Yoga is for everyone
Along with the summer solstice, International Yoga Day is coming up on June 21.
Doing yoga does not require being flexible, athletic, blissful, or anything other than what you already are.
Some minds will continue to whirl. Some bodies will not bend in half, much less in quarters. Some vestibular systems (part of our sense of balance) do not want to be turned upside-down. Some legs do not stand at all.
Yet yoga is available for every living person who can turn their attention inward to the sensations of the body and simply breathe.
Why do yoga?
Yoga is a body-mind practice that can help you feel calmer amid life’s stresses. There are practices to soothe wild energy and to wake up when lethargic. There are techniques to stabilize and strengthen as well as to become more supple — physically and mentally.
Benefits include improved strength, balance, focus, and relaxation. Practitioners often report increases in their general awareness that help them be more present for their lives and make better choices. Thus, yoga can promote health and contentment.
Yoga is a practice of increasing awareness of the body and mind, in movement and stillness. There are techniques for breathing, for doing physical postures, and for cultivating “witness consciousness,” that is, learning to observe our experiences and our reactions to them without judging ourselves (perhaps the hardest practice of all).
But isn’t yoga about extreme flexibility and strength?
Believe it or not, “power yoga” was developed to diffuse the wild energy of 8-year-old boys. In the 1800s, worldwide fitness trends transformed India’s ancient yoga traditions. Teachers of the time created and shared the new practices. Then westerners exported these altered yoga forms back to the West.
I heard a brief history on the “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” interview with Michelle Goldberg, author of The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West.
Along with relating the fascinating life of a remarkable woman, Goldberg identifies the surprisingly recent roots and western influences of today’s popular yoga styles. Goldberg also explains the whiff of celebrity yoga seems to attract.
Yet yoga is humbler than that. It is breathing, focusing, movement, stillness, and devotion. It is, if you let it, a lifelong practice of becoming ever more aware and taking responsibility for the effects of our thoughts and actions on the world within and without.
In the words of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), who popularized the vigorous Ashtanga Yoga style,
“Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just a circus.”
Maybe gentle yoga movements soften your aches and pains. Perhaps meditation soothes your nervous system. Possibly the ritual of early morning practice becomes a graceful art form for you. Or maybe you relish releasing your inner 8-year-old into challenging posture flows.
Seek yoga styles and classes that support your goals. Find teachers who offer clear, skilled instruction with compassion and unconditional positive regard.
There are yoga techniques appropriate for all physical conditions and all ages and stages of life. Forget about trying to bend yourself into a practice that doesn’t fit. Instead, choose what feels yummy to you. Experiment and discover the path to your own most fulfilling yoga experience.
For International Yoga Day, and every day, here are Michelle Goldberg’s words from the introduction of The Goddess Pose:
“You don’t have to believe in anything, even yoga itself, to find joy and solace in the conscious joining of breath and movement, or relief in slowing the whirling of the mind. You just have to do it.”