If You Hate Yoga as a Workout, Try the Mental Version Instead


Urban Outfitters

While I maintain that there is a form of yoga for everyone—truly, the varieties are endless, and the beauty of the ancient practice is that you make it your own—I also respect that some people just can't get behind it as a workout. Just as I will always see long-distance running as a special kind of torture, others don't particularly enjoy contorting themselves into sustained, balance-driven postures.

But in my years of relatively consistent yoga practice, I've also learned that better posture, increased flexibility, and sinewy arms are nice, the physicality is not entirely the point. To the contrary, in the years I spent warring with my body, yoga was one of the only things that allowed me to truly escape it.

For a few hours each week, I knew I was more than the toxic thoughts that ruled my existence and more than what I thought I saw in the mirror. These were the crucial moments when I started holding myself with empathy and without judgment, and in that way, yoga saved me. Soon, that mindset began to linger after I rolled up my mat and walked out of the studio—until one day I realized it had become my reality.

"Contrary to what we see now, traditional yoga texts barely mentioned the physical poses," says Claire Fountain, yogi, fitness expert, and founder of Trill Yoga. "It is easy to get caught up in the idea that yoga is a combination of contortion-level poses for flexible people, especially in our age of social media. But the true gifts of yoga come from the mental, psychological, and spiritual aspects, and not so much to do with the physical. If anything, yoga can help you transcend the physical body in this way."

"Yoga is a lifestyle," adds Danielle Cuccio, yogi and founder of Cuccio Somatology. "It's not just about doing Warrior II or going through a Vinyasa—it's about wanting to continue the breathing, the healthy mindset, the balance, and treating your mind and body well after that hourlong practice."

That said, there's a certain ambiguity around treating yoga as more of a mental pursuit—relative, at least, to concrete postures. So what does practicing mental yoga really look like?