When I first started doing yoga, it was in a beautiful room in an old Georgian building in Liverpool, and as far as I believe, one of the only places to take a yoga class near to the city centre. There was a small group of teachers, most of whom are still teaching now, and the ones that I know I consider to be some of the most knowledgeable, experienced and inspirational people I have ever met – the kind of teacher I aspire to be.
Now, the yoga world has really taken off. There are so many more places in the city to take a class, countless variations (apparently even “beer yoga” is a thing) and above all, the amount of yoga wear available to purchase/stop yourself from purchasing has increased significantly.
I may be biased but I can mostly see this as a great thing. I do truly believe that the world would be a much happier place if everyone had a little yoga in their life and the very fact that people are keen to improve on their well-being, get to know their bodies and take some time to be quiet and still is such a positive step towards health and happiness.
However, this rise in popularity has also led to an intensification of an insta-crazy world of super bendy and super fit bodies putting their legs behind their head on the beach or on tropical islands and it is these pictures which seem to dominate our social media every single day. Of course everyone is free to make their own choices and this is only my perspective but we must remind ourselves of the true reason for our practice and be very cautious of making yoga seem like it is something unattainable or only for certain people.
Difficult asanas are fun and it is important that we challenge ourselves with new postures, but for me those postures are something which come from a very deep place inside and which often takes months, even years to master because they require a lot of opening up of the body, and sometimes the self. For example, headstand requires a lot of core strength which is built up by doing other, less instagramable postures. It also involves a lot of fear which needs to be overcome as well as balance, which can come from the way we feel stabilised in our day to day lives as well as our bodies. Another one is backbends. For this we need time to create space between the shoulder blades and openness in the hips as well as strength in our arms and increased movement in our spine. Backbends also involve us raising our chest upwards which can be connected to how open we feel in our heart.
When people talk to me about coming to yoga for the first time, the most common worry is that people are apprehensive that they will be unable to do any postures because they are inflexible. This does not matter. As long as you are willing to dedicate some time to yourself and have an interest in taking care of your body then yoga is for you.
Yes, there may be some postures which are challenging but that’s the point. Yoga is not instant gratification. When I first came to yoga, I was always ruled by my head telling me that I wasn’t strong enough or capable enough to do things and my hamstrings were almost unstretchable due to years of walking everywhere, often in shoes that were not made for such activities (I wish I could have warned sixteen year old me about that one). These things did not disappear overnight and are sometimes obstacles which I still face on my mat, but in observing this everyday I feel stronger, much more able and respectful of my body and its limitations which are different every single day.
In yoga we practice Santosa which is a Sanskrit term I interpret as contentment, acceptance and being happy with what we have. It’s not easy and when faced with images that constantly ask us to compare ourselves to others, it can begin to affect our confidence and self-belief and even make us stop something before we have even started it.
It doesn’t have to. Whatever you want it to be is your yoga.
As for yoga on the beach, you could always draw a sunshine and stick it on your wall 😉