There are clearly a lot of people around who do not know what to expect from a yoga class. Many of those who do ask this question often think that the ability to put your foot behind your head is a prerequisite. Thankfully this is not the case. I would have only a few people in my classes, if it were so.
Many people seem to think that there are so many barriers to going to yoga, yet they could not be more wrong. I think that yoga is one of the most accessible forms of exercise (mind and body) around and is in fact accessible to almost anyone.
I hear people say that they cannot come to yoga because they are stiff and inflexible. My response is that, yoga is exactly what they should be doing. Others say that they find it hard to relax and be focussed and they are not sure that yoga could help. Yet again, where else would they go if not to a yoga class?
Let me tell you about how wonderful yoga is in its wide application for us all.
Yoga is wonderful for young, fit people who very quickly find that they can develop flexibility and strength which allows them to do postures that they never dreamed they could do. Some of them embrace it and delight in the improved concentration and focus they achieve mentally and in the control they exert over their body.
That is only one small part of the wonder of yoga though. I teach yoga to older people, people with debilitating conditions, pregnant women and people whose bodies have seized up through abuse.
Let me give you a taste of my Thursdays.
I teach a group who are in their 70’s. It is always a happy experience. They have their aches and pains, their share of replacement knees and hips and in spite of this they work hard and we have some fun. Most of my classes share the same format: some breathing work, postures and then relaxation. In this class we use chairs as aids. We started off several years ago doing all the postures from a chair and now it is probably half and half. I have to caution them because they try so hard and I have to tell them repeatedly to do only what feels comfortable for them. The weather has to be very extreme for them not to turn up and they now phone me to tell me if they cannot make it. We share a joke that we could form an orchestra; their joints creak and groan, in a way that is not very melodic, but they just keep going. I hope that I am so indomitable when I am their age
I leave them to go to a class for people with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a dreadful condition. Sufferers can experience a wide range of devastating disabilities: vision loss, difficulties walking, tremors and extreme fatigue, amongst other things. The disease often progresses, with more severe symptoms in the later stages including difficulties breathing and swallowing. Around 85,000 people have multiple sclerosis in the UK.
We do the class from chairs. The mood is upbeat and cheerful most of the time, but from time to time, more sombre. Just a couple of weeks ago, we lost G and there was great sadness. Only 46, father and grandfather, in the two years I had known him he had deteriorated dreadfully and had for some time been institutionalised. He had still come to class although he could do little. His smile and good-humour were constant and for me unbelievable. No trace of bitterness.
Everyone does what he/she can. We work on posture, always the posture; we always come back to this because “we are as old as our spine”. We do pelvic floor exercises to help with balance as that is a problem. We work the joints and muscles to help maintain whatever strength and flexibility each person has. Everyone tries so hard and sometimes we laugh.
Yoga is so inclusive; I may teach these classes and manage to adapt them so everyone can do something but I learn so much from them. I so much want to help because everyone is so dedicated and so positive.
Then I head off to my yoga for pregnancy class. The challenge in this is that I may have women who are in their first, second and third trimesters. Great, so how exactly do I manage that since first and third ‘less is more’ and second I should be helping them to be more active and building good strong leg muscles to support the extra weight? The wonderful adaptability of yoga is how I manage it. To say more would be to give away trade secrets!
I think of Thursdays as my specialist day but other classes and one-to-one sessions provide challenges of adapting postures because of the wide range of abilities in a class and sometimes disability. Yet yoga, with care and attention, can cater for it all.
I know I am evangelical in my outpourings about yoga, and I am not decrying many of the other forms of exercise that are available. However, yoga is a way in, a way to tap into our inner resources, mentally and physically, a way to make us feel better about ourselves and the world around us.
What other exercise system does that?