Thursday, October 31, 2013

who needs yoga?

I often meet ladies who tell me that they cannot 'do yoga' because their bodies are not flexible enough.
Some of them tried yoga in the past and quickly became frustrated, others associated yoga with the most extreme contortions and concluded that it wasn't safe for them. They invariably felt that their lack of flexibility stood in the way of practicing yoga.

I think that they way yoga is taught in many studios and gyms contributes to this fallacy. Often the teacher seems solely interested in impressing students with his/her flexibility; many yoga classes are "multi-level" which means beginners are seldom catered for; sometimes competition among students is encouraged by teacher's comments rather than dissuaded.
The marketing of body-hugging yoga gear through the use of young, extremely flexible yoga models on glossy yoga magazines fuels this erroneous perception.
As a result too many people wrongly assume that you need to be young and flexible to practice yoga.

In fact, anyone can practice Yoga, and the less flexible you are the more there is for you to gain!

Actually, if you were naturally hyper-mobile, that is very flexible, you should be strengthening the muscles that support individual joints, rather than over-stretching them. The teacher should choose a sequence of  poses that target core stability, poses that engage stomach and pelvic floor muscles to help stabilise the lower back rather than doling out compliments.

As i often repeat in my blog,  yoga is best learned on a one-to-one basis, or in  a very small and homogeneous group of people. Everybody can benefit from yoga as long as poses are carefully selected to suit their level of flexibility and fitness, emotional and physical needs, desired outcome.

Nobody should be intimidated by advanced poses when alternative poses can be selected. There are hundreds of yoga poses to choose from, and in my experience the more challenging the pose, the more tense the student. Which defeats the purpose of yoga!

If a student feels intimidated by a pose, it means she is not ready for it. It also means that the teacher hasn't been able to gauge the student's mental and physical readiness for that pose.

For some of my students addressing insomnia or depression is far more important than lifting a leg up to their shoulder. Quietening the mind, stimulating the endocrine system, or learning  how to cope with stress through gentle, restorative poses, breathing exercises and meditation techniques is a far more desirable outcome than learning how to do a Scorpion pose. Scorpion is a beautiful pose, and many experienced yoga practitioners can perform it safely and derive many benefits from it. But it's also out of reach for the majority of people who take up yoga in their middle age. So, should we aim for poses that are 'beautiful" or poses that make and keep us healthier and more balanced?

You may enjoy swimming but certainly you wouldn't feel frustrated if you couldn't break an olympic record.
So, approach yoga in the same way.

Being able to rest your forehead on your shins is not a requirement and shouldn't stop you from practicing yoga. The best practice is the one YOU benefit from.

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