, many remain hesitant to make that journey into the unknown.

Yoga consists of using physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation to achieve greater self-awareness about your own body, habits, and the world we share. Over the last thirty years, there is an abundance of evidence-based research supporting the many health benefits of yoga.

People are intrigued, albeit may lack the confidence to leave their comfort zone and explore the possibilities. Admittedly, it can be uncomfortable to walk into a yoga class for the first time not knowing what to expect. There are different types of yoga and different levels of classes, which makes the choice even more daunting. While staying in our comfort zone may be easier, easy is not always better.

I teach a free yoga class for Veterans every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s Main Auditorium. Walk-ins are welcome and no appointment is needed. Come join us!

Let's face it, without change there is no personal growth. It is my goal to provide insight through raised awareness about the benefits of yoga by dispelling some of the myths associated with the practice.

Myth #1: Yoga practice is a competition

When leading a class, I always express the fact that yoga practice is not a competition like the performing arts or sports. That is not to say that competitive people do not come to yoga classes, they do. Yet, practicing yoga is a personal means of striving toward a healthier lifestyle.

The good news is yoga is readily accessible to most people. A regular yoga practice provides people with the requisite skills and tools needed for healthy aging. While some folks prefer to avoid thinking about aging, the fact remains, aging is an inevitable part of the human condition, and therefore something we can all relate to.

We are the same in many ways, and our common humanity should bring us together. Yet, our competitive natures seem only to separate us further. This can create paranoia, anxiety, and depression as we constantly compare ourselves to one another.

A regular yoga practice cultivates qualities such as trust, kindness, compassion, and gratitude in a world that could use more understanding and tolerance. Benefits include stress reduction, improved balance, flexibility, and increased strength and agility.

Myth #2: To practice yoga you must be able to contort your body into the “perfect” pose

In yoga, the goal is to show up on your mat without any expectations and then be open to the possibilities of what you can accomplish with effort. Let your body and your progress unfold naturally as you gradually become more self-aware and confident in your abilities. Like anything worth doing, it takes effort and practice to find your balance in tree pose or even to relax into Shavasana at the end of a class.

While we share many of the same qualities that make us human, our body structures vary greatly. So, what works for one person may not work for another. And that's okay. There are days on the mat when my balance is terrific, and other days, not so much.

Yoga is a balance between effort and letting go of those things that no longer serve you including excess worry, sadness, and chronic stress over things that cannot be changed or controlled.

A yoga class represents a community of individuals coming together to support one another in their personal efforts to move toward self-improvement. The yoga classroom is designed as a safe environment where suggestions are made. While it is good to challenge ourselves, poses should not hurt. Safety first! Honor your body and come out of any pose if you feel any pain, burning or tingling sensations or numbness. This is self-awareness. We are not competing.

Yoga itself is not judgmental, and there is no such thing as the perfect pose. The practice and the yoga community support our ability to strive toward improving our health and well-being through breathing practices, meditation, and body movements designed to improve strength, flexibility, balance and focus, all of which are important throughout the aging process.

Yoga is a personal practice of exploration and discovery, so come join us at our free Veteran yoga classes every Wednesday. I can’t wait to see you there!

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