Yoga is for spiritual people, for flexible people, for those recovering from injuries. It’s for stressed out people and laid back people. It’s for hippies, for girls, for boys and meditators. The list goes on. We hear so many answers to the question, "Who is yoga for?" Even Sri K. Pattabhi Jois had an answer when he famously quipped “Anyone can practice… except lazy people. Lazy people can’t practice.” (Learn more about Jois and the history of yoga here.)
I’m not even sure that one is true. To be fair, he was referring to Ashtanga yoga, one of the most dynamic and vigorous yoga practices around. We believe yoga is for everyone. People often come to yoga with the idea they are there to stretch, or to relax, or to contort their bodies into impressive-looking postures. But the magic that usually hooks people is that through yoga they connect with a deeper, calmer place within themselves. Ultimately, that is the goal of yoga, to allow us to reconnect with our inner Selves.
It isn't for the "me" we usually think about, the ego or thoughts, obsessions and worries. Through yoga, we "hold space" for a wiser, peaceful self. The one that observes all that happens and remains unaffected. (Learn more about "holding space" here.)
So when people say “Yoga isn’t for me,” it’s worth asking, "Which 'me?'" Is it the "me" of the monkey mind? Are insecurities and prejudices getting in the way? If so, that’s not really who yoga is for. Yoga is for that which lies beneath the resistance, the inner You.
Perhaps a more practical answer is that yoga is for anyone who allows themselves to be open to trying it. Even if you’ve had a negative experience of yoga in the past, the inner Self is unaffected by whether your mind liked or disliked it before. Connecting to that is what yoga is all about.
So what does this mean on a practical level? What types of yoga might be more accessible for those of us who don’t think yoga is for us?
For Those Who Think They Aren’t Flexible Enough
I read something recently which made me laugh. It said, “Saying you’re not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath.” Yoga isn’t about getting as far as you can into a pose, it’s about meeting yourself where you’re at in the moment. Through that acceptance and surrender you may find your body releasing and you’ll realize that there’s more to yoga than stretching.
For Those Who Think They Aren’t Spiritual Enough
If you’re put off by the thought of chanting Om, choose a class with a more physical focus. There are plenty out there that will guide you through mindful movement, without mentioning chanting once.
For Those Who Think They're Too Anxious
For those of us who suffer from anxiety, Yin yoga can be amazing for learning to become present with uncomfortable thoughts and emotions without becoming entangled in their narrative. If stillness is too big a challenge at the moment then a flowing vinyasa class might initially be more soothing for the mind.
For Those Who Think They're Too Lazy
Try restorative yoga, the hardest part is getting there. Once you’re on the mat, simply get into the most comfortable position possible, supported by cushions, bolsters and blankets. Who knows, once you've reconnected with your inner Self through restorative yoga, you may find that what you thought was “laziness” was actually exhaustion and restorative yoga was the cure. Once the tiredness subsides you might find yourself wanting to try something more dynamic.
For Those Who Don't Want to Perform Silly Poses
If you’re really not keen on practicing yoga postures, try a meditation class. The original purpose of Hatha yoga asanas was to prepare the body for meditation. So skip straight to that. You’ll get the benefits of understanding the nature of mind and reconnecting with your inner Self. Later you may find that your body could use some releasing to make sitting meditation easier and you'd like to give asana practice a try. (Learn more about finding the starting point to a meditation practice here.)
For Guys Who Think Yoga is Only for Girls
There are plenty of guy-friendly classes out there. The stereotype of yoga being full of girls in brightly-colored lycra yoga pants is out of date (don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of those!). These days everyone’s doing yoga, from rugby players to office workers to powerlifters. It’s about choosing a class you feel comfortable in. Don't be fooled, yoga for men is a rapidly growing industry. You are not be alone. "Broga" anyone?
To sum things up, allow yourself to let go of your excuses and your prejudices. In the wonderful world of yoga, there is something for everyone. Give it a try. Your inner Self will thank you for it!