Yoga in the west has often been diminished in both how it is perceived and who the practice is appropriate for. Many perceive yoga as a practice that helps to improve flexibility, strength, balance and perhaps placing our body into fancy shapes – all of this is true, but there is so much more.
Yoga is often depicted as something that is suitable for people of a ‘certain body type or age’. A quick search on Instagram using ‘yoga’ showed 49/50 images of people that were extremely flexible, slim, white, able bodied in a variety of poses; most being unrealistic for ‘real people’. Interestingly Yogic Philosophy doesn’t have much to say at all about the physical aspects – in fact the main emphasis is about cultivating a steady mind to grow inner awareness and self-understanding – so I often wonder – how did we get here with our ‘insta yoga’ culture ?
Fortunately, there is a growing revolution termed ‘Accessible Yoga’ led by Jivana Heyman based in the US that is helping to turn the tide about the limited perceptions of Yoga in the west.
Accessible Yoga advocates that ‘Yoga should be available to everyone, regardless of age, physical ability, socioeconomic background, race, sexual orientation, financial position, body shape etc’. Believe me there is a lot of silent exclusion going on when it comes to yoga. Many marginalised groups are not on an even playing field when it comes to accessing yoga. If you’re white, able bodied and have the means to attend yoga classes without checking your budget you many not of even considered this. Accessible yoga can also refer to the ‘ease’ experienced in getting to a class, many yoga studios have stairs with limited transport options – not overly accessible for someone experiencing a disability, or who do not have the means to afford their own transport.
Yoga is about far more than how a pose or shape looks – it has nothing to do with being thin enough or bendy enough to potentially get ourselves into a particular shape or obtain a great ‘yoga butt’ (that term actually horrifies me)! Instead ancient yoga teachings underpinned by the Yoga Sutras draw attention to what I’ve referred to earlier that yoga is about calming and quietening the mind – to develop inner awareness – to connect with our essence – our truth. On a personal level yoga practice has given me the ability to tap into and trust my instincts – thus impacting the decisions I make in everyday life. The movement, breathing practices, ethical guidelines (Yama and Niyama) and Sutras and so on encourage reflection both on and off the mat.
So I’ve talked about some of what ‘accessible yoga’ in an effort to break down common stereotypes that relate to ‘yoga’. My mission in a very ‘micro way’ is about bringing yoga to people mid-life and beyond, or people with limited mobility for whatever reason. My training in Chair Yoga, Yoga for Healthy Ageing and Accessible Yoga provide me with skills to design classes suitable for part of our population who might feel yoga is not for them. So I’ve got a big job on my hands that includes the need to ‘reach’ the people I want to teach – persuade them that yoga has a lot to offer, especially with it’s potential to cultivate equanimity to manage the ebbs and flows of the many life changing events we experience in our later years. Yoga can help people to stay mobile thus allowing them to remain independent for longer, staying strong and practicing balance can help prevent falls – according to Falls SA ‘no other single cause of injury costs the health system more than falls’,
At an individual perspective, injury from falls can be detrimental to lifestyle and independence. So there are a lot of reasons for older people to practice yoga that is appropriately designed for them.
Wish me luck with my mission!