Yoga is not about touching the ground.
Yoga is not about the shape of your body.
Yoga is about the flexibility of your mind, the tenacity of your soul, and the authentic practice that will be different each and every single time we show up on our mat.
I have been a yoga instructor for over two years and have had a personal yoga practice for almost five. I am constantly learning and feel just as much a student as the others who attend my classes. I try to welcome people with as much kindness and gratitude as I can, humbled by the opportunity to share space and guide them through class.
I was very fortunate to have amazing and knowledgeable teachers who early on in my 200-hour training brought up the many contradictions of current, corporate, Westernized yoga. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard,
"You can’t ‘win’ at yoga."
That ‘win at yoga’ feeling is exactly the reason why I don’t actively follow #yoga tags on social media. The purpose of postures are to align ourselves with breath, body and mind. Our practice can be both physically and mentally challenging, but somewhere along the way, yoga morphed into a diet-fitness culture built around hyper-flexibility and pretzel, physics-defying inversions.
The abled body, young, skinny, affluent, (often white) practitioner balancing on a big toe and pinky finger at a resort in the Maldives became the standard on Social for the hashtag. Rather than feeling empowered and amazed, I often admittedly feel discouraged and comparative when seeing these images. I realize this is a personal response, one I fully own, but one I also know I am not alone in feeling.
This is not to say people should not have an inversion practice, peak posture play or balancing poses to attain toward; but as a huge advocate for the accessibility of yoga, it must first feel approachable. If the practice appears unattainable, it can deter or discourage potential people from ever making it to the mat.
The yoga we often see is fast paced, movement based, or of the schools of Vinyasa, Power, Hot, Bikram, Ashtanga or Iyengar. I cannot tell you how many waitlisted Vinyasa classes I’ve taught or attended in comparison to the modestly attended restorative or yin. While classes are not about attendance size, it is very telling of the way in which yoga is perceived and preferred.
One sentiment I love to revisit often in classes is “What is the purpose of this pose? If your form compromises the integrity of the posture, give yourself permission to readjust or modify.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I’m not flexible enough” when asking people if they’ve tried yoga.
Slowing down and breath work can help quiet our mind so we can actually hear what our body is feeling and saying. Being authentic in your practice means being open to a variety of ways your postures, sequencing and breath work can play out, and listening to yourself.
Don’t forget that breath itself movement.
I have out of training and now a habit, cut out the phrases “if you need” and “for more” from my vocabulary. Instead I rely on giving variations and options, offering up the usage of props, and avoiding the “full expression” language that can make anything but feel less than. Creating an open space to stay curious and feel supported in a practice is the best thing I can do as an instructor.
Why are we doing this practice and who are we doing it for? Leave the performance at the door. Check your ego there as well. Yoga is not transactional, it is transformational. Yoga is a work in, not a work out.