When Someone You Care About Won't Do Yoga: 10 Tips for YOU!


You’ve tried. You’ve invited them to come with you to class. You’ve demonstrated a few poses you’re sure would be helpful to them—like mountain pose, as you’re sure that standing up straight instead of slouching would be a good first step on the road to well-being. You’ve forwarded them some articles with the latest research into yoga’s benefits, and other articles about public figures you both admire who practice yoga.

You’ve extolled yoga’s benefits. You have been a living example of a few of those benefits, haven’t you? And you feel pretty good, most of the time.

Maybe it’s even grown a little hard for you to hear the people you care about complaining about their backs or their job pressures while refusing to take what, in your view, would be a simple and positive step to improve their lives.

“You know what would help. . .” you begin, for the millionth time.

“Yoga’s just not for me,” they say. Or maybe, “I don’t believe in it.” Or, “I tried it, and it didn’t work.” Maybe they’ve even pointed out that you yourself are not always the best advertisement for yoga’s alleged calming powers.

And you’ve responded: “But that’s like saying you don’t believe in trees.” Maybe you suggest, “There are so many different kinds of yoga, certainly one of them might be for you.” You may have even added (just a teensy bit snarkily): “You have to do it more than once to know if it works.”

Naturally you defend yourself, conceding that you may not be able to maintain a calm demeanor all the time, under every single circumstance—but just think what a stressball you would be if you didn’t do yoga! (Admittedly, some of your assertions may have brought conversations to an abrupt end.)

Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling, thinking about this or the other person’s spine. You can’t help it. Yes, you know there are more important things to worry about. You read the news. You know about the problems the world is facing. And, to be fair, there are a good number of worries higher on your list of worry priorities. But sometimes you get to the end of this list, and then you simply think about the long-term physical and psychological well-being of the people in your life.

Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling, thinking about this or the other person’s spine. You can’t help it. Yes, you know there are more important things to worry about.

If this sounds like you, here are 10 suggestions I’d offer (and which I’m in the process of implementing myself). If one or two of these tips are helpful, keep them in mind the next time your concern about—or frustration with—a yoga-disinclined person in your life starts getting the best of you.

1. Stop nagging.

While you may think it’s ridiculous that someone won’t do yoga, what’s at least as ridiculous is that you keep making the same suggestion expecting it to have different results. If you’ve been saying, “You know what would help. . .” for months or years and it hasn’t worked, it probably isn’t going to. What your loved one/friend/co-worker perceives as your evangelism may even be leading to an entrenchment of their opposition. (Note to self: Perhaps experiment with reverse psychology? “Yeah, you’re right—yoga won’t help you.”)

2. Allow for the possibility that other activities have value.

Is it possible that the person you care about may be doing something else that is for them what yoga is to you—something that exerts them physically or provides some measure of peace or even a little of both? Golf, bowling, singing, reading, building ships in bottles—hey, maybe even talking to you. Venting to a good listener might lead to a savasana-ish sense of relief (at least when you don’t go on and on about how they need to do yoga). Looking at these activities as their equivalent of yoga may lead you to cut them some slack for not undertaking an official yoga practice.

3. Sneak in some “secret yoga.”

I bet there are tiny doses of yoga you could offer that special someone on the sly. Give them a shoulder rub. Take them to the hot springs resort with the healing waters. Play relaxing music for them. Offer them a seat in your ergonomic chair without mentioning that it’s an ergonomic chair. Some people even say that how we breathe affects the breathing of those around us—so breathe diaphragmatically, inhaling and exhaling thoroughly, and see if the person you’re with doesn’t just start breathing a little more deeply too.

