October 24, 2013

Is Yoga Really for Everyone?

Most of us have heard the saying, “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.”

Is that really true?

In a literal sense, yes. Because the definition of yoga is the yoking together of the breath and the movements of the body in order to still the mind, anyone who has any range of movement—even if it’s just the ability to blink their eyes, and can breath unassisted, can practice yoga. In fact, as I write that, I am struck by the possibility of leading people who are profoundly injured or incapacitated through a sequence built solely on the breath and movements of the eyes.

For the average bear, however, the question isn’t really, “Can I do yoga?” but, “What kind of yoga can I do?”

After I injured my back about a year ago, had surgery and completed physical therapy, I was shocked to discover that almost everyone on the medical team caring for me (with the exception of my doctor) had the mistaken belief that yoga—and when they said “yoga” it was totally unspecified—could magically fix any physical problem.

“You’re a yoga teacher?” I was constantly asked, “How did you end up here?”

Somewhere along the line, the concept of yoga has become misunderstood as a therapeutic catch all. People (including my own husband, who is married to a yoga teacher) persist in believing that any kind of yoga will help any kind of ailment.

This is very troubling to me for a couple of reasons.

First, people who believe that will try a yoga class at the gym or wherever (often at the suggestion of their well meaning doctor—my doc had operated on several yogis so was better-informed), discover that it is, in fact, very challenging and either never come back or get injured or both, and second, it de-values the idea of yoga as a whole.

Yoga is not physical therapy. Is it an entire philosophy which truly can, in the proper iteration, benefit every single person who is able to breathe.

But not if the people recommending it don’t understand what they are recommending.

Fortunately, it really is as simple as finding the appropriate class.

For true beginners, if the resources are available, a few private lessons are a wonderful idea. Privates are custom tailored to fit you and your knowledge or lack thereof, and can provide a solid foundation for a lifetime of practice.

If you can’t afford privates, but would still like to try them out, contact any studio that offers yoga teacher training and ask them if any newly-minted teachers would consider teaching you privately for a reduced price. Many new teachers would love the opportunity to gain experience and share with you some of the fantastic stuff they have just learned. The downside, of course, is their lack of seasoning, so I don’t suggest this for people who have complicated or profound physical limitations.

If privates aren’t for you, but you still want to give yoga a (safe) try, look for gentle, restorative or yin classes. Any of these will provide a nurturing, compassionate and not-intimidating entry into the world of yoga. There is no need to ever move beyond this type of class– you can stay at this level as long as it feel right.

If you live somewhere  where you can’t find “softer” levels—though at this point, it seems there is a yoga studio on every block of every street in America—go to any multi-level or level 1 class anywhere. Just show up early and have a chat with the teacher. Explain whatever issues you may have. See what your teacher says, and if you feel you can trust him or her stay, and proceed with care. Just make sure to check your ego at the door; otherwise, despite your teacher, you may end up forcing something you’ll regret.

In answer to the question, Is yoga really for everyone?  A resounding yes!!

But only if it is approached cautiously. Yoga is a great gift handed down to us from insightful teachers over thousands of years, not some superficial exercise. It is dynamic and healing and can change your life forever in countless wonderful ways, but it is not benign.

Enter into it thoughtfully, go slow, enjoy the process and you will find the incarnation of yoga that is meant for you.

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 Ed: Sara Crolick


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