Why are so many people doing yoga these days? There must be more to it than endorphins; there has to be a deeper reason why 20 million plus Americans have fallen in love with this venerable practice. Here is my top ten list -- and if you're a yogi, I'm sure you can think of more.
1. Yoga quiets the mind. Sure, thoughts creep in and out during a yoga class, but often, I emerge from yoga with the realization that the problems and concerns that were weighing me down when I went in have at least temporarily lifted. Of course, one reason this happens is because my worries are displaced with thoughts about getting my foot behind my neck (or some other impossible thing), but that's not the only cause. In restorative classes especially, there is permission and encouragement to let go of worry; some of us really need to be reminded that it's OK to chill.
2. Yoga helps us connect with our inner voice. Although we're encouraged to let thoughts go, we're also, perhaps paradoxically, encouraged to tune into our inner voice and intuition in yoga class. Creativity often springs from silence and stillness; it's hard to hear your inner voice when cell phones, text messages, car horns, televisions and other distractions are drowning it out. In an age when so much of our time is spent looking and listening outside of ourselves, yoga gives us a chance to go within. Yoga class is like a mini retreat for the soul.
3. Yoga makes your body look and feel good. Unless you are attempting poses that are too advanced for your level and might cause harm, yoga just feels damn good, sometimes waking up parts of the body that we often forget about (like the backs of the thighs, for instance, or the sacrum!). Stretching, twisting, inverting, rolling... so many yoga poses (again, if you are gentle, mindful, and respectful of your needs and capabilities) just feel awesome.
4. Nice folks. Yes, there are some nasty yogis out there, but for the most part, the people I've met at yoga have been super sweet. A tenet of yoga is ahimsa, (non harming), so it's quite likely that people are not going to be out to get you at yoga class (again, there are always exceptions, and one drawback of ahimsa is that the yoga teacher may be unwilling to squash an unwanted visiting insect -- more likely, he/she will gently remove or ignore it).
5. Yoga provides a venue for being uncool. Certainly, there are studios where everyone dresses to the nines (in yoga gear, of course), but there are also some centers and gyms where t-shirts and sweats or whatever you're most comfortable in are completely acceptable (seek and ye shall find). I practice and teach Kundalini yoga, a tradition in which most practitioners wear white, but if a student comes in wearing purple, no one blinks. In Kundalini yoga, we actually practice most of the time with our eyes closed, which reinforces the idea that yoga accepts you for who you are and that your practice is not about anyone else.
6. Lessons learned on the yoga mat begin to seep into life off the mat. And, before you know it, you begin to feel like a kinder, gentler, more compassionate person. I've seen some dramatic changes in those who practice yoga regularly (including myself). Snarky, crude, wise-ass, disrespectful or uncaring thoughts and/or actions just don't seem to have the same appeal once you've been practicing for a while.
7. Yoga gives us an excuse to be kind to ourselves. Yoga is self-care, and most of us need it. An hour or so of yoga class (or personal home practice) isn't a huge investment in time or money (though financially, it can add up once you become hooked). Still, a class is a lot cheaper than a cruise or a night out in Manhattan.
8. Yoga reminds us that it's more than OK to be spiritual. Like a walk in the woods or watching a sunset, yoga has a mysterious way of connecting us to something larger and deeper... call it God, the Divine, Spirit or whatever you please.
9. Yoga isn't always, but can be, lots of fun. There are so many styles of yoga that you're sure to find one that you truly enjoy -- whether you're someone who loves chanting and mantra, challenging poses, sweating profusely, relaxing restorative classes, Om-ing on paddle boards or even on horses! There is a virtual smorgasbord of yoga paths from which to choose, so it's no surprise that so many people are finding and falling for the yoga of their dreams.
10. Speaking of dreams, Savasana: Heaven. Need I say more? Well, just in case you haven't experienced it, I will. Savasana (or Shavasana) is that quiet time at the end of class when you rest on your back and let everything go. Sometimes in silence, sometimes with gentle music, sometimes with a gong or singing bowls. Candles, peace, serenity... pure bliss. Just the thought of Savasana makes me want to stand on my head and yell, "Hot, warm or snowga, I love yoga!"