Yep, that's what I heard today after a gym yoga class. Wow. You know, I expect a young adult to question the value of a standard, no flow hatha yoga class, but an older woman? And yet, as we were collecting our things at the end of yoga class today, an older woman, who from my guess should be around 60, was complaining that the gym only had one yoga flow class per week and the other classes weren't "good yoga" because of all the "stretching."
This just blew my mind. Back in the day, before hatha flow, vinyasa flow, and power yoga hit the scene, all yoga was stereotyped as "stretching." A woman of her generation should have been somewhat aware of that. Perhaps I'm stereotyping by age here, but shouldn't she have known that a big focus of yoga asana is to develop flexibility? Which requires "stretching"?
I made the comment: "All yoga is good yoga, and sometimes slower classes are harder because you have to hold the pose, maintain the correct posture, and focus on your breathing." But she was not convinced. Nope. "Stretching" yoga was not worth her time. It was bad yoga.
I suspect that part of her opinion of the "bad" yoga was due to some bad teachers at that gym, but there's something more going on here than just poor instruction. (Personally, I didn't think the flow class that evening was all that great either, but I am a bit pickier due to all my yoga teacher training.)
Far too many people want instant results these days, and yoga flow seems to deliver that. You think you must be burning more calories and losing more fat, perhaps. Or you are so used to the quick pace of modern life that anything slower than a moderately-paced sun salutation makes you want to jump out of your skin.
But we need slow yoga. We need to take the time to focus on the particulars of a posture, which develops body awareness. We need to do long deep breathing, because it calms the mind and oxygenates the body. And if you hold a challenging pose for a while, I guarantee your heart rate is going to go up a little bit, so you are getting some cardio to boot! ("Cardio" doesn't always have to come with jumping around...if you want super cardio, go to a hot yoga class to really get your heart rate up!)
I did not tell all this to the woman, however. She seemed pretty dead set and it wasn't my business to convince her to otherwise. I did mention that a real yoga studio would have better yoga than the gym. (Sorry, I've taught at gyms myself and I can tell you, from teaching at gyms and taking yoga at gyms, gym yoga has some issues.) But beyond the gym environment: I truly question whether she's actually doing the best yoga for her body at that age. Here's what I would have liked to tell her:
The hatha flow class we took did not involve any careful sequencing to warm up the body and open the joints. The air conditioning in the gym classroom is constanly blasting and it's cold, so muscles are tighter than normal. The yoga teacher is talking at a mile a minute and there's not enough time in each pose to truly focus on alignment. Too many assymetrical poses, lunges, and warriors without compensation can put stress on the SI joint. Too much time spent in poorly set-up downward facing dog (especially for an older person or an injured person) can jam the wrists and put stress on the shoulders. Modifications aren't being offered to the group, which has a mix of very young and very old women.
I half wonder if some baby boomer women who go to the gym aren't trying to keep working out as if they were in their 20s, because of so many messages from our media that we've "beaten" age. Certainly, you can train for a marathon, swim a mile or two or three, and even lift weights well into old age. You can also do yoga. But as we get older, it's very important to be cautious and careful in yoga postures, which more than many other types of mainstream exercise, have a very strong risk of injury in the form of sprains and worse.
"Stretching" yoga is a good way to help prevent injury in faster, more "rigorous" forms of yoga. Yoga students of all ages could benefit from going to slower, more cautious, more "body aware" yoga classes.