If you’re just beginning to get into a yoga practice, and you’re asking yourself, “Why is yoga so difficult?” – this one’s for you.
It’s difficult because it incorporates balance, flexibility, strength, patience, and a pinch of emotional release.
Contrary to what your cousin’s boyfriend’s uncle told you, yoga is hard. It’s even more difficult when you’re a beginner. We’ll break down the reasons why yoga is so challenging, so that you can get the inspiration you need to keep going. Because it’s worth it. Promise.
You may have already found yourself dropping a downward dog in some smelly yoga studio, cringing at the sweat beads dribbling down your face and into your eyes. Your hands and feet seem to be slipping farther and farther apart. The instructor tells you to take three deep breaths – which would be chill, if you could breathe. Instead, your heartbeat is racing after just 20 minutes, and you’re mouth-breathing – heavily.
But enough about me.
When we talk about how difficult yoga is, we’re usually talking about the physical practice of yoga, which is just one of eight limbs that make up the yoga philosophy. Today, we’ll talk mainly about the physical practice, the asana, but we’ll also mention breathwork, the pranayama.
Let’s get to it. Here are some reasons why yoga is so difficult.
You might be wanting to try yoga because your girlfriend does it religiously, and damn, do her arms look toned. Or maybe you want to try it because you’re trying to lose weight, and you think this is a great low-impact workout (which it is!). You could even want to try yoga because your sex life has run a little dry, and you’re looking for new ways to impress your partner in bed.
To put it plainly, these aren’t great reasons to start doing yoga.
Remember, yoga is a philosophy; it’s not a workout you can use to fit into a societal ideal, to lose weight, or to save your sex life. It’s a set of principles to live by – it’s coming home to yourself through movement. If your intention is focused on things like approval from others or Western beauty ideals, your practice will be tainted by that intention. You won’t receive the full benefits.
Now, don’t let shame creep up. Just because you started out wanting these things from yoga doesn’t mean you’re no longer deserving of the practice. That’s your shadow talking. You absolutely deserve to practice yoga. In fact, it is your right – because it’s healing, it’s infinitely generous, and it can change your life.
Instead of starting yoga because of your girlfriend’s arms, start it because you want to build strength and develop strong muscles that will protect your joints. Rather than trying to lose weight through yoga, can you use it to develop a healthier relationship with your body? Honoring it through movement rather than punishing it? Instead of putting the focus on your partner, can you put the focus on yourself and your pleasure?
Finding an intention that serves you first will do wonders for you in the beginning stages of your practice.
You’ve heard it a million times before, everyone mentions how they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible enough. Well, that is truly ass backwards. Sure, I also see Instagram yogis contorting their bodies to smithereens. It sure as shit doesn’t feel accessible when I see that. But you don’t start a yoga practice when you’re flexible, you start it regardless. The flexibility will come in time (sometimes never for certain body parts – that’s yoga, baby).
It’s because of this misconception that yoga seems so difficult right off the bat. You’re berating yourself for your inflexibility before you even make it to your yoga mat.
Grace is key, because the truth is – yoga challenges your flexibility like no other movement. You’re going to feel muscles you never knew you had. You’re going to feel sore for the first few weeks, years even! But in time, you’ll notice growth. You’ll notice progress. Soon, you’ll recognize the space you’ve created in your nooks and crannies. And it’ll be so rewarding.
Why is yoga difficult, you ask? Because it tests your strength, honey! If you’ve ever found yourself in a five-second static hold in chaturanga dandasana (a low tricep pushup), you’ll know – yoga tests your muscles something fierce. The practice combines a mixture of both dynamic and static movement with your bodyweight that is quite different from your normal routine at the gym.
Normally, fitness junkies work out their largest muscle groups for the most impact. With yoga, no muscle is left unused. Much like with flexibility, you’ll start to build strength in muscles you didn’t even know you had.
My favorite. I’ve had a few students leave my classes. Some were crying. Some were annoyed. And some were downright pissed at me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried through a yoga class. How many times I’ve released something from deep within my hips I had no idea I was holding. The times I was pissed off at my teacher. The times I had an epiphany that changed the way I move through life.
Yoga has a way of surfacing emotions, even ones you’ve buried inside yourself. For those who’ve built a wall between themselves and their emotions, yoga can be a difficult practice. It requires the practitioner to shed her layers, finding the gooey, soft center. And when you do, you might just find yourself in a puddle of vulnerability on your mat. But you get up. You come back. And you do it again.
I’m going to out myself here. Several years ago, when I first started my practice, I remember Googling, “When will I stop being a beginner at yoga?” I laugh and cringe at the thought of it. It was my ego talking. I was that typical beginner. The one who wanted so badly to take that next step, whether it be intermediate, advanced, or just good at it. I started taking classes with that goal in mind. To become better at the practice.
What I didn’t realize is that I stunted my growth for months because of it. Your thoughts can change your reality, even on a cellular level, and my intention was tainted with ego. So often we jump into something, hurrying our way through it so we can master it, while not realizing the journey is the destination.
Once I stopped holding myself to some stupid yoga standard, it became less difficult for me. I flowed with my body instead of fighting against it.
You might find yourself doing the same thing. Wishing for that next stage of your practice, rushing through the beginning. If that’s you, no shame. It’s totally fine. But now you know, and you’re empowered with the information to correct the course of your practice. What a blessing it is to be able to course correct without self-judgment!
The physical practice of yoga is a teacher. It helps us go inward so that we can learn about the depths of ourselves. Now, I know that sounds woo-hoo, but it’s true. Just vibe with me for a second. When we shift our perspective from “why is yoga so difficult?” to “what is yoga trying to teach me?”, we become a student of ourselves. We allow ourselves to look at things with curiosity, understanding, and discovery. It lets us explore the ways we feel throughout our practice without attaching self-judgment to it. In the end, this shift in perspective lets us enjoy the journey without obsessing over the destination of it all. It positions us to experience infinite lessons.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What would you like to add to this conversation? I’d love to hear your point of view in the comments!