4. Stop seeing their rejection of yoga as a rejection of you.

It can feel like a personal judgment when someone doesn’t see value in something you prize. But chances are, when your friend or loved one rejects yoga, it’s not personal. Yoga has a way of becoming pivotal to the lives of its practitioners, but since your friend hasn’t done much yoga, they probably don’t understand that (and don’t see yoga as being you or yours to the extent that you do). To them, eschewing yoga could be the same as skipping the cilantro or the onion in their guacamole—choices you probably wouldn’t take to heart, having less personal attachment in the matter. (And, hey, if this is a person who is close enough to you to talk to you about their well-being, they presumably listen to what you have to say about a good many things. Try noticing when something you say is heard and when your interests and qualities are validated.)

5. Imagine how annoying it would be if this person did everything you do.

Would you really, really want this person to do everything you do? Maybe that would be fun. . .for about a week. While it might be nice if yoga were a point of intersection on the Venn diagram of your relationship, do you really want complete overlap? Besides, you are not alone on this journey: Maybe you’ve been bemoaning this person’s lack of participation in yoga for so long that you’ve neglected to celebrate the fellow yogis who surround you. How heartening that you have so many enthusiastic fellow practitioners!

6. Imagine how you would feel if you were always being coaxed to do something outside of your comfort zone.

What if the shoe were on the other foot and the person you care about were always trying to get you to do something they loved but isn’t quite your cup of tea—like join their boxing gym or their church or take up roller derby? How would you feel if you were standing upright, which felt perfectly comfortable, and someone kept trying to get you to slouch? Maybe you’d feel some semblance of the resistance that this person feels at your insistence that they go to yoga or stand up straight. (Remember, too, all those times when you were operating at maximal exertion, doing all you could do, and that if someone asked you to do another thing on top of it all, you would have thrown something at them.)

7. Recognize that not doing yoga need not mean certain doom.

Try optimism instead of pessimism. Beware the thought that yoga is the only solution to the problems you perceive this person as having, and do not mistake saying no to yoga for saying no to every possible solution. Might there be another intervention just around the corner that this person can and will try?

8. Remember that things change.

Okay, you probably know intellectually that everything changes. You’re a yogi, after all; you’ve watched one breath change into the next, one pose into the next. In relationship to your practice, you may have noticed how your body’s abilities have changed through the years. So take that knowledge on the road, and apply it to the relationship in question: Is this friend or loved one really going to be enduring what they are enduring for all time? Are you really going to adopt the position of the health-exuding pep talker for all time? Observing that this is how it is now but that this probably isn’t the way it’s always going to be could facilitate both patience and appreciation.

9. Shift the topic.

If you feel compelled to serve as a cheerleader for yoga only when this person returns to the longstanding topic of a chronic physical or emotional hardship, perhaps it’s not just your mention of yoga but the whole pain-focused conversational pattern that needs to be shifted. While being sensitive to the needs of your companion and acknowledging the reality of their suffering, it may, under some circumstances, be not only fair but also wise to break the loop by shifting the conversation to more positive subjects. I am not recommending that we invalidate anyone’s pain but rather suggesting that we make a project of pratipaksha bhavanam, or thinking the opposite: using a positive distraction as a rope out of a well.

10. Look at your differences as an area into which you could extend your yoga practice.

There may well be people in your life who will not have “another yoga-like activity”—who do not wish to have their shoulders rubbed, whose injuries make it hard for you to feel optimistic for them, and for whom things don’t seem to be changing (at least not for the better). Out of love for them, you may even have left your own comfort zone time and time again. And despite all this, they still show no interest in yoga.

In this circumstance, it may be challenging for you to find a sense of equanimity and compassion, especially when the conversation shifts back to their physical or mental distress. But as a yogi, you’re probably up to the challenge of doing so—and may even benefit from it.

You’ve likely noticed that it’s pretty easy to feel equanimity when everybody in your life is doing just what you want them to do. But when those close to you will not do something that you’re sure would be good for them, you have a chance to practice letting go of your own desires and opinions, however well-intentioned and reasonable those desires may be. Now that’s some serious yoga.

About the Teacher

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Amber Burke
Amber Burke lives in New Mexico and works at UNM-Taos, where she coordinates the Holistic Health and... Read more