I admit I’m a list maker. Though usually my lists consist of tasks I need to complete, I have on occasion listed the pros/cons of a particular decision that needed to be made. In that spirit, I thought I’d include a list in this post of some of the pros and cons of starting a yoga practice. This is not an all-inclusive list, and there may be some people who believe that what I’ve put under “pros” should be under “cons” and vice versa.
Pros of starting a yoga practice:
- Flexibility-Here in the West, we tend to have a tighter muscles because sit in chairs more than we move. This creates stiffness, lack of range of motion, and chronic pain.
- Strength-By moving the body, muscles are naturally strengthened. Many poses develop muscle, and mind, strength by design and as a by-product.
- Balance-Having balance becomes important in later years. Slipping on ice or falling on steps often leads to injuries from which people may not recover. Improving balance in poses on the mat helps physical balance, and mental acceptance, off the mat.
- De-stress-Our bodies are great vessels in which the frustrations, annoyances, and pain of living are stored. By moving the body, tensions are released, worries are forgotten or put aside or considered differently.
- Happiness-The purpose behind the physical postures in yoga is so that the restless body could sit still while the mind was in meditation. Accepting how the body moves in the poses can lead to letting go of agendas, which allows happiness to rise to the surface more often. Watching the thoughts in the mind and responding rather than reacting also leads to more happiness as we do and say things that we might regret less often. Releasing habits that don’t serve us can uncover more happiness. (This could be its own list!)
- Lose weight-Our bodies were meant to move, not sit idly for hours each day. This idleness instead of motion, coupled with the problems in our food supply, has led to obesity and the issues that stem from that. Attending regular yoga classes, even gentle or basics, helps the body to get rid of excesses, whether that’s toxins or weight, and helps us to accept how we are today.
- Sleep better-Once our physical bodies have let go of stuff that can make it sick, it’s more agreeable to relax in rest than to keep us up with aches. The same is true for the mind. As we begin to alter our perspective on the world, our mind will rest and we can get the sleep we need.
- Get in touch with the physical body-Many people, if they’re not into sports or haven’t been since their teen years, have trouble with proprioception, where their body is in space. If asked to step back with their left foot, some must think on it for a few seconds before responding. Some may not know where aches are coming from, but that they “don’t feel well”. Moving through postures improves one’s proprioception and increases the intimacy with which we know our physical selves.
- Become aware of habits-On the mat, our instructors will ask us to perform physical feats while paying attention to our breath and our thoughts. We watch when criticisms come up, when we’re competing with the person next to us, when we’re annoyed or angry or judgmental. This allows us, if we choose, to recognize when other habits keep us from the happiness human beings seem to constantly pursue. Maybe eating a box of Oreos every night is keeping us from wearing our favorite clothes, so perhaps we should look at changing how many Oreos we eat and if eating them every night is necessary, or getting in the way of us wearing our favorite clothes.
- Less angst-As one continues to practice yoga, and the postures become more comfortable, then the thoughts are looked at with more regularity. Once we see what the thoughts are as we practice on the mat, we begin to see them off the mat in our lives. We watch as we lose our cool in traffic or waiting in line or the child screaming at the next table. We may decide that if we accept what is in that moment, then we can let go of the angst. When we’re not holding on to the frustrations, happiness is there.
- More acceptance-Deciding that we like a particular instructor, for whatever reason, we take in what they suggest about breathing and our postures and their suggestions for practicing off the mat. We decide that instead of battling ourselves about touching our toes, if we accept that, for today and this moment, our toes are literally out of reach, then the battle ends. Acceptance doesn’t mean throwing in the towel and never doing anything. But instead, it gives us the opportunity to release those feelings that keep us from happiness. This is harder to do sometimes than others, and sometimes we can’t accept, and that’s okay. Can we accept that we can’t accept?
- More kindness-When we accept that things are how they are in that moment, and that in the next moment things could change, then we can allow ourselves some compassion. For many, it is easier to give compassion to others than ourselves. By allowing others to be how they are, we judge less. With less judgement, there’s room for love and compassion, and kindness.
- Tools for artful living-Yoga offers us ways to interact with ourselves and the world that lessen our misery. Emotions and feelings will still be there. Pain will still happen. But how we choose to deal with those circumstances can change so we spend less time in the pits of despair, grief, anger, etc., and return to our true nature.
The cons of a yoga practice:
- Buy new clothes-Sweat pants and a ratty T-shirt work for a while, but eventually, comfortable, stretchy pants and shirts snug enough to not cover our faces in down dog, but loose enough that we’re not distracted by how we look to others, begin to find their place in our closets and drawers.
- Vegetarianism/Veganism-With more compassion for ourselves and other human beings, we extend that awareness to animals, plants, and the earth. As we pay more attention to our habits, we might change them to reflect a different, perhaps new, perspective on the world around us, which includes what we eat.
- May become an activist-Tied to the previous possible con of a yoga practice, some may decide to participate in organizations that save the whales, the trees, domestic farm animals, etc. This could lead to a change in career, friends, even where one lives.
- Achievers may still achieve-The core of who we are, our personality, won’t likely change if we begin practicing yoga. For some, that’s a relief! For others, it will be a disappointment. People who strive to accomplish things will still strive, but their focus may shift, which will affect other aspects of their lives.
- Start giving advice-It’s common that when practitioners notice how they feel after a steady diet of yoga, that they want to recruit others. Trying to convince someone to go to yoga, or responding to a friend’s upset with, “Yoga invites us to…” is not uncommon. This could lead to a change in friendships.
- Relationships change-Hanging out more often at the yoga studio instead of other places allows for new relationships to form with like-minded people. This will sometimes lead to letting go of other relationships and perhaps habits that are no longer in line with the yoga student.
So, there you have it, some pros and cons to starting a yoga practice. Not everyone will experience these, and some will experience other pros and cons. While I was involved in yoga teacher training, I wrote some poems about the experience. You can read a couple of them from Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Volume I on my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com
What are some pros and cons you’ve discovered with your yoga practice?