I utilize yoga everyday with many of my clients and classes. It is a wonderful way way to teach/practice balance and body positioning, as well as, stability and flexibility through breathing, plus strength and endurance from postures (how long can we hold chair pose?) Its fun to incorporate it along side normal stretching routines, too. Everyone who knows me can probably do upward facing dog, downward facing dog, child, and pigeon. 😉
Many (maybe most) new yoga students in our American culture decide to try a class because they have heard about the physical conditioning and/or stress relieving benefits it can provide. We certainly want to make yoga accessible to everyone, so if “exercise” is what brings a new student in, that is a perfectly valid reason. However, it has been my experience as a yoga teacher that many of these same “exercisers” begin to develop their own interest in understanding more about yoga as a system, as they begin to realize deeper benefits than they ever imagined. They learn to connect with their breath, calm their thoughts, become more aware of their bodies, and sometimes even connect more deeply with their own spirituality. It is our responsibility as yoga teachers to meet our students where they are, not to push them in a direction they don’t want to go, and to show them that yoga is a deeply personal practice that they, themselves can guide in a direction that aligns with their own values.
I agree with Charla. As an aerobics instructor converted to yoga teacher, I understand how yoga taught in a gym and yoga practiced in a truly yoga setting are different, BUT the teachings are in the practice itself. Once someone embraces it, they will learn something about themselves and that is the essence. Although, doing a triangle pose here and a warrior pose there in between sets on the bench press isn’t necessarily doing yoga.
I think it’s okay to teach yoga as exercise in the beginning (to an intimidated client). I did that in the small, conservative town where I live. I called my first class “stretch and relax”. Once I gained the trust of my students, I began to spoon feed them yoga philosophy and concepts. Just like Charla said, “meet students where they are” so they can relate the teachings to their own lives. Now I have a group of dedicated “yogis” and they are mostly people who ….. you guessed it….thought “yoga isn’t for me”.
Yoga, like anything else, can be whatever the participant wants or needs it to be. Think of all the outraged yoga professionals a few years back when achieving a “yoga butt” was the most coveted benefit of the practice? I understand why some people were offended; but really, as long as the people were coming into the studios, who cares if they’re looking for the ultimate butt versus bliss and peace? Education is an ongoing process; it’ll happen when and for whom it’s supposed to.
Yoga can be what you want it to be. Yes I think it can be just exercise. I really do hope that in time though it becomes more than just exercise for everyone. Yoga is away for you to work out what you need to in your own way surrounded by positive energy. It is away to have a dialogue with your body, mind and spirit if you are willing to listen. I started my journey just thinking of it as exercise and little did I know it would change my life forever. I’d say be open to the journey because each time you step off the mat you step off a new self.