The yogic path is like a cart path. It is there for everyone to travel, to make their way to their own destination, in their own time.
The Yoga Sutra is a widely regarded text written by consummate yogi Patanjali. In this sacred document Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of the yogic path, which if followed with consciousness lead to wisdom, health and purposeful life. The practices laid out in the Yoga Sutras emphasise connection, not just with body but breath, emotions thought processes, community, environment etc. It is a holistic method of approaching wellness, balance and peace.
In yoga one of the most beautiful messages offered is that everything we need is within us. Each individual possesses the breath, heart and ability to reflect. Yoga encourages us to deeply value and trust these abilities. We are free to explore and adapt the teachings in ways that are meaningful without having to subscribe to any restrictive or exclusive group. As a yogi and an instructor I feel it is important to help others feel welcome, comfortable, confident and ready to grow. To offer a place of belonging and community.
In recent years yoga has become extremely popular world wide. Many who practice do not fully embrace or even know the eight limbs as described by Patanjali. They are drawn, or prefer to focus on the fitness benefits of physical practice. This need not be the object of criticism. The benefits of yoga are as far reaching and inclusive as the practice. However, an unfortunate effect of the popularity of yoga as mainly a fitness practice has been the emphasis on commercial images and body stereotypes. Newcomers to the practice are often intimidated. They feel they are not thin enough, long enough, flexible enough. They feel they need specific equipment, or clothing. This phenomena is disappointing and completely contrary to what a it should feel like to embark on a yogic journey. The path described by Patanjali never specified a body type, nor the need to accomplish profound physical flexibility. There was no mention in the Yoga Sutra of specialized clothing or the achievement of powerful postures. In fact postural practice (asana) is only vaguely mentioned 3 times in the entire text. One of which is the following:
‘’Sthira-sukham asanam’’ - asana is steadiness and comfort.
The implication of this description is that anyone, of any shape, size or ability can practice asana.
I feel it is fair to differentiate between yoga pursued as a sport, and yoga as a practice. The two are not mutually exclusive, but the focus is quite different. As the sport of yoga has evolved, practitioners have adapted and developed postures recognizing the various benefits. It is wonderful to see so many people experiencing improved health and the joy of movement. What has been less than ideal has been the heavy emphasis on posture alone and formalization of yoga training that implies a right way vs wrong way to explore the practice. Clearly it is important that new yogi’s attempting physical sequences are safe and well supported if they choose to attend a yoga class. However yoga asana practice is a process of exploring the body with compassion and curiosity. Each person’s body is different. Their balance, flexibility, strength and alignment all affect how they find their way into postures and in some cases will prevent them from doing so. This is not an issue of “right” or “wrong”. Personal preference, personality, fitness levels and lifestyle all affect the way individuals move forward. There is no singular goal, no singular way to accomplish goals and no single “ideal” environment in which to explore.
It is troubling to see people discouraged from yoga because they feel judged, or excluded. The images of bikini clad athletes on the beach, and powerful bodies suspended in the air, balanced on fingers alone, should be recognized as amazing achievements. The fruits of dedication and training. Quite possibly evidence of a long and dedicated yoga practice – but not a requirement, not the expectation, not the only way.
Yoga, asana or otherwise, can be done alone, or in a group. At home or in a studio. You will find yogis performing structured postures, or just moving with intention and mindfulness. Yogis may practice in bed, on a chair, on the floor, laying in the grass, floating in a pool. You can be laying face down in the mud and practice yoga (actually – that would be an awesome time to practice! ) Regardless of whether someone wants to embark on physical training in the sport of yoga, or practice asana as part of an eight limbed path, what they wear, the shapes they make with their body , where and how long or intensely they practice is purely a matter of personal comfort and availability. No limits, no exceptions. EVERYONE belongs. EVERYONE fits.
Yoga is for every body, and everybody who wants it.
The Yogic path has been a part of my life since before I even new what it was. When I first began formal training and was introduced to the eight limbs, it was like a home coming. My personal beliefs, values and experiences aligned perfectly. I finally felt I had a vocabulary through which I could express what I felt so deeply.
The postural practice has been a different experience. One that was delayed for many years by shyness and a lack of understanding. I finally found yoga after experiencing serious illness. Once a strong and confident athlete I had become weak and easily fatigued. Yoga was the only thing I could really do. 5 minutes at first, on my mat, at home, watching YouTube tutorials. 5 minutes of gentle stretching, or holding myself up on all fours, after which I would lay down right there and nap. Slowly 5 became 10mins, and so on. It has been six years since I first eased myself onto that mat. Little by little I have regained my strength. Bit by bit I have crept back to what I once could do – and kept going, delivered by breath and patience to new places. Yoga asana have help me get my body back in motion, build strength and confidence. The path, the breath and the community of yoga have carried me through injury and the varied struggles of life that we all know too well. There has been no forcing, no agenda, just a quiet devotion to movement, a trust in my body to find the way, and a trust in my light to keep shining.
So – what is this I write today?
This is my welcome letter, my invitation to anyone who has felt uncertain.
This is my hand, outstretched and opening the door for all to enter.
This is me, running ahead, kicking and pushing as many barriers out of the way as I can, to make room on the path.
This is me encouraging you. If you want to, try!
Seek what you crave, and be unapologetic in pursuing it.
Yoga is for YOU too.