It just struck me as I was writing the, Not Just For Hippies, tag-line for one of my meditation videos that the same applies for yoga and how SO many people still have total misunderstanding around what yoga is and who it is for.
Yoga is for EVERYONE. And, yes, that means EVERYONE.
I have lost track of the amount of time I have been told, ‘I’d love to try yoga but I’m not flexible enough.’ #Mythnumber1. You don’t need to be flexible to begin yoga. You don’t need to be able to touch your toes, let alone wrap your legs behind your head. In some ways, the current trend for yoga within the media has done a total disservice to the practice. I mean, really? How helpful is it to see super toned celebrities doing a one-armed handstand? Or to see yet another Sweaty Betty advert for £100 yoga trousers? Yoga is not acrobatics. Or gymnastics. Yoga is not about posing. Yoga is simply about coming into your body, whatever state it’s in, large, tiny, long, round, well, happy, miserable, flexible, stiff as a board, and discovering your breath and making space for yourself to centre in a few moments peace.
‘Ohh, I’d love to try yoga but isn’t it all about bells and incense and chanting?’ #Mythnumber2. I know many people are put off by what they perceive as the esoteric, spiritual nature of yoga. The lotus position, gurus, group hugs and peace signs. And, yes, many classes do involve some element of this. Personally, I love a bit of incense and sage-smudging while dancing under the full moon. But that is not a pre-requisite for unrolling a yoga mat in a pair of holey old leggings and an oversized Bob Marley t-shirt. And while I may indulge my inner hippie at home, my classes are resolutely real-world. I may light the room with fairy lights and I may play uber-relaxing airy-fairy music and spray some organic lavender room spray, but that is purely to create a space conducive to relaxation (and to mask the smell of the previous fitness class!). I don’t care how you arrive at class, whether you’re deeply immersed on a spiritual path, dying to embark on that journey, or just want time to de-stress after a stressful day doing a stressful job. Whatever your needs, time on the mat will deliver. (#Disclaimer – I feel the need to point out here that whatever reason you think you have for first coming to yoga may not be the real reason why you need to continue coming. Yoga has a remarkable ability to change people in remarkable ways. Be warned!)
Moving a body that is confined by desks and cars for much of the day is a joy. Maybe not initially when you realise how tight and inflexible it has become. But, with patience, you will release joints and strengthen muscles and begin to feel more and more bad-ass and warrior like. We are meant to be moving creatures, not sedentary ones and yoga will lengthen those hamstrings, open those hips and develop that upper body strength in a non-aggressive, progressive way. Not to mention building core strength and re-aligning poor postural habits, protecting your spine from problems further own the line. Trust me, your future self is going to really thank you for this.
Re-learning how to breathe and exploring the joys of your own breath can be utterly revelatory to people. Unbeknownst to us, we are breathing tight, shallow breaths, totally unconsciously, as we react to the increased stress levels of day-to-day living. Yoga will give you tools to manage stress and anxiety by re-awakening you to conscious breathing and the myriads benefits of this.
Oh, and, let me just quickly de-mystify meditation. Training yourself to find some time-out as a regular practice is a total must today, surely? There is nothing spiritual or mystical about finding some stillness, enjoying some silence and peace and quiet and spending a few minutes watching your breath and allowing your crazy-busy, wild mind to find a bit of respite.
Personally, I don’t know how anybody gets through their week, navigating this much crazy, without yoga. And getting even more personal, yoga (and all the wonderful ripples which WILL flow out into your life) has gradually replaced many unwanted, unhealthy and, frankly, destructive elements of my old life which controlled my thinking and behaviour for many years. (An eating disorder, chronic anxiety, clinical depression, self-loathing, low self-esteem….you name it. I was a walking mental-health manual). It didn’t happen overnight. It has taken years of dedicated practice. But the weirdest thing? I didn’t practice yoga in order to heal myself of all those unhealthy tendencies. I practiced yoga because it made my body feel great. The magic happened behind the scenes. What?? So, that time I’ve been spending, flowing and sweating and relaxing on my mat has actually been replacing low self-esteem with confidence? And replacing eating problems with a healthy appetite for delicious, wholesome and home-made food? And replacing a crippling self-loathing with an ability to sit with myself, quietly, without a panic attack arising? And anxiety and worry has been replaced by an ability to calmly see the bigger picture, knowing I am capable of problem solving with confidence? And a fear of showing up, the real me forever hiding behind masks, has been replaced with authenticity and congruency and a fresh, bold sense of the life I want, a life totally in line with my values and dreams? WOW. That’s freaking amazing? Right?
Obviously, I’m not saying that you have to be that broken to find benefits in yoga. But transformation WILL happen. This is real-world shit. Necessary, vital, right here, right now, skills and tools for this crazy, chaotic, overwhelming, plate spinning thing called modern life.