Yoga? Nope, not for me!
It seems like no matter how often yoga practitioners encourage their friends or colleagues to try yoga, many say they can't "do" yoga because they are not flexible (or some other reason that relates to their level of fitness or that they can't sit still for "all that yoga woo-woo stuff" (I think they mean savasana, the nice little rest that we take at the end....). As I talk to people about my classes, and the practice of yoga in general, I hear this constantly. It presents somewhat of a quandary for me. I try to parse those who really mean “I have no interest in trying your class but I don’t want to hurt your feelings or be rude” and those who really believe that only certain people can “do” yoga.
I decided to teach yoga because of how it changed my life, and I wanted to share that passion. I liken what has happened to yoga over the centuries to what has happened to religion. Man got involved. In other words, spirituality is a beautiful thing in all of its forms, it is the intervention of man and their “rules” that have made organized religion divisive and exclusive. That is a discussion for another day (and forum). Yoga, at its root, is a practice of mind, body, breath work. Nowhere in the Bhagavad Gita or Patanjali’s Sutras does it say, yoga is wearing fancy yoga clothes, being hyper mobile and being the most flexible person doing physically impossible poses for their body! Again, I blame western commercialization for this interpretation of yoga.
Taking our cue from the history of yoga we can focus on what yoga really is. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali wrote that the purpose of yoga is to “control of fluctuations in the mind” and the literal translation of yoga means “to yoke” or join. In thinking about yoga and what it means to each of us individually, I love this quote from The Bhagavad Gita, “Yoga is the journey of the self, though the self, to the self”.
Every person in the world can practice yoga, and there is no “correct” way to look in a pose - one of the reasons I do not like mirrors in yoga studios. Our practice should have us focusing inward on how we feel in our breath and movement, not how “perfect” our pose looks. Looking outward also leads to self judgement - also unproductive. Instructors should guide a class, allow the students to explore the poses only ensuring no injurious interpretations (not correcting and prodding for “perfect alignment”). Everyone’s body is different and it is silly (and injurious) to think a pose will look the same on everyone.
So, who should practice yoga? In my humble opinion any person (regardless of limitations-modifications make it accessible to all of us) that could benefit from the mind, body connection, could improve their flexibility, could gain some strength through resistance, could learn to breathe more deeply, could learn to let go, could benefit from meditation, could benefit from a nurturing community, wants to have some fun…. Funny, to me it sounds like everyone!
So, I suggest that all of us "yogis" encourage one person this week to join them to practice, or refer them to an on line YouTube video that you like. I, for one, am going to try and encourage my husband to try it again. I know he would benefit!
Meditation - Why We Practice Yoga
“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.” ― T.K.V. Desikachar
Our Practice - Virabhadrasana One -Warrior One Pose – To Square or Not to Square
Warrior one pose is central to many of our yoga practices. It also can be very challenging, especially if we follow some of the misguided cues, including thinking that the back foot always needs to be flat on the floor and the hips should be perfectly square to the front of the room “like headlights”. (Picture left)
There are many schools of thought on this pose, Kripalu teaches this pose with the back heel lifted ( Crescent Warrior-see below). I like to cue widening the legs like train tracks versus a tight rope. If the hip on the back leg is somewhat open, so be it, it likely is the way your body is made and will allow you to take the pose without injury.
Below are a couple of links to articles on this topic. One explores the anatomy of the pose and how to avoid injury and the other, from Kripalu, explains why they teach the lifted heel version there.
This week we will refocus on Warrior One and how to do it safely.
The benefits of the pose (done without injury) include:
Increased flexibility in the hips and shoulders
Heart/chest opening – opening heart to the world!
Increased strength in legs, ankles and back.
Anatomy of W-1 and Squaring Hips
Nurturing with Food – Enjoying Lentils
This week’s food focus is a plug for lentils. I have recipes for Indian Dal on the website and just noticed that although I make lentil soup constantly, I don’t have the recipe for my middle eastern version on the website. I will do that soon!
I eat legumes because, as an almost vegan, I need the protein. I also happen to really like them. This past week I unearthed this bag of “super food” lentils I had bought recently. It was a mixture of 5 different lentils.
In a saucepan I sauteed some onion in olive oil with a tablespoon of cumin and a teaspoon of coriander. Added 2 cups of the bean medley (or any lentils) and 4 cups of vegetable broth. I brought them to a boil and then lowered to simmer. I simmered for about 30 minutes adding water and the broth absorbed. When the beans were relatively tender but not mushy, I seasoned with pepper (there was enough salt in the broth) and turned it off. I had those lentils which I could then use as a base for a bowl, add broth or water for a soup or mix with rice. Really good.
For more on the benefits of lentils:
See you on the mat!