If you, like me, follow lots of different yogi’s and yogini’s of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. then you have more than likely encountered a range of images and a running theme throughout resulting in the unnecessary drawing of the conclusion… I will never be able to do yoga.
Reams of beautiful thin ladies and muscly shirtless men contorting themselves into all sorts of shapes and arm balances on cliff edges, sunset beaches or smack, bang in the middle of a meadow is enough to make any person believe yoga is just not accessible to the average Joe or Josephine. However, the reality behind these beautiful images is probably a lot less beautiful, peaceful and serene.
Consider, the time it has taken to warm up the body and then to get and stay in the posture, completely still to prevent blurring. What about the toppling over and falling on faces while trying to do the ‘perfect’ arm balance or the stray dog or beach walker getting into shot on the ‘deserted’ beach. Yes, people, this is not reality for most of us. It is a freeze-frame of an ideal. The ‘perfect’ moment that, most of us may never achieve because our bodies are not made that way and we can’t, for the life of us, find a suitable cliff edge, beach or meadow!
Many of these yoga models may have grown up as dancers or gymnasts and so have been building on their physical abilities since childhood. If we do attain this ‘ideal’, guaranteed it will be fleeting, just as the image itself when the camera has clicked and the model relaxes.
So, let me dispel some other yoga myths for you. Yoga is accessible to everyone. Yoga is a practice, not a perfection and the learning is in the practice and not the final pose.
Myth – 'I’m not flexible enough'
One of the most common sentences uttered whenever the subject of yoga comes up in conversation with someone who has never been to a class is 'Oh I could never do yoga, sure I can barely touch my toes!'.
What if someone were to say 'I could never go to guitar lessons… I don’t know how to play guitar!' or 'I can’t go to swimming lessons. I don’t know how to swim'?!
Truth – Practice yoga to improve physical flexibility.
If you are not flexible now, imagine how you will be in 20 years time? It’s never too late to start practising yoga to help open up any tightness that is preventing physical movement. In saying that, the physical part of yoga (Asana) is a combination of balance, strength and flexibility.
Everybody has at least one of these factors working in their favour. What one person may lack in strength, they may make up for in flexibility and vice versa. The benefit of being ‘inflexible’ means you may have strong muscles that are protecting you so that you don’t overstretch.
‘Bendy Wendy’ who may have the ability to contort herself into all sorts of shapes may be lacking in strength where the muscles that provide support and help avoid over-stretching are weak. The quest is to find balance.
The focus is not on the end result or pose but the discoveries you make regarding your physical ability and your reaction to the challenges you face in each posture.
Newsflash! You may never be able to touch your toes.
Or you may eventually manage it only to find that a day later your body won’t go there again for some reason. Our bodies are beautifully unique.
What one person can do physically is completely different to another. Plus! Our bodies, like our minds, have good and bad days.
Some days we’re stiff, some days we’re a little more open. The beauty of yoga is that it can be modified for every single type of body. Fact. And if touching your toes is so important to you… just bend your knees…
Myth - 'I’m too busy'
So you live too far from a beach/cliff/meadow to practice ‘perfect’ yoga. Or you can’t find a suitable class that works with your schedule.
Truth – Yoga can be personalised for all lifestyles.
Do you have ten minutes to give yourself at home? What if you woke up a little earlier before the madness of getting the kids to school or yourself to work ensues, and did a couple of stretches? What if you gave yourself ten minutes before you go to bed to simply breathe? That’s yoga, my friend.
In its simplest form, that is yoga. Giving yourself some space. Dedicating some time for you… even if it is for just ten minutes.
And if you find you have fifteen minutes or more, and you’re not too confident in your own home practice, check some of the many guided yoga classes on YouTube. There’s something for all levels and all lengths of time. And if you would like to take it a little further, a lot of yoga studios now offer early morning and lunch time classes too. The obstacle to your practice here is you. The options are there. Choose one and notice the difference in your body and mind as you get back to your busy life.
Myth - 'I can’t afford it'
Those Lululemon leggings all the girls are wearing are just sooooo expensive! An €80 mat?! You’ve got to be kidding me! €15 for a drop in class? That’s like, three tops in Penneys (Dunnes, Lidl, Tesco...)!
Truth – You don’t need money to practice yoga
Let’s address the clothing first. You don’t need the latest, brightly coloured and patterned leggings to fit the yoga ‘trend’. You just don’t. All you need is some clothing that moves with you and, if you’re practising at home, that might be pyjamas or your underwear. Whatever you’re into. Having the latest trend in outfits is fine but, it’s not what yoga is about.
If we are worried about how we look, then we are not practising yoga, we’re just making shapes while wearing a trendy outfit.
Myth - 'You need an expensive mat!'
Truth: Before the 1990’s, yoga was generally practised on wooden floors, or grass, or rugs. I, myself, while travelling, have been known to roll out of bed and onto the hotel room floor for a few stretches sans mat.
While it is required in studios for health and safety reasons, there’s nothing to stop you practising on the floor or a rug at home. Most studios have spare mats that you can rent for one or two euro and lots of shops offer low-cost mats for in and around €10.
Practising at home with YouTube videos or yoga DVD’s is also a way of practising yoga without spending money but most yoga studios do offer introductory rates for new members and payment plans for continuing students. Shop around if you don’t feel comfortable developing your home practice just yet.
The Moral of the Story
Think again when you see these beautiful images of people practising yoga. They are simply catching a split second of a moment in time that doesn’t show the whole story.
It is an image of a person who has either been practising since childhood or is simply ‘made that way’ to achieve that particular posture but, their challenges may lie somewhere else.
You do not have to be thin, young, muscly, tanned, in a certain place, wearing a certain outfit, practising a certain way etc.
Take these images at face value. They are beautiful. They are inspiring. They are someone else achieving a goal after a lot of hard work. They are not for self comparison. You do your yoga. That is enough.