This is a good place to start. If you're reading this, you're probably already a little curious about this thing called yoga. So what is it, exactly, and why is it good for me and my kid?
We'll start with a little history. Yoga has been around for a very, very long time, and there have been many incarnations of the ancient practice. There are some differing ideas about when exactly yoga came to be, but most historians agree that it originated in the Indus Valley Civilization in ancient India about five thousand years ago.
Yoga is a complex system, and it is important to understand that the physical practice of yoga as we know it is just one of eight limbs of yoga. It was never intended to be the physical “workout” that it has come to be in our western culture, but rather as a way to prepare the body for deep meditation. When I explain this to children, I tell them that yoga is “a way to get your wiggles out before you rest.”
The word “yoga” means “to yoke,” or unite. By practicing yoga, the body, mind and spirit are united, bringing us into a more centered, or grounded space. We feel good when we do it. People have known this for years and years, but why? There is finally scientific evidence to back up these claims, and yoga is becoming more and more popular every day. (To geek out on some scientific evidence, click here!)
Yoga has become extremely popular in the US in recent years. If you ask me, this is due to the increasingly frantic pace of our modern culture. We are always on the go, we're bombarded by sensory input and distractions, and we're always striving for more, more, more. We're juggling responsibilities and commitments and struggling to keep up with our ever-expanding social circles. We get pulled in so many different directions, and we become depleted, stressed out, and on edge. Because of the stressful nature of our lives, people are now paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to go on yoga retreats. It’s become a booming business! But at it’s essence, yoga does not require any special clothing or materials. If you can breathe, you can do yoga.
Because adults are more stressed out nowadays in general, that stress is being projected onto the young people in our lives. A three year-old may not know what the word “stress” means, but he can most certainly feel it. Put on your shoes! Brush your teeth! We’re going to be late! Hurry, hurry, hurry! We’ve all heard these words come out of our mouths. We are constantly in a rush, on the go, and children are so deeply affected by these intrusions to their wandering, wondering minds. In school, their leisure time is cut short in favor of more instruction. More test prep. More content, less play. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids anymore! Is it any surprise there is a rise in ADD, ADHD and other behavioral disorders? Sure, I am generalizing here. But it's really no secret that our culture is more stressed and more rushed these days. And don’t even get me started on the food industry and what processed food is doing to our children...
Back to the question, "What is Yoga?" A good way to define what it is, is to discuss what it is not. First off, yoga is NOT a religion. You do not have to subscribe to any particular beliefs in order to start a yoga practice. There is certainly a spiritual aspect to the practice, but you can take it or leave it. Another misconception about yoga is that it's all backbends and headstands and twisting your body into crazy positions. Lots of folks think “I’m not flexible, so I can’t do yoga.” No! That is most certainly NOT the case.
Yoga is for EVERY BODY. Every size. Every shape. Every ability. The beauty of yoga is that it can be so individualized. It meets you where you’re at. It can be done sitting at a desk, in a car, even while in bed. It can be done in a wheelchair or in the grass, in a school gymnasium or on the football field. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. It’s as simple as that. You don’t even have to move your body at all to practice yoga. (Pssst - it's called Restorative Yoga and it's basically just laying around on blankets and pillows and it is so. wonderful.)
You don’t have to be a dreadlocked hippie, a vegan or a monk to practice yoga.
You don’t need to pay for expensive yoga classes or apparel to be a yogi. You can do yoga in your sweatpants. You can do yoga while you walk your dog. Seriously! Yoga is a way of life. It is a way of being. By practicing yoga over time, your brain starts to work differently. You view the world around you in a whole new way. You form a sense of connectivity to everything around you. You understand that at the essence, we are all one.
Yoga is pretty great, you guys. Give it a try at one of our Family Yoga classes and let us know what you think!