Have you seen them?
Those size 6, unbelievably flexible goddesses of yoga, adorned with mystical tattoos and flowing locks, with a look of serene peace on their faces even though they’re hanging upside down, seemingly balancing on a few fingers?
They grace yoga magazine covers and accompany any mention of yoga in the media.
Now, how do you feel when you see these images? Stiff and inflexible? Inadequate? Disempowered? Yes, me too!
This insistence on associating yoga with young, slim, white insanely bendy females saddens me.
The prevalence of such images leads directly to common misconceptions about yoga and lots of people who would really benefit from a therapeutic approach to yoga might never step into a yoga class because they’re afraid they won’t fit in.
These preconceptions lead to three common reasons which could be putting you, or someone you know and love, off trying yoga:
1. You’re not super-bendy
What’s the #1 reason people tell me why they can’t do yoga: “I’m not flexible enough!”.
Well if you look at the cover of many a yoga magazine you’d think you’d be folding yourself up like a pretzel in every class. And yes, if you’ve tried one of the more physically demanding styles of yoga then this could have reinforced this idea.
Quite a few ladies who come to my classes have tried these styles of yoga and found “they couldn’t do the bit where you have to stand on your head” and felt disempowered and discouraged which is why they love the style I teach – Dru Yoga – which takes a gentler, accessible and inclusive approach.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga isn’t about contortion. (Great if that’s what you want to do though – I’m not knocking the years of practice, discipline and dedication it takes to be able to achieve these poses. I’m saying that this is only a tiny aspect of yoga. If you do want to be really physically challenged and get hot and sweaty then try Vinyasa, Power Yoga or Bikram.)
However, the physical side of yoga is simply about moving your body, breathing, letting go and relaxing so you can connect to a state of inner peace where you can quieten your busy mind. It’s about unifying your body, breath, mind and spirit.
And this can take many forms.
Yoga enables you to stretch, bend and twist in ways you don’t do every day to release long-held tensions, to stimulate your body’s systems and become stronger.
It helps you become aware of your body and your emotions and your thoughts. It enables you to notice the delicate interplay between the state of your mind and your body: how the sensations in your body affect your emotional state and how your emotional state and thoughts affect your body.
(Have you noticed it’s impossible to be angry in your mind and relaxed in your body? And if you’re tense in your body it’s difficult to switch off your mind?)
And as everyone’s body is different that means they will express the yoga poses differently. And that’s how it should be.
So, no, you don’t have to be super-bendy to do yoga. But a regular practice will help you to become more flexible.
2. You’re over 40
Sometimes people say to me, they’re too old to start yoga. They’re not as young as they once were, shall we say, and their bodies have started to display the familiar aches, pains and niggles which can appear as we get older so they can’t bend back and touch their toes to the back of their head like the images in yoga magazines.
But this is exactly the group of people that a gentler, restorative style of yoga can help.
By moving your joints through their full range of motion, by stretching your muscles to keep them flexible and strong, by strengthening your body and improving your balance (helping to guard against osteoporosis in the process) and by keeping your spine healthy, strong and flexible, you will be more likely to proceed through life with better health and mobility.
And as you learn to relax you’ll develop a greater sense of equilibrium and peace of mind to help you cope with the challenges life brings all of us.
So no, you don’t have to be young to practise yoga. But a regular practice will help your body and mind deal with the ageing process with greater equanimity.
3. You have a health condition
All these images of strange contortions can give rise to the myth that only the super-fit can do yoga.
So, so, SO not true!
I have people coming to my classes and 1-2-1s with arthritis, heart problems, back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, digestive problems, asthma, anxiety, stress and chronic fatigue. And they all benefit from the mindful movement, calming breathing, release of tension and relaxation which a slower-paced style of yoga offers.
Yoga is not about trying to force your body into a template prescribed by someone else.
Yoga is about moving your body. Exploring how it moves and how it feels to bend, stretch and twist. It’s about exploring how you can adapt the postures to the needs and abilities of your body, not the other way around.
So no, you don’t have to be 100% fit and healthy to do yoga. But a regular practice can help you relieve some of the symptoms of many health conditions or help you cope with pain and discomfort.
Yoga is for YOU
I believe yoga is about empowerment. We get enough messages in the media and marketing telling us we’re not good enough without yoga adding to the pressure.
Yoga is about working with your body. We’re all on our own unique journey on (and off) the yoga mat.
So if you can’t touch your toes – that’s fine by me.
If your forward bend means your hands just about tickle your knees, then great. It’s your forward bend and your willingness to accept and accommodate your body is beautiful to me (as is the progress I see over time in my students as they slowly and surely inch-by-inch ease towards their toes).
Yoga will empower you to explore what body acceptance means to you and to help you unify your body, mind and soul to reconnect to your inner peace, wisdom and equilibrium.
Now yoga isn’t a magic silver bullet which will remove all pain, worries or problems. But it does provide a powerful and compassionate alternative to help us deal with the challenges of modern living.
And you don’t have to bend over backwards or be able to balance on one arm to experience this.
If you’d like to try a slower-paced, therapeutic approach to yoga then why not come along to one of my yoga classes in Southampton & Eastleigh, Hampshire, UK?
I’ve got four new weekly classes starting in September. Check out my yoga class timetable to find out more and register your interest in attending.
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Over to you & please share
Do you agree? What are your thoughts on the portrayal of yoga in the media? Has it put you off trying it? I’d love to hear. Please leave your comments in the box below!
Do you know someone who’d benefit from yoga but they’re put off because they think they won’t fit in? Then I’d love it if you would share this post with them, via email, Twitter or Facebook, and let them know there is a yoga class out there for them!
Top image: mariachily / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Third image: Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net }