A lot of people who’ve never tried yoga seem to be (a) skeptical about it, (b) intimidated by it, or (c) both skeptical and intimidated by it. These people often ask me about the “benefits” of yoga. This is kind of a strange question, I think, although not totally off the mark. But to ask about the “benefits” of yoga is really to ask “what can yoga do for me?” I don’t think this is a good starting point for a yoga practice, if you are really serious about getting into it. Yoga is not about “getting” or “taking” or “finding” anything for your own benefit. You aren’t looking to get a six-pack from doing yoga, or big biceps, or a tight butt, or anything crazy like that. If anything, you are really looking to get rid of the need or desire to acquire these superficial things.
Of course, with certain kinds of vigorous yoga, you can get in really good shape, and there are tremendous health benefits overall (e.g. lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart-disease, improved cardio-vascular health, stronger bones, etc.). But these physical benefits are not things that are acquired for their own sake; they’re merely an extension or side-effect of what happens when one becomes a seasoned yoga practitioner.
The real focus of the yoga practice, I believe, is something that goes on inside the mind (or the soul, as some might say). I can’t describe it really in words, but the pieces just come into place when you do yoga, and the world seems like a pretty okay place. In Sanskrit, I think the word to describe this feeling is “Samadhi” – meaning something like transcendental bliss or joy. But this is probably a poor translation, since it tries to capture in words what can only be experienced and understood on the yoga mat.
So, to answer the question of why the heck anyone should do yoga, all I have to say really is “Why in the heck wouldn’t you do yoga!?”
If anyone else wants to share their thoughts on why they practice yoga, and why you think others might enjoy it too, please post!