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November 13, 2015

It is no secret that yoga is wonderful for physical, mental, and emotional well-being. But yoga can be daunting, for various reasons, for many potential yogis. What’s funny about this, is that the reasons people list for not attending yoga, are often similar – or exactly the same reasons why dedicated practitioners come back to their mat day after day.

And just like those new to yoga, seasoned practitioners sometimes feel disheartened, uncomfortable, or out-of-place in yoga classes. The difference is that committed yogis investigate and sit with these experiences rather than fleeing from them. Yogis recognize that transformation and transcendence do not feel comfortable or familiar, rather they can feel downright scary. But yoga teaches us to have courage to take the journey anyway, no matter how daunting it may seem from the starting line (or the middle of the race, for that matter). It all comes down to perspective, and the desire and ability to shift our thinking to how something can benefit us, rather than debilitate us. Here are some of the most common excuses people have for skipping out on yoga, and how devout yogis reframe these excuses to fuel their practice.

Excuse #1: “I’m not flexible, so I can’t do yoga.” When those with limited flexibility see Instagram photos of yogis folded like origami, they often erase yoga off their bucket list; They feel there would be no place for them in a room full of double-jointed acrobats. Truth is, there are tons of people in yoga rooms, teachers included, across the world who can’t touch their toes in a forward fold or do the splits. And it’s totally okay! Yoga helps us to work on our flexibility and just because we don’t look like some of the super flexible social media stars, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t partake in the practice as well. Remember, it’s all a practice.

Yogi’s perspective: “I’m not flexible, so I do yoga.” Many experienced yogis weren’t flexible when the started out either but through disciplined practice they became more flexible. Granted, most people will not achieve the strength and flexibility of the models that grace the pages of yoga calendars, but superficial goals like dropping into full splits or sticking a handstand are not the point of yoga. Theasana practice (physical practice) is simply meant to cultivate the flexibility and strength needed to sit comfortably in meditation. Seek out teachers who give modifications to support a variety of flexibility levels, or even express your concern to your teacher before or after class and ask her for modifications you can use.

Excuse #2: “Yoga is slow-paced, and I need to keep moving.” No matter how fit they are, many new yogis cannot bear how long they have to hold yoga poses in classical hatha and restorative classes. Doing an aerobics class or going for a run feel more familiar next to the hectic pace of their lifestyles.

Yogi’s perspective: “Yoga is slow-paced, and I need that to re-center.” When we live our lives constantly rushing and multi-tasking, the stillness of a yoga class feels disorienting. But slowing down isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, many people would argue that we need to do it more often. Like the clear surface of an undisturbed lake, the equanimity of the practice offers us a mirror that reflects back the frenzied nature of our daily lives. It allows us to reflect upon our lives, our emotions and really get a feel for ourselves and our bodies. From this place of clarity we can start to reset and perhaps even adopt a more conscious lifestyle, where we’re slowing things down off our mat, as well as on it.

Excuse #3: “Yoga is boring, so I avoid it.” Consider how quickly someone picks up their smartphone when their dinner date steps away from the table to use the restroom. It is no secret that humans hate to be bored, and many find the peaceful, serene quality of yoga boring. It can be really challenging for us to “shut off” sometimes, and come to a place, like our mat, where we are free from (most) distractions – or at least working to tame those distractions.

Yogi’s perspective: “Yoga is boring, so I practice it to explore that boredom.” There is more going on in each moment than any human could possibly attend to all at once. If someone is bored in yoga (or in any moment anywhere, for that matter), it is not because there is not enough stimulation, it is because they have checked out. Our lives are so full of text message alerts, widescreen TVs, and social media newsfeeds that we are addicted to constantly being fed loud, flashy entertainment. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a movie or checking Facebook, but nonstop distraction blocks conscious choices, present moment awareness, and self-discovery. The moments of calm and stillness in yoga give us opportunities to recognize how distanced we have become and to check back in with ourselves, and find out what we really need.

Excuse #4: “I’m not looking for a new religion, so I’m not interested in yoga.” Yoga is a spiritual practice, which may turn off people who are committed to a religion or who are decidedly nonreligious. But you don’t have to change or leave behind your current beliefs in exchange of a yoga practice.

Yogi’s perspective: “I’m not looking for a new religion, so I’m interested in yoga.” Many teachers coin yoga as “spiritual, not religious.” The concept of God that classical yogic texts refer to may be interpreted as the specific God or gods in a practitioner’s religion, or simply as natural order. Whatever our religious or nonreligious leanings, yoga helps us explore our places in the universe and to connect with our purposes. If you are new to yoga, shop around different styles, teachings and teachers, and find what resonates with you. You may find that a power flow class is more suitable for your liking, than a Kundalini practice.

Excuse #5: “I feel out-of-place at yoga studios, so I don’t do yoga.” Some yoga studios can have such a cohesive community that it intimidates newcomers. On the other hand, there are some studios that lack the diversity and welcoming feeling new students are looking for.

Yogi’s perspective: “I feel out-of-place at yoga studios, so I have found my own practice.” With yoga’s growing popularity, it seems like there are yoga studios popping up on every other street corner. Yoga is offered at gyms, at recreation centers, on mountain tops, in art galleries, and even online. Part of the practice of self-discovery is finding the teachers and venues that resonate most with us. Whether you’re a brand new student, or an experienced yogi looking for a new studio or teacher, take a few tours of studios near you and see if any of them have the welcoming feel you’re looking for. Keep seeking and eventually you will find yourkula (community). This is your practice, so you may find that you need to take some time away from the studio and set up a space at home to roll out your mat everyday. This can be a good place for new yogis to start too, to overcome any initial daunting fears surrounding the practice.