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