by Kate Saal
It’s not hard enough…I want to get a workout
I love teaching people who are new to yoga. Yet, it has always puzzled me why people leave their first class saying, “That was hard—much harder than I expected.”
Where did people get the idea that this practice is easy?
It turns out that until the 1980s most of the yoga in the United States took the shape of “soft form” yoga. This is the gentle, quiet style that has become synonymous with “yoga”.
Pop quiz. Remember a woman on PBS who taught yoga? She always wore a unitard and seemed so peaceful? Her name is Lilias Folan, and her pioneering show called “Lilias Yoga”, ran from 1972 until 1992—20 years! I remember watching her when I was a child. Lilias almost single handedly introduced Americans to yoga.
See her show here.
Ahh, now you remember. Thank you Lilias for spreading yoga and heightening awareness.
After Lilias several practices bubbled up in the American consciousness quite rapidly—in the timeline of yoga—during the 80s and 90s.
- Bikram Yoga from Bikram Choudhury
- Ashtanga from K. Pattabhi Jois
- Jivamukti from Sharon Gannon and David Life
- And a practice called “Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga” from a guy named Baron. (By the way, Beryl Bender Birch coined the phrase “Power Yoga” along with Bryan Kest.)
All of these fall in the realm of the “hard form”. And each can be quite intense. It is these practices that have fueled the explosive growth and interest in yoga in America. They can feel more like work, in the American Puritan sense versus the Eastern idea of “work”, and we like that. (We do live to work.)
Even though they are physically demanding, Lilias influence runs deep and people still think “yoga is easy”.
I’ve had the honor to teach thousands and thousands of people, including professional ballet dancers, UFC fighters, motorcycle racers, triathletes—people with incredible levels of physical fitness and there is an overwhelming consensus that yoga is challenging.
(This really is one of the those situations where you just have to try it to experience it. Trying to explain to your friends how difficult it can be to raise your arms and legs will only elicit strange looks. Just invite them.)
But yoga is hard in a way we haven’t even brought up yet. Yoga asks you to dig deep physically AND mentally, emotionally and spiritually…but that’s a discussion for another time.