“I can’t even touch my toes.”
This is the most common phrase I hear when people explain why yoga isn’t for them. I’m sure this article has been written countless times before but the message doesn’t seem to have hit the target so I’m going to try again. Let me start off with asking this question; what is yoga? Think about that for a moment. Stop reading and let the question circulate in your mind for a few minutes…
Coming back to the page, let me share with you the definition of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as defined by Larry Schultz, founder of ItsYoga; Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is the science of sequencing poses using breathe, movement, bandhas and drishti to facilitate transformation. Read over this a couple times and think back to what you thought when I asked what yoga is. Now let me ask you if you believe that in order to practice yoga you need to be flexible, strong or otherwise physically fit? The answer is, absolutely not.
Yoga is for e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y. I want to emphasise that it doesn’t matter what physical shape you are in, yoga is for you, it’s your choice whether or not you want to practice but the fact is you definitely are just as capable as anyone else. Allow me to let you in on a little secret, yoga can be modified! Personally, I love to modify, even if I know I can go further sometimes that’s not what my body needs so instead of tangling my legs into full lotus I remain cross legged because it feels good. Yoga is about feeling good, healing your body and mind, finding your breath and connecting to it, rising to higher states of consciousness and becoming increasingly aware of your body inside and out. One of my favorite quotes is;
“If you’re moving, you’re doing it right.”
Adding to that I can say; “If you’re breathing, you’re doing it right. If you’re focussing, you’re doing it right.” Modifications are available in every single pose and the benefits are present no matter what the modification is. Let me bring up another point as well about our bodies and how we have become the way we are. Our bodies are a direct result of our heritage, both physically from our parents and grandparents, and environmentally from where they grew up and where we grew up. It’s a result of what we were doing when we were young, what activities we participated in and even what foods we ate. This story is unique for every single one of us which proves how different our bodies are. Some people will be strong because they’re father was a wrestler and they learned from him and maybe took it up themselves at some point, some will be flexible because their mother was a gymnast and they played around with little tricks here and there as children or young adults. It all depends where you were “made” and how.
Strength and flexibility are side effects of yoga but they are not necessary in order to have a complete practice, many teachers and students will practice for years and still have to bend their knees when folding forward or use a block or strap to help make poses more comfortable. It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you don’t stop. Yoga is all about practice, as Pattabhi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.” I’ve heard stories about teachers who spent eight years practicing handstands and not quite finding the stillness upside down but that doesn’t mean they weren’t making progress. The progress isn’t in the poses it’s in your body, your mind and your spirit. Everyday that you step onto your mat, even just for fifteen minutes of sun salutes, you will experience progression.
Yoga is a lifestyle choice, it’s the choice to feel healthy, happy, free, uplifted, energized, loved, respected and above all it’s about giving yourself the “me time” that so many of us lack these days in our busy lives. So next time someone asks you if you want to start yoga, before throwing out the phrase, “I can’t even touch my toes” think again and maybe step out of your comfort zone for that one hour to experience what yoga is really about, I can guarantee you’ll be surprised.
Nat Ekblom is an Ashtanga Vinyasa and Rocket Yoga instructor in Helsinki, Finland. Her mission is to share the love of the practice with everyone and prove that yoga is for every-body. To Nat, yoga is the chance to recharge, reconnect and revisit thy self. Namaste!