What does a Yoga practitioner look like? How flexible must you be before you even think about trying Yoga?
Do you fit the stereotype? Not many of us do.
I’d like to dispel the Instagram myth.
You don’t have to be flexible to do Yoga. You don’t have to be young to do Yoga. You don’t have to be female to do Yoga. You don’t have to be a vegan to do Yoga.
You can if you are, but you certainly can if you aren’t.
Yoga is for you regardless of your flexibility, age, gender, ethnicity, size, shape, background or level of fitness. Everyone is welcome on the mat (or chair).
Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.
That’s right, you don’t even have to be on a mat to practice Yoga, a chair is just fine. I recently introduced some of the patients from the Robert Ogden Cancer Clinic to the benefits of Chair Yoga. It’s hugely beneficial for people who find it difficult to get down onto a mat due to mobility issues or the effects of aging. Most of the asanas are adapted Hatha poses and sequences (you may even want to try some of them at your desk). And the pranayama can be modified too for those with breathing difficulties. In fact, a study carried out by the Department of Internal Medicine at Swamy Consultant Physician Mittal Hospital in India concluded that yogic breathing techniques, mainly expiratory exercises, improved lung function significantly and should be a regular part of therapy.
Just wanted to say a huge thank you for coming to our Head and Neck Group and delivering an EXCELLENT session. It was fantastic, and the patients absolutely loved it. They have been asking for Yoga for ages and it was lovely to see how much they got out of it.
– Jen, Robert Ogden Cancer Clinic
Adapting and modifying poses and teaching style is what accessible Yoga is all about, and all my classes are accessible. I’ll often suggest different versions of a pose or offer modifications to make a challenging pose accessible to everyone in my class.
One of my previous one to one clients was blind. Between us we found innovative ways of working through poses to enable better understanding. Obviously, my voice was very important, offering gentle yet succinct verbal cues whilst moving into and out of poses was key, as was offering detailed information around different breathing techniques. I was thoughtful about the language I used, which helped me to convey the subtle intricacies of the poses through words as demonstrating poses would not work in this instance. The sessions were very much hands on sessions too, with my client often using her hands on my body to learn about alignment and placement and to feel the way I moved.
Repetition was also a good teaching tool in this instance and is a great tool in every Yoga class offering as practice helps with embodiment. There is always a way to adapt and change a pose, approach or teaching method to suit individual needs. Yoga really is for everybody and can be adapted for every body too.
My youngest Yoga student? That would have to be the babies who have come along with their Mums to Mum and Baby Yoga sessions – a wonderful way for Mum to gently ease herself back into Yoga after giving birth with postnatal stretching and mobility poses, relaxation and meditation coupled with baby bonding exercises designed to stimulate the newborn’s motor activities and vision.
But when I come to think of it, many of these babies had already come to a Yoga class before they were born. Pregnancy Yoga is great for mums-to-be, deepening awareness of body and breath, improving intuition, overall body confidence and trust, lowering anxiety and stress levels and building a connection with baby.
Improving intuition, body confidence and trust is something that is very important to me in my work with women and girls. Many have huge blocks stopping them reaching their potential and doing what they are on this earth to do simply because they have been told that the size of their bum, boobs or belly is more important than what they say or do. Or perhaps their voice wasn’t always welcomed so they dampened down their spirit to be seen as a ‘a good girl’, which is often what we are led to believe we should be as women growing up in the world. But through Yoga, I’ve seen many of these women start to accept themselves for who they are, love themselves more and find their own authentic voice and way of being, growing in confidence and self acceptance as they follow their own unique journey in the world.
To love yourself as you are is a miracle, and to see yourself is to have found yourself, for now. And now is all we have, and love is who we are.
– Anne Lamott
So, what’s stopping you from practicing Yoga?
You already know you don’t have to be flexible. After all, Yoga is not about touching your toes.
You don’t have to be skinny and willowy. In fact, a study by the University of California found that practicing Restorative Yoga resulted in a significantly greater loss of subcutaneous fat than simply doing stretching exercises.
You don’t have to have already given up smoking or drinking and you don’t need to intend to give up smoking or drinking. In truth, you may find that the sense of wellbeing you feel after your Yoga class is just the push you need to help you quit your vice if that’s what you want to do. But Yoga is not about self improvement, it’s about self enquiry, learning about you and what you really want. And, who knows, that might be less of what doesn’t serve you and more of what does.
You don’t have to wear expensive Yoga clothes or tight fitting leggings. You can practice Yoga anywhere wearing anything you’re comfortable in – just slip off your shoes and away to go. You don’t even need a mat, I often just use the floor.
You don’t have to be full of energy. In fact, Yoga is one of the only forms of exercise where you’re likely to feel more energetic and full of life after a session than before. All you have to do is get to class.
And you don’t even have to be female. Admittedly, in the UK, there are more women than men practicing Yoga, but Yoga is a true stress reliever and who doesn’t need that, male or female? And Yoga can really help enhance your performance in other sports by, for example, promoting your hip flexibility if you love running or improving your recovery time.
So, now we’ve established that Yoga is for everybody and every body is a Yoga body, what are you waiting for? If you’d like to find out how Yoga could benefit you, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
I specialise in working with women one to one and enjoy being part of their journey of reconnection and self-discovery. I support women to find more balance and harmony in their lives by deepening their inner connection to their own body’s needs, helping them cope pre-conception, with fertility issues, prenatally, postnatally or during times of transition, grief or loss and helping alleviate the symptoms of menstruation, perimenopause or menopause.