If you think you're not the yoga type, think again. Just about anyone can do it, and it's not about bending yourself into a pretzel.
For men and women of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, yoga builds strength and balance. It's also a great way to ease stress.
"In a gym, you're really pushing yourself to go further when you're working out. In yoga, it's the opposite. The poses encourage all the range of motion that the body is designed to do," says Megan Dunne Krouse, a yoga instructor in Chicago.
Doing Yoga When You're Overweight
When Megan Garcia signed up for yoga at Smith College, she felt intimidated because she was the only overweight person in the class. She stuck with it, though, and noticed she started gaining strength, plus feeling and sleeping better, too.
Now she is a plus-sized model and Kripalu-certified yoga instructor who teaches in New York and specializes in teaching yoga to people of all shapes and sizes.
Garcia found that yoga changed her in unexpected ways.
"Before I started doing yoga, I really lived life from the neck up," she says. "After yoga, I began to really feel at home in my skin. If I didn't have yoga, I can't imagine feeling so good in my body. Yoga has made it comfortable for me to sit on the floor, to twist, to bend. It grounds me in my body."
RaeAnn Banker, who owns River Yoga in Lahaska, PA, started taking yoga classes on her 42nd birthday as a present to herself.
"I was overweight, and since my mother was morbidly obese, I knew I better do something or I was going to end up just like her," Banker says.
"It took several months of driving by the yoga center before I got up the courage to go in. But once I started, I loved the classes. I was the weakest student in the class, but I kept going," Banker says. "I ended up losing 35 pounds over the next 2 years and becoming a yoga teacher. Yoga literally changed my life."
Yoga With Paralysis
Matthew Sanford, who has been paralyzed from the chest down since a car accident at age 13, says yoga has helped him "live more vibrantly."
"I was hooked right away," says Sanford, who is now a yoga instructor in Minnetonka, Minn., and the author of Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence.
Sanford recalls his first yoga class: "I got out of my wheelchair and took my legs wide into a V. It was really, really emotional. Tears were coming down my face. I didn't understand how I could feel so much."
Sanford knows some people may question why he tried it. "The answer is it's your birthright. And that's true, whether you're disabled or not," he says.
"Yoga doesn't discriminate," he says. "Yoga will make you feel good. Yoga, at its root, is about bringing more awareness to action and to movement. The more you get in your body, the more connected you are to the world."
Tips for Trying Yoga
Check with your doctor before starting yoga or any new exercise program. And keep these pointers in mind:
- Choose a style of yogathat suits you. Not all yoga classes are alike. Some are more vigorous than others; others may emphasize meditation.
- Find a teacher you like. Classes that are billed as "intro" or "beginner" can attract a wide range of skill levels. You can sign up for a private one-on-one session customized to your needs.
- Go at your own pace. You can modify yoga poses using blocks, straps, and other tools so that you don't overstretch. Ask your instructor for help and for modifications that suit your needs.
- Listen to your body. If you're forcing yourself into a position that's painful, that's a signal to stop.
- Don't compare yourself to others. It's not about being as flexible as everyone else -- or as the people you see in yoga magazines who have been practicing for years. And always remember, there's room for you, too.