"I like the stretching, but not all the spiritual stuff."

Even though statements like that make me cringe…. or at least sigh, I must admit that I came to yoga for the stretch.  Well, originally I tried it to help with a stressful work situation (late 90’s).  However, my efforts weren’t consistent and only lasted as long as the situation took to resolve.  When I came back to yoga in January 2006, it was for the stretch.  

I had been experiencing moderate to severe leg and foot pain for about a month.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was my first experience with muscle spasticity.  I had received a bookstore gift certificate for Christmas and while looking to spend it, I happened past the yoga DVDs.  Maybe a routine of stretching would help?  I bought two that looked doable.  

They were a little tougher than I expected.  Then again, I was overweight and the pain in my legs had reduced my activity. Still, I instantly fell in love with both DVDs.  To this day I recommend Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss from Gaiam to beginning students.  There is nothing about it that will cause weight loss — unless you count the research that says a consistent yoga practice can change the way you view your eating habits. But its flexibility is perfect for beginners.  The same routine is done at 4 levels of ability. And there are no Down Dogs to be done (a challenging pose for many beginners).  I began doing the videos a few times a week and then trying other videos ON DEMAND.  Yoga didn’t always soothe the pain, but something was changing.  

As my interest grew I bought a couple of books and the occasional copy of Yoga Journal.  Through YJ‘s “Wisdom” columns and the books’ discussions of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, I began to understand that yoga was more than stretching.  As I focused on my breath while moving through Sun Salutations or the sensation in my spine during twists, the chatter in my mind began to slow.  As I breathed into and out of places of resistance in my body, I also began to experience loosening and healing in the tight and wounded places of my heart.  It was this adding of mindfulness — staying present and focused on what was happening with compassion and non-judgment— that moved my practice from one just for the body to one for my mind and soul.

Yes, yoga provides a great stretch.  Faster moving classes like Ashtanga and Power Yoga can provide a great cardio workout.  But if you are open to it, yoga can take you beyond this vessel of muscle and bone.  It can bring you home to the Self you never met during a childhood of abuse.  It can teach you to work with your pain or illness rather than against it.  Most importantly, it can bring you closer to whatever it is that nourishes, sustains and inspires your soul.  

In my experience, if the only reason you are doing yoga is for the stretch, you are missing out on the best parts.

Namaste.

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