Why do people do yoga?
As a yoga teacher I’m often asked: ”So why do you do yoga?” or sometimes in a more challenging way: ”Tell me, why should I do yoga?”
In my experience as a yoga teacher more than 90% of people who come to yoga do so for physical exercise, improved health, increased flexibility or stress management. But for most people, their primary reason for doing yoga will change over the months or years, sometimes even just over a few weeks. Many studies and reports have found that 75% of yoga students have a change of heart regarding why they practice yoga: most often changing to self-actualization, a sense of fulfilling their potential or simply feeling happier. It is clear that the practice of yoga offers far more than physical postures and improved flexibility: there is self-reflection, the practice of kindness and compassion, and continued growth and awareness of yourself and others. Often a deep connection to your own spirituality.
Of course the health benefits are very real: yoga can and will increase your flexibility, improve your balance, help you to get rid of pains and aches. Many recent medical studies have showed that yoga can decrease and help to control high blood pressure, ease heart problems, help to recover faster from operations, help to lose weight. There is a vast body of research on how yoga improves health concerns including chronic pain, fatigue, obesity, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and much more.
But the truth is that the practice of yoga is not just about changing the body, becoming physically healthier or even about gaining greater joy or happiness. If it were, it would not be much more than a zumba or spinning class at the local gym. Yoga aims towards a bigger change. In a culture in which we rush from one day to the next, constantly trying to change our health, body, or emotions, or to plan the future, yoga opens up the possibility of connecting to what we already have, to who we already are.
But I’m not trying to say that yoga practice is about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. No, it’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of yoga practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are.
So, why do I practice yoga then? The answer is always complex and changing, but for me it usually is also very simple: Because I want to be present. Because I want to be present not just on my mat but also to myself and the people and the world around me.