Yoga is changing every day. With new Instagram models taking yoga and splashing it all over our feeds as “self-care”, it’s begun to dawn on me what yoga actually is (and isn’t).
It appears these days that western, or whitewashed yoga, is all about how flexible you can be, how long your limbs are and which tropical paradise backdrop you can do your photoshoot in front of.
Well, I’m done with that. The last few months I have stepped away from posting anything on Instagram and Facebook for my own personal reasons, but also to not be part of the problem of others not feeling as though they are enough.
Let’s start with flexibility
I have taken the word “flexible” out of my vocabulary when talking about yoga and its benefits. As a dancer, this was always my biggest struggle within myself and my body. It made me feel terrible to work on lunges and splits every day for years, and never, ever see any improvement.
It was only when studying my yin training in March 2021 with Tania Perry that we learnt in-depth about bone mobility. For some, mobility will only ever reach a certain point before bone hits bone in the joint and the body can literally go no further.
For me, this is especially apparent in my ankles when doing ado muka svanasana (downward dog). Although I do have more mobility in my body than the “average” person, my heels have never touched the floor, no matter how much yoga I do. This is because the joint in the front of my ankle hits bone and won’t move any further. And there is literally nothing I, nor anyone else can do about that.
This is where ego needs to step out of our own way and acceptance of what our body can do needs to be heard and abided by. I can’t tell you the number of injuries I had as a dancer due to pushing my body to places it was literally never meant to go.
You don’t need to get better
I’ve been in many yoga classes where teachers are “pushers” and really make their students work. Which is absolutely wonderful… if that’s what the students want. I know I have been one of those teachers myself. When I am that teacher, it’s because I know my students, their abilities, and I’ve had a chat with them beforehand to make sure that a tougher practice is what their bodies need that day, and not what their ego’s want.
Ever been in a yoga class and the teacher has said “We’re all going to hold plank together for 1 minute and if someone drops out, we start again!”? This is not yoga, this is a fitness class. Which is fine, but don’t call it yoga.
Step one, listen to your body. Step two, listen to your teacher. If your body says no, stop. Because this act is absolutely yoga. I’ve been in a vinyasa class before as a student, and I literally spent 45 minutes of the 60-minute practice in balasana (child pose). It was so empowering to listen and hear my body tell me no, and listen to her. It felt like a meditation practice, which is actually what yoga originated as.
You don’t need to look like anything or anyone
Stop buying $80 leggings to go to yoga twice a week! It is honestly the biggest waste of money. The clothes that you already have are more than fine to practice in. And if you find that little voice telling you to go buy something, donate that money to charity instead and do something even more yogic than buying pretty patterned yoga pants that a child made.
Today’s world is all about selling us things. Selling us ideas of how we have to look to fit in with a group or with society. YOU DON’T NEED TO! Read this article about the founder of Lululemon and then never buy anything from him ever again.
If you want to feel yourself when you do yoga, wear whatever you want. Part of the 8 limbs of yoga talk about non-violence, or ahimsa. Be mindful about where your clothing is coming from. Heck, I, as a yoga teacher, only buy second-hand yoga pants from Facebook Marketplace or op shops.
The basics of yoga are missing
When we think of yoga these days, we think of being upside down, right way up with a leg behind the other ear. Yes, these are yoga poses. However, this is not what yoga originated as. Stop thinking that Instagram is what yoga is. Please!
Originally, asana practice (the physical aspects of a yoga practice) were only different seated positions in which yogis would sit and meditate. There was no solute to the sun at all. But sitting and meditating without taking a photo of it doesn’t get the ping of likes, does it?
As yoga developed over thousands of years, we see the practice as it is now. I can’t count the number of practices I have been in where yoga is literally just the asana practice with no call to breath or meditation. The amount of classes where I’ve been told, before the teacher has even locked the door behind them, to stand at the top of my mat and “om” before starting rigorous suri namaskara’s way too fast for a warm-up of my body.
What happened to pranayama (breathe exercises)? When are we sitting in meditation? Where did mindfulness and kindness and checking in with ourselves go before we begin to move? Before we open the fridge, our bodies (usually) tell us that we’re hungry. Why are we not asking our bodies if they want to move before launching into a yoga practice?
What to do
For all yoga teachers out there reading this, I implore you to go back to the yogic roots in which this sacred tradition stemmed and not lose that. Enjoy those moments and the start and end of each practice and invite students to drop into intuition and feeling, rather than pushing and potentially abandoning themselves.
And to students reading this, if your teaching is not serving your practice, invite the feedback to them and if they are unopen to helping you in your practice, kindly thank them and find another teacher. Don’t settle for what doesn’t serve you. Not just in yoga either, in every aspect of your life.
And if you’d like to have some yoga fun with me, head here to learn more about how you can from anywhere in the world.