At one point or another, you've probably considered trying yoga. Maybe you were just about to sign up for your first class when you saw an Instagram post of someone doing a handstand on an actual fence post, and you thought, "Well, maybe not."
Fence post yoga is photogenic, but it's not really yoga—or at least, it's only a small part of it. Some of those handstanders might simply be strong athletes who spend all day working on handstands and don't even have a dedicated, well-rounded yoga practice!
The beauty of yoga is that there's something for everyone, and it goes far beyond the physical postures into breathing techniques, meditation, and so much more. Not everyone can do all yoga, but everyone can do some yoga no matter your age or body type.
If you're still not convinced, ask yourself: "Can I sit in this chair and breathe deeply for one minute?" Yes? Then you've successfully started your yoga practice.
Who Can Do Yoga?
Children. Adults. Seniors. World-class athletes. Recovering couch potatoes. Thin people. Thick people. Short people. Tall people. People with serious health conditions. People who are missing a limb. People who can't get out of bed.
Really. Everyone. We're not kidding.
"Yoga is not for the flexible. It's for the willing."
Poses won't look the same on everyone, because we're all built differently—and height and weight are only the beginning of that. Our bones are shaped and proportioned differently. Our joints are put together differently. Your downward dog doesn't have to look like the one you see on a magazine cover. It probably won't, and that's okay. It looks like yours. That's what you want.
But What If I...
...am sick, elderly, tired, overweight, etc.? No problem. You can adapt your practice to meet you where you are. This is how.
- Talk to Your Doctor: Discuss yoga with your doctor and find out if there are any poses or breathing techniques that aren't suitable for you.
- Work With a Teacher: A qualified, experienced yoga teacher will guide you through a safe practice and help you improve your form and technique.
- Listen to Your Body: This may be the most important part. There is no ego in yoga—or at least we're trying to learn to take the ego out! Your yoga is yours and yours alone, and if your body doesn't like a particular pose, you don't have to do it, not even if everyone else in the class is doing it. A good teacher will never pressure you into a pose you're not ready for, and you shouldn't pressure yourself.
- Take Your Time: Your yoga journey is not in a hurry. Improvements and changes will take as long as they take. Your only task is to get on the mat consistently and see where it leads you.
- Modify: There are countless ways to modify a pose. Let's take trikonasana (triangle), for example. By using a yoga block under your hand, you don't have to reach so far to touch solid ground. This allows you to practice alignment and breathing in the pose without straining under a stretch that's too deep for where you are right now. Blocks, straps, and bolsters offer countless opportunities to modify poses. You can also choose different versions of particular poses that may be more acceptable.
- Stop When You Need To: You'll never outgrow any of the yoga poses, even the "easy" or "beginner-friendly" ones. They're all valuable for their own reasons. So if you can't hold that downward dog for so long, just come back to a child's pose. Do baby cobra instead of upward dog. Sit with your legs crossed and breathe. As long as you're breathing, acknowledging your feelings, and practicing presence, you're still doing yoga.
- Try a Specialized Class: More on that below!
Making Yoga Accessible to Everyone
It's true: not all of us can step on a mat and do 108 sun salutations. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of class styles and new hybrid classes designed to appeal to everyone, offering the right balance of challenge and rest where you need it most.
- Chair Yoga: Ideal for someone with limited mobility or someone who struggles to get on and off the floor. You can adapt almost any yoga posture on the chair; many poses are performed sitting, while others use the chair for balance during standing poses.
- Restorative Yoga: Everyone can benefit from this class, which focuses on long holds in comfortable poses supported by pillows, bolsters, and blankets. Find your way here if you need to focus on your mental and emotional well-being without straining your body.
- Pre- and Post-Natal Yoga: These classes are for new and expectant mothers. They include poses that are safe for healthy pregnancies and may also focus on some mental and emotional preparation for childbirth.
- Yoga for Trauma Survivors: Teachers trained to work with trauma survivors are aware of those special needs and concerns within the context of a yoga class and beyond.
- Yoga for Children: Kids approach life differently than we do, so naturally they approach yoga differently, too! A class designed for kids will help them maintain interest and develop a healthy practice of their own.
- Pranayama: This is the practice of breathing techniques, which can and should show up in all yoga classes. You could base your entire practice on breathing—even if you're unable to leave your bed.
Research your area to find these types of classes which may not always be on the schedule at a typical gym or studio. In any class you take, talk to the teacher about whatever limitations you might have—physical or mental. Make sure he or she is aware of any injuries or concerns so he or she can make suggestions and offer modifications.
Benefits of Yoga
By now, hopefully you know you can do yoga, and this is why you should. Not everyone will see the same benefits on the same timeline, but you can rest assured that if you practice, you will see some changes. This is true whether you take your first class at age 10 or age 80!
As we get older, strength, flexibility, and balance become increasingly important. Maintaining and improving that trifecta is what allows us to stay active and independent as we age.
Yoga works to improve all three, and it does so without excessive pounding and pressure on the joints like you may experience in a typical fitness class. As muscles spend time under tension while holding a yoga pose, strength increases. Unless you have specific limitations, yoga is typically a full-body practice, giving you the opportunity to strengthen muscles from head to toe. Poses and transitions contribute to improved joint function and range of motion.
With better strength and flexibility comes better balance—and of course, there are a lot of postures in yoga where you'll work on balance directly! Better strength and balance translates to improved mobility and a decreased risk of falling. Indeed, a regular yoga practice helps you delay, lessen, or even avoid some of the issues we typically associate with aging. It is functional fitness at its best.
And that's not all. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress while improving focus, mental clarity, concentration, confidence, mood, mindfulness, body awareness, and body acceptance.
"The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness." Sakyong Mipham
How Do I Start?
It's best to take a class. The guidance of an experienced teacher is invaluable. As you progress, you might start practicing at home on your own, as well.
For now, explore a few yoga studios in your area and sign up for that first class! When you get there, remember:
You Do You
Don't compare yourself to anyone else in the class. They all started somewhere. They're all fighting their own internal battles. Be present for your own practice.
Ask for Help
Being in class with a teacher is where that starts. He or she can offer verbal cues and hands-on assistance that can help you find the proper positions. Teachers offer real-time feedback about your technique. Go beyond simply showing up by communicating with the teacher about any limitations or concerns you may have.
Enjoy the Journey
This is a lifelong learning experience. Appreciate each day you have on the mat and what it can teach you.
There's nothing you have to be or not be in order to do yoga. Start today and do what you can. You'll surprise yourself with the progress you make. If you've enjoyed this post, or have ideas of what you'd like to read about, please let us know here.