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It’s trending. Everywhere on social media. It’s been there for more than 5,000 years and it’s still ageless because it always finds new ways to appeal to the masses in every new era. It offers practical solutions to everyday problems of not just the young, hale and hearty, but also those with “seemingly perpetual” health problems. Yes, our good ol’ yoga is for everyone. Were you thinking otherwise?
Don’t worry if you too think that yoga isn’t for you because you’re not alone. Despite statistics suggesting that there are at least 300 million people around the world practicing yoga today, there are enough numbers to validate a trend in the opposite direction.
There are many who think that “yoga is for those who have lots of time at hand”. There are some who feel that they can’t do yoga now because they’ve “lost body flexibility with age”. And then there are those who believe that they haven’t arrived at the “right age to do yoga”.
Here’s a fun fact: yoga can be done by anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80 years old! You’re a born yogi. So why should this fact change as you grow older? Makes sense? Okay, coming back to whether yoga is for everyone or not; let’s first look at why some people doubt whether or not they can do yoga.
Yoga Isn’t For Me Because…
I come across so many people who have different answers (obviously justifiable to them) to this question. Here are some common ones:
I have put on so much weight post pregnancy. I feel I’ve lost my body flexibility and can’t manage to do difficult asanas - Mother of 2 kids, 35 years old
I’m at work all day, leaving early morning and returning late night. Where’s the time to do yoga? - Businessman, 40 years old
My arthritis pain kills me. I can’t even walk around much. I’ve crossed the age to do yoga - Elderly woman, 65 years old
What’s common in all these situations? At the outset, it seems as though all of the people above do intend to try yoga perhaps, but the idea of pursuing a ‘difficult’ practice is holding them back. That’s where the problem lies.
These respondents, like numerous others we might come across in everyday life, fail to comprehend and embrace yoga as anything beyond ‘asanas’. And because for them yoga is limited to body postures (most of which are inevitably difficult), they end up completely shoving aside the idea. They aren’t able to even bring themselves to the idea of attempting yoga practice, sadly.
Sadly, because they don’t know that yoga is much more than just asanas. They therefore unknowingly lose out on some precious benefits of this ageless science.
So, What is Yoga Then?
Now you’re talking! Yoga is like that gift box which contains an assortment of items. When you open the box, there’s going to be something in it for you; something that might appease you instantly!
So what does the yoga gift box contain?
Yogasanas or body postures - set of physical exercises which you already identify as yoga. Quick fact: They’re only a small part of yoga, a wide, all-encompassing science that dates back to thousands of years.
Pranayama or breathing technique (Prana meaning breath and Yama meaning control) where breath can be regulated through specific techniques to cleanse the body and mind of unwanted stuff.
Meditation - the simple act of doing nothing! Yes, you read that right. It’s one activity where you aren’t required to do anything; a welcome break of few minutes from bustling activity during the day. Its benefits - unimaginable and far-reaching.
There are other things too that yoga comprises; however, I find these three the most useful and easily applicable in the everyday life of any person. So now let’s see how yoga makes sense for everyone.
Yoga: Your Partner at Every Stage of Life
When we’re younger, we feel that we’re too busy in our studies or work to do yoga. And when we get old, we tend to think that we’ve crossed the age; that we should have done yoga when we were younger. Let’s stop thinking and get on to doing yoga!
And the best part: yoga starts as early as when we’re all babies. Babies are natural yogis. Observe them carefully and you’d know. When they turn 2 or 3 years old, you can actually start directing their abundant energy towards creative channels through regular yoga practice.
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Stage 1: Yoga for Toddlers
You can make your 2-year-old practice some simple yoga postures at home. If they seem reluctant, try reintroducing the idea perhaps a year later. My toddler loves doing the following with me every morning:
Shirshasana or Head Stand - It’s every child’s favorite. No matter how many times you tell them not to do it immediately after eating food, they just wouldn’t listen simply because they love it! Why stop them? Make them do this every morning like a routine for a few minutes. It helps improve focus, pumps blood flow to the eyes and head, and also strengthens shoulder and arm muscles.
Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose - Another most-loved yogasana for kids, they’d actually go a step further and even hiss like a cobra at you! A great exercise to strengthen their back and neck muscles.
Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Dog Pose - My kid loves to become like a mountain and then look at me from under that mountain, saying hi! each time. It’s fun to do and works great at improving blood circulation.
Stage 2: Yoga for Children (5-12 years)
Your child’s fast growing and so is its storehouse of energy. Thanks to the lockdown, kids find it extremely difficult to sit at home; they either feel bored or destructive, not knowing where and how to spend their excessive energies.
Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation - I do this every morning with my elder one. We try and coordinate the steps in the asana, chant mantras together and the whole routine’s fun. Surya Namaskar has some excellent benefits for kids - from channelizing their energy in creative and productive directions to improving their focus and concentration levels.
Nadi Shodhan Pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing - Kids from the age of 5 years can start with gentle breathing exercises such as Nadi Shodhan (Nadi means channel of energy and Shodhan implies purification). You can guide your little one on how to do the technique with each nostril, taking turns and keeping counts. The technique helps improve attention and is also excellent at calming down excessively restless children.
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Stage 3: Yoga for Teens
This is the most difficult stage for both them and their parents. Yoga can help smooth out the phase, relieving teenagers of undue stress they carry in their minds over peer pressure, studies, desire to excel, and even relationships (with parents, friends, or a loved one).
There’s a strong need to calm them down, to let them get enough rest and deep sleep. For, rest is what will help rejuvenate their energy channels and also help them stop and think where they wish to head in life. Relaxing yogasanas such as Yoga Nidra and Savasana can play a great role here.
Yoga can be done by anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80! You’re a born yogi. So why should this fact change as you grow older?
Stage 4: Yoga for Adults
As we get busier with lives, we actually live less and run more. Perhaps this is why most people prefer working out at gyms where they can continue running just as they do throughout the day. Besides, gym workouts also present complex challenges which some people fail to find in yoga postures.
But there’s one very important thing overlooked here. Amid all the running around and pleasing others throughout the day, at work or at home, there’s a dire need to slow down and touch base with the real you. Something we call “me time” and strongly crave for in today’s times. Pranayama and meditation allow just that.
Yoga for Women: Fueling the Superwoman in You
It’s no news that the woman of today, rather since always, has been perceived as a superwoman. And when she becomes a mom, the title gets promoted to Supermom. This title doesn’t come without a load of duties and expectations though. It’s only natural for us women to get stressed, bogged down, even indulge in self-pity for the lives we lead every single day (more so in the current lockdown).
Let’s see how and where yoga can help us women:
10 minutes of Surya Namaskar everyday - It charges you up with such energy that you’d be able to work all day and yet not feel tired even at night. Try it ladies. I do this magical asana for just 10 minutes every morning and feel supercharged to take on the long day at work (as a stay-at-home-mom
If you’re a working woman, even then doing it for 10 minutes in the morning before leaving for work seems doable. More so when you know that the practice is only going to add more energy and efficiency to the rest of your day.
Most important, Surya Namaskar is a complete body workout, meaning that even if done as a standalone practice, it works wonders. Increased productivity, improved efficiency, clarity in thought and action, and a cheerful state of mind are just some of the benefits which you can experience within just about a month of regular practice.
Do it for a year and you’d see even far-reaching results - weight loss, for one. Not to forget, improved immunity and better flexibility (both of the mind and body). Now, for women who feel their bodies aren’t as flexible anymore, perhaps post delivery, can start with other gentle asanas and gradually move on to experiencing the benefits of Surya Namaskar. Here are some which I started doing when I resumed yogasana practice a year after childbirth -
Cat Stretch and Dog Stretch - They’re amazing at relieving lower back pain (a common complaint after pregnancy). Whenever I’d feel tired or experience back pain after a long day, I’d do both of these asanas for a few minutes. They’re very relaxing and work at pain-relief too.
