If someone were to ask me, "why do yoga?" My deepest answer would be "because it's essential." It's like asking "why water?" or "why food?" But that may seem a bit lofty and elusive, especially for new practitioners or those just considering walking into a studio for the first time.
So let's bring things down to earth. In the spirit of addressing some common misconceptions and providing guidance on what to expect as far as challenges and benefits, here are the top five answers for the question, "why yoga?"
Because it will make your body strong, flexible and balanced. Yes, all three of these! Contrary to the popular belief that yoga only enhances flexibility, it actually increases total body strength just as much. It balances the combination of these qualities, stereotypically increasing strength for women and flexibility for men, but with exceptions, of course. Beyond evening the balance of muscle and melt, it also improves balance itself, allowing for greater steadiness, grace and control whether on one leg, hands or head.
Because it will help you address your fears and weaknesses. Similar to above, practicing yoga illuminates areas in need of attention. It's impossible to ignore a tight hamstring in hanumanasana or a busy, bouncing mind in savasana. The things we need to work on will rise to the serface with yoga. As an instructor, one of the most rewarding moments in teaching is seeing these barriers break down. It's inspiring to see the person terrified of going upside-down for years finally enter the first headstand! The elation of leaving limitations behind is one of yoga's greatest benefits.
Because it will highlight your natural attributes, confidence and power. On the flipside, yoga will allow for movements of exuberance in doing things that come naturally. Whether it's graceful movement in a flow sequence or super strong arms and shoulders in plank pose, these internal encouragements go a long way, reminding us to follow our bliss and enjoy the ease of doing what we do well.
Because it's a really fun social activity (especially in our awesome Village community). For many of us, meeting on our mats is an integral part of our social lives. We want to be around other yogis! the growing numbers of yoga friends and yoga coulpes proves that people who practice togehter often happily stay together. There's a connection that binds us as we move, breathe and meditate in close proximity. Thsi leads us off our mats after class to socialize and enjoy time with like-minded people.
Because it will likely lead you to a meditation or mindfulness practice. Most of us started wit a physical (asana) practice but this often leads to something much more powerful - the unseen world of spirit. For example, as we close an asana class in savasana and padmasana, glimpses of spirit can appear and guide us to seek more. The physical practice leads as a gateway to a seated or stillness practice.
Once a person has experienced the union of mind, body and breath in yoga, it becomes clear that this is not a form of exercise, but a way of life. We no longer need to ask "why oga" because the answers are clear. The practice keeps us health, sane and connected to the present moment, fine-tunes our awareness and intuitive abilities, and reminds us that a pure sweetness of being exists in the inner world, regardless of what's happening in our outer circumstances.
Samantha Lang is an avid yoga practitioner and instructor in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. Samangha was trained by world-renowned ashtanga yoga master Dave Oliver and Sanskrit scholar Cheryl Hall. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Yoga Poetry, and currently teaches Flow/Power Yoga for the Village at DC Ranch Village Health Club & Spa. Samantha holds a BA in English from Fordham University and an MFA in Creative Writing from American University.