Accessibility and Yoga
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
Yoga can be for everyone- you start where you are, doing what you are comfortable with, and let your practice go from there. But classes don’t always feel that way. Modern work-out culture and the particular history of Yoga can make it very difficult for practitioners to find their way.
What most people think of as “yoga” is actually “asana” - the posture component of a philosophical system from India called yoga. The rest of the system contains diet, meditation techniques, and right behavior. Together these techniques create clarity in the mind so that you can accurately witness the world around you and react in the best possible way.
Because these techniques were created in a different culture and time, they can be almost impossible for modern students. In the schools where yoga was developed, students could sit cross-legged on the floor. Their hamstrings were longer and, because they were men, their hips sockets were generally shallower. Traditional Asana reflects this - the poses assume a mobility and facility with the body that frankly most people don’t have.
Yoga was also traditionally taught in small groups, so the teacher could work with students to address their specific blocks. Now most folks practice in bigger classes and so aren’t able to identify or address their unique self. There’s a reason most advanced yoga students used to be dancers or athletes - they were able to get individual training before coming to yoga so they had much of the knowledge and physicality to inhabit asana when they arrived in their first class. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Anyone can grow their yoga practice as far as they want; they just need to know the modifications that will get them there.
This goes for the other limbs of yoga as well. You can smoke, drink, have unpleasant relationships, and a depressing career and still practice yoga. The ethical system is essentially a series of techniques for mental health. Feeling scattered? Maybe practice “saucha” - cleanliness - and see if a clean house helps you focus. Or maybe you are scattered because you spend too much energy changing who you are for other people. Practice "satya" - truthfulness - with yourself and others, and see if you gain clarity. You can start exploring anywhere, picking whatever feels easy and interesting, and know that each step takes you closer to your best self.