Yoga is for everyone- why wouldn’t it be?
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It’s a much talked about topic in the yoga world “Yoga is for Everyone” so why is it being discussed? Why do some people, who would likely benefit from yoga feel that it might not be for them? In other words “Why wouldn’t yoga be for everyone?” is something putting them off?
To answer this question let’s firstly understand what yoga is and secondly how it is portrayed. I believe the differences between these two things may be one possible answer to this question and where some of the problem lies.
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” which translates as “to yoke” or “to bring together” or “union” and it refers to the union between our body, mind and spirit as well as the union between our individual consciousness and the universal consciousness. Another way of looking at this would be to consider yoga as a union between our inner world and the outer world.
As a holistic practice yoga originated in India around 2 to 5 thousands years ago and although the Philosophy of yoga is comprised of many Hindu scriptures and texts, the two main ones that refer to the practice of modern yoga are the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written in the fifteenth century by Swami Svatmarama and is considered one of the most influential writings on Hatha Yoga. Within its pages are information about the yoga postures (asanas) breathing practises (pranayama) body locks (bandhas) symbolic geatures (mudras) the body’s energetic centres (chakras) and meditation. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was written by the yogic sage Patanjali around the 4th or 5th Century. It sets out the principles of yoga in 196 sutras or statements. According to Patanjalis writings there are 8 “limbs” or aspects of yoga as follows
1. The Yamas (of which there are 5) describe ethical ways of being.
2. The Niyamas (of which there are 5) commitments or guidelines to oneself.
3. Asana – the physical yoga postures
4. Pranayama- breathing practises
5. Pratyahara- drawing ones attention inwards
6.Dharana- focus or concentration
7. Dhyana – contemplation or meditation
8. Samadhi- Union with all that is, or Enlightenment.
This is a very brief summary of the vastness of yoga and yet hopefully it puts asana (the practice of the physical postures) in to context within the much bigger picture of what yoga actually is. So, back to our question why do some people who might benefit from a yoga practice feel it is not for them? One answer to this may be the way in which yoga is portrayed in the West where the main focus appears to be on the practice of postures (asanas) giving the impression it is mostly a physical practice involving stretching the body. Moreover the images we often see associated with yoga often tend to be elaborate postures that most people feel are out of their reach. Often in the West such images are of a certain type of person, usually a woman who is young and slim. If the person seeing these representations of yoga cannot see themselves in the image then it is understandable that they might naturally draw the unfortunate conclusion that yoga is not for them and, in that moment they are prevented from embarking upon a yoga journey and thereby denied all the physical and emotional and spiritual health benefits that such a practice may have brought them.
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say to me over the years “I am not flexible enough to practice yoga” I have never heard them say to me “I am not strong enough to practice yoga” neither statements of course are true or relevant as you neither have to be flexible or strong to start a yoga practice since you always start with where the body is currently at. What these statements do however again point to is the mistaken belief that yoga is just about postures and the unfortunate misunderstanding that you have to be flexible to even consider doing such poses. Thankfully the way in which yoga is portrayed is gradually beginning to change and we are starting to slowly see images of a range of different people, old, middle aged, young, a variety of body sizes and shapes, different genders and sexualities and a range of different nationalities practising yoga asanas,(postures) we need more of this but we also need to move away from often equating yoga with just postures, more people might consider that yoga is for them if the image representing it was of an individual just focusing upon their breath rather than seeing someone doing a headstand or the splits.
Having practised and taught yoga for over 3 decades I have been blessed to have taught a whole range of people from all walks of life, thankfully these individuals put aside any pre conceived ideas of what yoga is, and instead they came to class and discovered for themselves what this wonderful holistic practice truly is and all it has to offer them.
Kath Turner February 2021
How Yoga can help us transition through the Menopause to our “Second Spring”
I love this idea of “Second Spring” this is what we step in to as women after the Menopause, this is how we embrace our “wisdom years” but first, how do we get there? How do we traverse the “Menopause Bridge” A Bridge that takes us from our fertile years to our wisdom years. How do we make this Bridge as strong as possible? how do we cross it? and can we be supported on this journey?
Firstly we can educate ourselves about this natural transition that every woman will go through in her mid life (or earlier for some women) that we know as the Menopause.
The Menopause refers to that time in every woman’s life when her periods stop and her ovaries lose their reproductive function marking the end of her fertility and the corresponding loss of oestrogen, The age at which women enter menopause varies however it usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the average age is 51. Every woman’s experience of the Menopause is unique to her however there are numerous symptoms associated with this transition which many women may share in common. These include, but are not limited to headaches, migraines, hot and cold flushes, anxiety, depression, insomnia irritability, meno-rage, brain fog, fatigue, lethargy, digestive issues, nausea, weight gain, painful breasts, aching muscles, UTIs, dry and itchy skin, dry and thinning hair
If we look at the stages of a woman’s life they can be understood in terms of the seasons, I love this analogy which I came across recently when I under took the Menopause Yoga (MY) teacher training course and so we have Spring as the Maiden, Summer represented as the Mother phase, Autumn as we transition in to Perimenopause, (when we first begin to notice fluctuations in our hormones and possibly associated symptoms) and Winter, the Menopause: the 12 month cessation of our periods. The Second Spring, corresponds to Post Menopause potentially a third of a woman’s life and also positively referred to as her “wisdom years”.
