Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings. ~ Rumi
Can anyone do yoga? I love this question . Usually it comes to me in the form of an answer - as in, "I can't do yoga because I can't do Downward Dog." Or "I can't do the splits, or put my legs behind my head" - whatever the practice of 'yoga' signifies to the person with whom I'm conversing. I have the sense that for many people, 'yoga' means 'flexibility'. If I'm not 'flexible,' ergo, I can't 'do yoga'.
It's easy to understand why many people equate 'yoga' with 'flexibility'. If you google 'yoga images', there they are. Pages and pages of gorgeous pictures of gorgeous people, mostly women, doing Downward Dog, doing the splits, putting their legs behind their head, putting their legs up in the air, standing on one hand with their legs up in the air doing the splits, or balancing on the top of their head.
Lovely to look at. Will we be able to do that in this lifetime? I don’t know about you, but it’s a no for me. Does that mean we can’t practise yoga? No.
When I practise yoga, I do not do handstands or headstands. Or the splits, or put my legs behind my head. And there have been times when I have felt as if I should be able to do all these things to qualify as a "real" yoga teacher. Ah well. My body has caught up with me. After suffering a fractured pelvis many years ago falling from a horse, a whiplash injury from a car accident, a rotator cuff injury from a fall on ice, as well as my fear of being upside down in case I have a stroke (yup, my pet fear), I am hesitant to try extreme poses for fear of causing more injury to myself. Truth is, I practise yoga to improve my life, not to turn myself upside down and inside out. And something else? A lot of people who are doing the splits and putting their legs behind their head are in pain. Why? Because they are pushing their bodies too far, too fast. (If you enjoy putting your legs behind your head and are not in pain, this post may not be for you:).
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of attending a class taught by Ida Herbert, who last year was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest yoga teacher. Ida was 96 at the time (and yes, she could put her legs over her head). She'd been practising since she was 50 years old - a mere 46 years. After class, there were a few questions. Asked if she had any aches and pains, she answered that she had none. She didn't practise for hours a day. Some days, she said she didn't practise at all. She practised because she enjoyed it and she believed it kept her healthy and her mind quiet. At 96, she was spry, agile, flexible and strong, bright and witty.
Yoga is Breath. Awareness. Movement. Not forcing, pushing, or trying to do something you cannot do. Simply Breath. Awareness. Movement. Is yoga about being flexible? Nope. Can you become more flexible if you practise yoga? For sure! Deepen your movement with easy breathing and focused awareness, and magical things happen. Your body becomes more flexible. Stronger. More relaxed. Your range of motion improves. Pain lessens and even disappears. Your mind becomes calmer. What's not to like?
So the answer to that question is yes, Virginia, anyone can do yoga. If you can breathe, you can develop awareness and find pain-free movement. You can do it! And I hope you'll join me.
Donna offers a holistic perspective on the relationship and healing of physical and emotional pain.