I call my yoga classes ‘Yoga For All’, but what does this actually mean? Well primarily it’s that I want the yoga that I teach to people to be open to everyone - no matter their age, fitness level, body shape or experience of yoga. I feel that the yoga postures we do should be fitted to individuals bodies, not the other way around. We should find stability and ease in the poses, not be striving too hard or pushing ourselves to achieve some imagined version of a ‘perfect pose’. Everyone’s own version of the pose will look different, and be unique - and that’s how it should be, as we are all unique in our bodies and this changes over time, and even day to day (balance for example can vary day to day, its fluid). This uniqueness should be celebrated, in my opinion.
When people say to me that they are scared to try yoga, a lot of their reasoning stems from feeling that they'll never be able to touch their toes, or balance on one leg, or stand on their head, or they don’t feel good in ‘sports clothes’. If you look up #yoga on Instagram, you'll see loads of (incredibly unrealistic) photos of thin, (mostly) women contorting their bodies into seemingly impossible poses and positions with a beach at sunset in the background, whilst wearing a bikini. But what you won't see is context or history - the many times that person fell over trying to get into that particular posture, the years of dance lessons that allowed her to easily bring her foot up over her head, the long and specifically timed walk to a particular beach to perform a single posture for a camera, the huge number of photos taken to produce the one you see in front of you. Basically, it’s not real.
These images are deterring because they create an image of yoga as something exclusive and impossible for many body types, ages and levels of fitness. People look at these images may decide yoga isn't for them because their versions of particular postures look nothing like those hashtagged #yoga on social media, and their bodies do not look that way. In addition injuries happen as people attempt to contort their bodies into similar positions, compromising the integrity of the postures as well as their own physical and/or mental wellbeing in the process. This is definitely what yoga is not about. To have a look at a great instagram account about 'yoga aesthetics' take a look at www.instagram.com/mynameisjessamy (I wrote about her on facebook earlier this week, and that her in the amazing photograph!).
The reality is this: bodies don't need to change to suit particular postures, it’s actually theother way around. Whether or not you can touch your toes, the benefits of a forward fold are still there. When you forward fold with bent knees, you're stretching out the back of the legs and the back, as well as bringing your head below your heart which creates a calming effect. The visual aspect of touching your hands to your feet or the floor does nothing to 'improve' these benefits – they are there regardless. We practice yoga postures not to look a certain way, but instead to reap the numerous benefits that come from a yoga practice.
I really think that yoga needs to become more inclusive and benefit-focussed rather than image focussed. You don't need to make your body a certain way to do a posture: instead, you need to adapt the posture to suit and honour your body. This is how you can get the most of your yoga practice physically, and perhaps mentally as well. Please don't let your body shape / fitness level / age prevent you from getting on the mat.