How To Get Into Yoga and Stay Into It
I've heard it at least a hundred times. More. Every Jiu jitsu gym I visit I hear the same question: "How the hell are you so flexible?"
I was in two violent car crashes before I ever stepped foot in a Jiu jitsu gym.
Now I'm the most flexible and mobile person in the room.
I'm not the most flexible guy in the world.
(That's this guy.)
You want to know how to be more flexible, but you already know the answer: Yoga. You’ve already considered it. Imagining yourself doing it makes you cringe. You don’t know how to get into it. You tried it once and felt uncomfortable. You hate the idea. You do it occasionally and like it, but can’t seem to keep the habit of doing yoga.
My body is renewed from 30 years of reckless living by this one habit: I found yoga and became devoted to it.
So here it is, once and for all: How to get into yoga and stay into it, even if you don’t want to, and gain super-heroic flexibility.
It's ironic how people tend to overdevelop aspects of their life where they've suffered their greatest injuries.
How to get into Yoga (without it being weird)
Anything foreign is weird. The more familiar you become with something, the less weird it's going to seem. Anything that we fear, we simply don’t understand. If you want to like something, you have to give it a good looking into. When I found yoga I was a 20 years old devout Christian missionary. Yoga was not only foreign, it was taboo – Like worshipping a different God. But I just survived a wild car crash, and needed to do something for my legs and back. I downloaded Pocket Yoga on my iPhone 4. I didn’t step foot in a yoga class for a few more years, but I maintained a daily habit with my $20 mat and the Pocket Yoga app on my iPhone 4.
It was easy for me to get into yoga because I immediately saw it as a way to worship God. Any Christian missionary will recognize and appreciate the aspect of consecration in yoga: Breathing deeply when it’s hard, maintaining posture past your breaking point, and suffering with a smile to let God (the Universe, your deepest Self, etc.) know that you are grateful for life. Spiritual fruit ripens best through suffering. Yoga is something like self-alchemy through voluntary suffering.
YOU ARE THE GURU.
Find a way to do it by yourself as early as possible. You can learn from a class, youtube, or a mobile app. You are more likely to maintain a habit if you can do with minimal requirements.
Visit some local studios. Get a feel for different styles and teachers.
Find a youtube series you like (and stick to it.)
Pick a mobile app. I use this one because it’s simple and the teacher says nothing more than poses and breathing cues. There’s something very enlightening about that simple instruction, because if you get annoyed during practice, it’s on you and not the teacher.
Yoga is not a team sport. It’s an individual’s medicine for the body, mind, and spirit. You may practice in class with other humans, or you can learn by yourself wherever you are through video and literature, but my best advice for getting into yoga is this:
Find a way early to do it by yourself.
How to Stay into Yoga (without fizzling out)
TIP 2: Find your “thing” in yoga and become curious about it.
Nothing fuels habit like curiosity. You must scratch for deeper understanding if you want to keep from fizzling out. Find a thread of yoga that interests you and tug on it.
I found Kundalini yoga. It was perfect for me. I became obsessed with it and reaped the benefits right away.
Kundalini yoga saved my life three times:
Kundalini yoga helped me recover from depression.
Kundalini yoga helped fix my back after my second car accident.
Kundalini yoga helped me find God again.
I was lost in life, alone, depressed, broken and defeated. I put my life and faith on the line with God, and demanded answers Christianity hadn’t provided me. Months later I was nudged toward Kundalini yoga by a passerby on the street: A real-life angel.
Kundalini yoga helps me commune with God in a visceral way: By urging me past my noisy ego-mind using the power of breath. I used to sit for 45 minutes in contemplative prayer before feeling a divine moment. Now I can do 15 minutes of yoga and be in complete divine Stillness and harmony.
There are many branches of yoga to explore based on your own individual personality and interests. Something about the breathwork in Kundalini yoga gripped me by the shirt. It became me right away. For you it may be some other principle.
Find your thing. Let yourself become comfortable, familiar, and curious.
It is ironic how people tend to overdevelop the aspects of their life where they've suffered their greatest injuries.
TIP 3: Find Community
Now that you’re convinced it can be done solo, I can contradict myself. Find community. Make yoga friends. Find your tribe. Experience a few different communities to get a feel for what yoga really is. Make friends. Each one becomes an ally in your subconscious mind helping you keep the habit, even if you don’t always keep in touch.
My first yoga class was a 5-day Kundalini yoga festival called Sat Nam Fest in Joshua Tree, California. The week was packed with the world’s most prolific kundalini yoga teachers teaching their hearts out, with amazing music and a tribe of interesting people from all walks of life. I knew no one. I just showed up with an empty cup and an open heart ready to learn. It was Heaven on Earth to me. I’ve returned every year since, whether or not I could afford it.
I don’t get pumped up easily. This pumps me up, so I do it wholeheartedly. Find your thing and fall in love with it.
Bonus Tip (4): Use Literature To Your Advantage
I don't have to tell you to read books. If you want to know what I'm reading, I like Paramahansa Yogananda. He reminds me of Jesus more than any person I’ve ever read. I love reading about yoga from prolific western writers like Jung and Atkinson. Both had an enormous respect for yoga and contributed great literature to help Western people better understand.
Even if you’re a guy…? 🧐
When you think about doing yoga, you probably picture 30 ladies in Lululemon in a bright studio surrounded by plants. I hear you. Most people who do yoga are women, at least in the US. That’s not how it’s always been.
For centuries yoga was kept and taught by men. In the late 1800s yoga first reached the West from India and was accepted by men and women alike. The great yogic teachers of all-time are predominantly men.
I've been in yoga classes when guys made up half the room. Even if you’re the only male in the room, it’s good to spend time around the opposite sex in at least one area of your life. People who do yoga are trying to perfect themselves. And it works. So it’s a great way to make positive-minded friends. I’ll bet that you can do with even more positive friends in your life.
You don’t have to go to class, but if you do it’s often great and you’ll make amazing new friends.
Yoga is a practice, and we do it to realign all three parts at once: Mind, body, and spirit.
We practice so we can carry ourselves properly in the world the rest of the time: Physically, mentally, and spiritually.
When people say “yoga is life”, they mean they are always practicing yoga. The way they walk, talk, act, and think is the same on and off the mat. That comes from making and keeping the habit.
It’s a lot like martial arts in that way.
Treat it as a time to worship God, or as a salute to your deeper Self. Heal your body, wash your mind, and give your spirit a chance to stretch its legs.
Even if you Hate the Idea of Yoga
I’m not the biggest yoga guy. I’m just a normal guy who found yoga and became freakishly flexible. If you ever see me in the Jiu jitsu gym, you’ll know what I mean.
Now you know how I started and kept up the habit, and now you can too.
Make it your own thing. Keep it between you and God, the Universe, your Self – Whatever you want to call it.
It gives me peace of mind, keeps my body supple as a leopard, probably does a bunch of other great stuff, and gives me valuable alone time as a man with his God.
You can find God anywhere you look. But I wish Christianity had yoga. It would’ve saved me so many years of struggling with myself, with God. Yoga is the technology through which we remember our truest self – The “you” before the world’s conditioning. And there is no struggle there. There is Stillness and harmony. I recommend it.
I didn’t just get more flexible: I found GOD in yoga.
Go for it,
My special thanks to Vadym Barda, Florian Maganza, Avthar Sewrathan, and Ajit Gokhale for your feedback on this essay.