A common criticism of Hatha Yoga (the kind you no doubt see being taught at your gym or local studio) is that it is not really a spiritual practice, but solely a body/health regime--and therefore the serious spiritual aspirant need not bother with it.
I offer a different viewpoint: That it can serve and foster the health of BOTH mind and body. The Yoga tradition teaches us that our bodies manifest our samskaras (inherent tendencies) carried into this life from our previous lives, and these samskaras predetermine much of our behavior—some good, some harmful. By consciously manipulating the body with breathing practices and postures, we can change the crooked course of our samskaras—like the tail wagging the dog—altering the path of our life.
Healing is Healing
We hold our personal past emotional experiences, energetically, in our bodies. So many of us become inexplicably stuck on our path, not from lack of effort, but by the chains of the past known as anger, grief, and fear. These buried emotions, like splinters in the heart, can be ultimately crippling to our spiritual practice because when we are in pain, we become self-centered and myopic. When we heal, we become more empathetic, self-less, and sympathetic to the pain and welfare of others.
Through the practice of Yoga, in particular the breathing practices, we can liberate these buried emotions and experience a rapid and meaningful transformation. Our spiritual intent, fueled with breath and powered by our will, ultimately realigns an emotionally misaligned body.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
It's worth it to keep your body in top shape. Why? Because it's the vehicle that transports and carries our minds. If your mind is a jet engine, but your body is a run-down 1969 Volkswagen bus, then the jet engine will be unable to make you fly. A pain-free and vital body is the foundation to support meditation, all other practices, and daily life itself.
Yes, there are Hatha Yoga practices that are simply body toning workouts disguised as a spiritual practice. But there are also wonderful and amazing and sincere teachers available. Just like looking for a good doctor, ask around, dig a little until you find the real thing.
No matter what you believe or disbelieve spiritually – it doesn’t matter. Yoga works, regardless of your belief system. Try it and see for yourself.
Note: The ideal practice for someone over 40 years old is one hour a day, 5 days a week. But do what you can with what you have and where you are. Even just twenty minutes a day will have an impact.