Any yoga journal will show you the picture of a true yogi: slender, uber-flexible, perfect skin and body. No wonder it can be intimidating! What if we don’t measure up?
In the last 10 years, yoga has outgrown its image as a hippie crazed 60s fad. The industry has seen tremendous growth. Our world is replete with yoga DVDs, TV shows, celebrities touting yoga’s benefits, and multiple yoga journals. What a boon that people are more aware of it! Unfortunately, along with its popularity has come this media stereotype of the beautiful yoga practitioner.
I’m here to tell you that yoga is for everyone: large, small, young, old, injured, handicapped, elite athlete, even those with severe acne are welcome to attend any yoga class I teach. Oh, and buying a new outfit for class is not a necessity.
What is yoga, anyway? Is it truly all about attaining enlightenment? Or is it really about creating strange contorted shapes, not unlike a gymnast on steroids? Neither.
Yoga is a form of self-study. A method of awakening, of creating a sense of pride in who you truly are. Of feeling secure in the body and the mind that were gifted to you at birth.
In the beginning, there was the breath. Then, as babies, we begin to walk and explore the miracle that is our human form. We begin to walk. As toddlers we communicate, talk, make our needs known. Relationships ensue, education, the stimulus of the mind, careers, the responsibility of creating an income. Before we know it, the breath is...literally....something we don’t have time for. It becomes shallow and fast. Our relationship with the breath becomes something we take for granted, and like any such relationship, it begins to fade and die. In addition to the breath, many people also begin to lose contact with the miracle of the human form, and live the rest of their lives from the shoul- ders up, worried about money, stability, and death.
Yoga is all about renewing our commitment to the core, to our breath. For many of us that means that we must first pass through the gateway of the body. Self study of the body is a most fascinating and never ending journey. It entails becoming aware of such things as the symmetry, or lack of symmetry, between our right and left sides, our ability to lift our ribs or ground our sit bones, of old injuries from 20 years ago that come back to plague us. This study can be done, and is often most usefully done, with very simple postures. Postures can be done with the support of a wall or a chair if needed. Entering into simple movements we can begin to explore how the body feels, and how the breath and mind react to the sensations in our bodies. As we understand these things about ourselves, and our awareness of our mind, bodies and breath increases, we can choose whether or not we want to make any changes. Changes that can affect our posture, our lifestyle, and even affect our thoughts.
In all my yoga classes come the questions: what is your breath doing TODAY? This very moment? Is it smooth or jagged? Is it easier to exhale or to inhale? What is the temperature of your breath? Notice the next time you are angry, tired, excited or irritated. Your breath will reflect these emotions, won’t it? How utterly amazing to know what emotions are brewing just through being tuned into your breath. Must you be slender and media beautiful in order to breathe? Hardly. Must you be injury free? No.
Yoga is an exploration of you within the environment that you live. What is important is to find a teacher that is good for you. If you have injuries, find a teacher who is comfortable working with injuries: not all yoga teachers are trained in this area. If you are overweight, make sure your teacher makes you feel proud of who you are. If you bring your child, make sure the teacher is good with children. Let’s continue to make yoga a household word. It truly is for every BODY.
This article first appeared in Montana Healthy Living magazine in February of 2010.