What’s the difference between a reason, and an excuse?
A reason is “a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event”. In other words, a reason should explain why something is the way that it is. However, a lot of the time, what we think are ‘reasons’ are probably ‘excuses’. An excuse is an “attempt to lessen the blame” and often means that we don’t take the right responsibility or any accountability for the situation. Here are some reasons I’ve heard (or given myself) to not practice yoga. Are they really reasons, or excuses?
“I’m too tired!” = Excuse
Yoga asana, like any exercise, can put demands on your body and mind that may be tiring. But asana can also help to restore energy, and allow for more effective rest. Tiredness is not a reason – it’s an excuse! You can still practise yoga!
“I have an acute injury or illness.” = Reason
Our bodies do need time to heal and repair after illness or injury. Although it varies from person to person and injury/illness, certain asana may not be appropriate or even prevent healing from that specific injury or illness. Always check with a doctor that you are medically OK to do any form of exercise, yoga included. While this is a good reason to temporarily stop or to modify asana, it’s not a reason to stop yoga altogether. You can still practise yoga!
“Yoga is for women!” (some men) = Excuse
Some cultures socialise men and women into expected patterns of behavior, to the extent that this excuse, perhaps is more of a way of masking insecurity, when at the root, the excuse is “I’m afraid I will be emasculated if I am not the best/strongest person in a room full of women”. Get over yourself! Yoga is for everyone, and everyone can learn something, get stronger, and get better. Modern yoga is derived from teachings handed down by men. You only compete with yourself and your ego.
“I’m menstruating.” (women) = Reason
Different people have different ideas on this topic. I have had some teachers who say that when you have your period, you should do restorative asana only; others might say continue with all asana as usual but ‘take it easy’; some say avoid practice on the first day; still others say to avoid yoga altogether. This can be quite personal and there are many articles and opinions available if you search online. It is important to know what is happening to the body and make adjustments accordingly.
I think this article summarises it quite well and explains both pranic and physical rationales: avoid inversions, asana that put stress on abdominal/pelvic region, and bandhas (extract below).
“In a yoga practice there are certain asanas that should be avoided during menstruation. The main type of asanas are inversions… The reasoning for this is that when we practice inversions one type of prana, known as apana, which normally flows in the downward direction from the manipur chakra (naval centre) to mooladhar chakra (cervix), is reversed…Another reason is that during inversions the uterus is pulled towards the head and causes the broad ligaments to be over stretched which cause partial collapse of the veins, leaving open arteries to continue pumping blood. This can lead to vascular congestion and increased menstrual bleeding…
Secondly, any very strong asanas particularly strong backbends, twists, arm balances and standing positions that put a lot of stress on the abdominal and pelvic region should be avoided, especially if the woman is going through a lot of pain at the time… If the pelvic region is causing spasm and pain why cause more contraction and pressure to the area. Also these positions need more physical strength and exertion which can be lacking during this time and can be depleted further by the practice…
Thirdly, bandhas should be avoided for similar reasons. On a pranic level they move the apana upwards instead of down and physically they add more contraction to an already tight region and in the case of uddiyan bandha increasing the heat which can lead to heavier bleeding.”
Menstruation is a reason to modify or postpone yoga, but not to stop altogether!
“I’m not flexible!” = Excuse
This is like saying, I can’t have a bath because I’m not clean! Think about it: we take baths to become cleaner. We practise yoga to improve flexibility. We all have different flexibility levels in different parts of the body. Some can bend forwards effortlessly (not me); others can bend backwards (also not me); others have flexible hips or shoulders or can twist their spines. Asana practice will help to build flexibility and mobility in joints and muscles. If anything, this is a reason to do yoga, not avoid it!
“I’ve just eaten a huge meal.” = Reason
Although there are many asana that help massage and improve the digestive organs, like many other forms of exercise, it can be uncomfortable or even impossible to practise asana when your belly is full. You need some time to give the body a chance to process the food, so that you can put your energy towards practice rather than to digestion (and this article explains a bit more about the physiology). I personally prefer practising yoga in the morning, before breakfast, or at least 2 hours after eating.
But as you can see – this reason, along with the others listed, are not reasons to never do yoga, or to stop yoga entirely. They are reasons to wait, modify, or stop temporarily the practice. There is no reason not to do yoga!