Bustin’ past the cliches

Our beautiful YogaBellies teacher Theresa writes about the many cliches about yoga….

Yoga – Its not just for hippies!

A typical reaction from yoga virgins (particularly guys) when I suggest they try a yoga class is one of the following:
“I’m not a hippy! I really don’t like all that spiritual stuff!”
“My nan does yoga down at the church hall”
“I’m not flexible – can just see myself in lycra stretching like in that Eric Prydz video; no thanks!!”

OK – cards on the table here – as a yoga teacher and passionate yogi I might fulfil the odd yoga cliché myself (maybe just the odd pair of bright lycra leggings in the wardrobe!) – but the major reasons I fell initially for yoga were nothing to do with the list above and everything to do with how it made me feel physically. I was a distance runner and gym bunny who thought stretching was a bit of a waste of work out time and that had impacted and made my muscles strong but very inflexible. Yoga felt like a breath of fresh air – allowing my muscles and tissues time and space to breathe. I felt incremental growth in flexibility almost immediately and was hooked on growing further. The strengthening and flow dimension satisfied any cravings for a good workout too. Not convinced? Let’s deal with the clichés one at a time:

“I’m not a hippy! I really don’t like all that spiritual stuff!”

Hopefully yoga is popular enough now that this stereotype is getting outdated. But the image persists – there are Indian pictures of Goddesses and elephants, incense and candles and in movies we see characters played by people like Russell Brand hamming it up – being new agey, “ohmm-ing” and at being at one with everything!! Yes, there is a huge link between Yoga and Spirituality for many people which stems from the roots of yoga. Yoga was originally a philosophy of which physical postures were only a small part. However, the way yoga has largely developed in the West is with a strong emphasis on physical practice and there is nothing wrong with this. From being a way of priming the body to sit perfectly still and unhindered in meditation, the postures themselves have become the meditation with millions of people reaping the mental benefits of a breath linked physical practice. Of course, the more you practice yoga, the more you may decide to track into its spiritual and philosophical roots and it may even start to change your life! But you’d be hard pressed to find a modern yoga class where you would be pushed into any sort of spiritual activity and even if the teacher does offer a few words of yogic philosophy during class it’s usually completely relevant to modern life. Of course, there are specialist yoga classes where chanting, seated meditation and prayer are a significant component – but you would normally have to seek those out under the label Kundalini or Jivamukti and they are much less common.

“My nan does yoga down at the church hall!”

This stereotype has certainly evolved from a truth. Yoga is amazingly adaptable and suitable for people of all ages and abilities so no wonder it’s got the grey pound!! It can be adapted by younger people with physical impairments or injuries too. Likewise, for the uber fit and flexible it can be adapted to push you further and take more extreme or strengthening postures and flow. The first formal practice of yoga (Ashtanga) was originally designed for fit young Indian men in the heat – which is quite a distance from your Nan in a draughty church hall!! But it just demonstrates the beautiful versatility of yoga – it really is for everyone and you can find a class to suit you or adapt to your needs.

“I’m not flexible or a lycra-clad gym bunny!”

I have to confess this objection to yoga really frustrates me – No one starts off their yoga journey as flexible – I certainly didn’t – and the more you feel you’re inflexible, the more you need yoga in your life!! Many of us have seen Instagrammed pictures of yogis, usually beautiful slender young women in lycra or buff topless guys holding impossible looking postures with an amazing beach or natural background. These yogis are certainly in the minority of practitioners. It takes years of dedication to develop a practice where you can hold these extreme poses and the Instagram photos are totally designed to be very aspirational and aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, they can put people off who are miles away from flexibility or don’t have a conventionally attractive (read- slender!) body type. The good news is that there is now a new generation of Instagram yogis with bodies of all shapes and sizes to inspire us. Yoga classes are popping up everywhere, and there are novelty/themed yoga classes such as beer yoga, wine yoga – even Harry Potter yoga (yes, with a wand!!) designed to appeal to people from all walks of life. Your local yoga classes might not offer such novelties but they will be made up of people from all ages and stages of life. The advanced yoga practitioners are certainly in the minority – your teacher probably isn’t even there yet (and there’s nothing wrong with that!).
Whilst writing this blog I had a lightbulb moment – the yoga clichés I’ve dealt with above are so distant from each other: the hippy, the granny, the gym bunny – it just goes to illustrate how yoga is incredibly versatile and accessible to all. Do yourself a favour post Easter chocolate and go and check out a local class. You may even become hooked!!

Theresa runs YogaBellies for pregnancy classes and Ashtanga classes on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings at the Courtyard clinic in Dursley.
Call 01453 548119 to book or for more information.

April 27, 2017

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