Before we arrive at this liberating post menopausal stage of the Second Spring we first need to tread the terrain of the Peri Menopause and Menopause. During this time many women may feel a loss of sense of self, and maybe a loss of identity as they move away from their fertile years. Women often feel confused, isolated and alone with all the physical, mental and emotional changes that are happening to them. To move more easily through the menopausal years women need to pause and reconnect with themselves and other menopausal women. Thankfully the taboo surrounding the Menopause is now beginning to slowly lift however for hundreds of years women have struggled to cope alone, unable to talk with other women and share their experiences and deprived of support and information about what is happening to them at this transitional time. It is vital for women to gather together during Menopause to share their experiences and knowledge and allow their voices to be heard. This is thankfully now beginning to become more common place. When women gather together in this way it is a powerful uplifting experience, that may help a woman view her menopausal years more positively. Oxytocin (the “feel good hormone”) is released when women gather together which calms the nervous system, and helps reduces stress.
Minimising Stress during the Menopause is essential as all menopause symptoms are exacerbated by stress. Yoga is renowned for helping to reduce stress levels through a variety of techniques from yoga postures(asanas) breath work (pranayama) meditation, mantras and mudras. Menopause yoga is a therapeutic style of yoga that skilfully combines these techniques in order to help address specific symptoms of the Menopause. It also helps educate women by providing a “tool kit” of techniques and resources so that rather than feeling diminished by the menopause a woman instead now feels more empowered. Good nutritional information, the use of self study, journaling and time to reflect, knowing how and where to seek the right medical guidance if needed, and positive psychology all help contribute to informing and educating women during their menopausal years and helping them to move through this time in their life more easily ,rather than feeling lost, alone and stuck.
Crossing the menopausal bridge with more ease is therefore possible as we let go of resisting this natural change in our life and learn to instead embrace it and flow with it. Nurturing ourselves and making lifestyle choices that support us, acknowledging that we do need to do things differently at this time. We need to take a “pause” from our life not only to give our changing bodies and minds the opportunity to rest but also to take stock of the life we have lived to date and move forwards in wisdom, with life lessons learnt, baggage released with renewed focus upon what we want to do and how be want to be as we enter in to the liberation of our post menopausal years, welcoming our “Second Spring”
Kath Turner Yoga February 2021
This is a big question and every individual will have their own set of unique answers. If you were to ask the same people that question a year or so later their answers may have changed, developed, evolved along with their practice. For example somebody may initially have been drawn to the practice of yoga to help with a stiff back, however as they continued to practice they may find that what initially drew them to yoga (in this case their back, now hopefully supple and strong,) is no longer the prime motivator behind their practice. Along the way they may have enjoyed more freedom in their breath and body, appreciated a quieter mind and taken refuge is a more harmonious way of being in day to day life (one of the many possible outcomes of a yoga practice.) However it is at challenging times, like the ones we find ourselves in during 2020, where the gift of a regular yoga practice can really pay off. We can call upon all our strengths, our sense of calm, our ability to stay present and the numerous other things that yoga teaches us and these things can act like our very own “first aid kit” that helps guide our way and support us through challenging times.
If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed at any time try this very simple breathing practice.( Please firstly note that however that if you have blood pressure issues, heart problems, hernia or are pregnant do not pause/hold your breath.)
- Lie down in relaxation position –Shavasana and if needed, for additional comfort place a flat blanket beneath the head and a rolled blanket beneath the knees. Allow your arms to be a little distance from the side of your body, palms facing up and allow your legs and hips to release as the feet drift out to the side. Close your eyes and connect with your breath.
- Breathe in fully and observe the rise of your belly as you inhale.
- Pause the breath, just temporarily at the top of the in breath and then slowly release the full out breath, completely emptying the lungs and noticing the gentle fall of your belly as you breathe out. Pause momentarily at the end of the out breath.
- Continue to practice in this way, focusing your attention on your breathing and after a minute or 2 you should hopefully be feeling calmer as the stress and tension eases away.
In day to day life, take your yoga practice off your mat. If you feel stressed, stop, take a breath in and then breathe out fully. Avoid multi-tasking, (as this has the tendency to fragment the mind and create unnecessary busyness) instead, focus simply on doing one thing at a time and whatever you are doing give it your full attention (just as you would in a yoga pose) This helps prevent stress, preserves the body’s vital energy and in the long term is more beneficial to the health of your body and mind. So next time you feel stressed, breathe out fully and just focus on the one thing in front of you and give it your full attention.
Kath Turner Yoga June 2020