Butterfly Pose - This can be done sitting down and is an excellent exercise to tone down thigh muscles and improve flexibility in the thigh and leg area.
Standing Forward Bend - Another simple and effective workout for the whole body. A few rounds of this helps give a full stretch head to toe and also increases flexibility.
Besides the asanas, meditation is a very effective tool for women, who’re mostly stressed out through the day because they have too much to accomplish in just 24 hours, both at work and at home. So much so that they just wish for a few minutes of “me time” away from the whole world.
Meditation gives you that “me time” - an opportunity to touch base with your inner self and then come out to face the world with a completely fresh perspective. You feel relaxed, happy, deeply rested; not to forget, energized and more efficient too. Don’t just believe me. Try it for yourself. It’s not difficult to take time out for it either.
Just 10 minutes in the morning and perhaps 10 more in the afternoon, say before lunch. If you’re at home, great; if you’re in office, you can do it at your desk (if comfortable) or a quiet corner somewhere where you’re likely to be undisturbed for some time. It’s like that coffee break you take from work. You feel refreshed and recharged.
Pranayama, another amazing practice for women with health benefits ranging from better immunity to providing a solution to acne, PCOS and other fertility-related issues. The simple reason being Pranayama works at detoxification of the body and mind. And when the mind and body are cleared of all the unnecessary stuff, they start living happier and healthier, respectively.
Yoga for Men: Simple Mantra for Success
So men complain of no time for yoga. I say, do yoga and ‘add’ time to your day. Seriously! Say, Surya Namaskar, for example. Ten minutes of body workout in the day with ample benefits for the body and mind - it’d make you super productive and efficient at work. And when you finish your tasks more efficiently in lesser time, what do you get? A reward at work as well as enough time to spend back home with family - a reward priceless.
Stage 5: Yoga for the Elderly
Yoga for Seniors is now gaining popularity, perhaps more in the West. Back home, we still find our moms and dads not showing enough confidence in their aging bodies to do yogasanas. But what about their mind? When they retire, their free mind becomes a devil’s workshop, more often than not. I feel in the old age, the greater responsibility lies in taking care of your mind, even more than your body, because the latter would fall in place automatically when the former does.
Nobody’s asking seniors to do yogasanas if they can’t or don’t wish to. Try something else. Nadi Shodhan, for instance, can be practiced sitting comfortably on a chair (if sitting cross-legged on the floor becomes another excuse to not do yoga). A few minutes of “conscious breathing” and the mind is free of unwanted garbage, which really isn’t needed at this golden time of your life - your “me time” that you’ve worked hard all your life to rightfully earn and enjoy.
Then there are other Pranayama techniques that can help regulate, even improve symptoms of lifelong health problems such as hypertension and diabetes (of course in addition to medication). Weight loss may follow suit, almost automatically, with regular pranayama practice. Meditation is one of the most loving partners you can find. Why look for love outside when you can find abundant love deep within your own self? Just close your eyes and get started.
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So you see, yoga is really for everyone. It’s all about accepting this ancient and timeless practice in its totality. Of course, like any other form of exercise or workout, the benefits of yoga wouldn’t show overnight. Remember, the technique may vary, so may your choice of practice (asanas, pranayama, or meditation - whatever you’re most comfortable with). But, regular practice and slow but steady efforts will surely pay off.
I have been practicing yoga for over 10 years now and I can vouch for the life-changing benefits it’s brought to me. What I love even more about it is that it’s practical, simple, takes very less time in the day, and can be done any time of the day. What better occasion to get on board a beautiful journey than today, the International Yoga Day!
Disclaimer: This post is based on my personal experience of practicing yoga for 11 years as well as my observations of regular yoga practitioners in different age groups. If you’re just starting out with yoga, I strongly recommend learning from a trained and experienced yoga teacher. In the current lockdown, you can easily sign up for online yoga courses for beginners.
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