I am quite certain I have a mission in this lifetime to help people understand that yoga is not about stretchy black pants and pretzel poses. Yoga is MORE than exercise!
Now, I confess I LOVE my stretchy black pants. I live in them.
And one important limb of yoga is indeed about physical postures that contribute to flexibility of body and mind.
But the misconception that yoga is just an exercise class at the gym needs some redirection.
You see, if you roll out your mat (at home or in class) and come to the practice with a willingness to be fully present with where your body is in every given moment without judging yourself or others, then - and only then - are you truly practicing yoga.
And the breath. Yes, the breath is key.
Here are two tales of two yoga students (names changed...)
*Sandy is a 47 year old woman who, due to unexpected health challenges, has gained 100 pounds over the past few years. She came for her private yoga sessions with me every week with a smile and an open heart.
Sandy would arrive on time, roll out her mat, gets her blocks, strap and her bolster and come into a seated position supported with folded blankets under her knees and under her tail bone. She always comes to her sessions willing to mindfully ready herself for her yoga practice.
Sandy understands the true meaning of yoga. She works with her body exactly as it is. She welcomes the breath to flow through her and she gently focuses on the here and the now. After centering, I guide Sandy to stand in tadasana (mountain pose) and gently sweep her arms out and up, gently hinging at the hips and folding into utanasana. Her body holds substantial flesh around her belly, so she is unable to touch her toes. She breathes into where she is and accepts with love and grace this present moment, this body and this breath as it is. This is yoga.
And now for another story....
*Laney bustled into yoga class 10 minutes late. She noisily snaps her mat open, tossed her belongings against the wall noisily and plopped down into full lotus. She moved through sun salutations with ease as her body is very flexible, her joints open. She looked around the room comparing her triangle pose to the others in the class. It is obvious her mind is elsewhere, maybe running through her to-do list. She checks her phone while in utanasana while reaching the flats of her palms to the floor with ease. Her disrespect for the practice, for the others in class and for the teacher is the opposite of what yoga is truly about.
It does not matter whether your body is barely able to bend or whether you can twist like a licorice stick. You are practicing yoga when you are able to come into present state of being with awareness to breathing and acceptance.
When practicing true yoga, we don't compare ourselves to anyone else because all that matters is that you are where YOU are in this moment.
While the physical postures alone can indeed promote great flexibility in the body, in order to gain all the benefits from true yoga, it is important to be where you are, breathe into what you are feeling with a lot of acceptance.
*These names and details have been changed to protect the identity of my students.