Yoga is not gymnastics!

I cannot even begin to count the number of times that someone has told me that they are afraid to do Yoga because they are not ‘flexible’ enough. And my response to them every time is that true yoga has nothing at all to do with flexibility. Of course being flexible and strong is wonderful, but is not at all required to be a yogi.

It is fantastic if you can be that person with such physical strength and agility who can practice these complicated postures. Unfortunately the myth of physical perfection and flexibility has built up in the West over the years. The general masses get completely intimidated when they hear the word yoga because they visualize a very toned person balancing on one hand with both legs up in the air. That intimidates me too, and I have been a yogi for the past 30 years.

So what is yoga then? My first instinct to define yoga would be to say, that yoga is an awareness, a stillness, a profound knowledge of the inner you, the capability to be silent, the desire to be compassionate, a radiant glow, poised grace…that is what yoga is – or at least that is what yoga makes you. And the beauty is that all of us have the innate skill to be such a being.

So what about all the physical contortions that one sees on the web and magazines? The good news is that you do not have to be a gymnast and at the peak of your physical health to start with yoga. This is a complete myth and a disservice that has been done to yoga. Anyone, simply anyone can do yoga. There is no criterion with age, weight, health, flexibility or strength.

The word yoga actually means ‘to yoke’ or ‘to join’, and the yoking in question is of the body, mind and spirit. So even if you are 75 years old, you can practice by sitting in a chair and raising your arms up and down with a steady mind and attention on your breath. That would be your individual (postures) practice. Yoga is all about recognizing your individual state of being, and allowing you to develop your own state of stillness.

The crux is that practice is done as a way to lead to a steadier mind. is followed by (breathing methods), (withdrawal of senses), (single minded attention), (spontaneous state of meditation) and then finally (Nirvana, Bliss). However, all we see representing yoga is very fit people contorting into shapes that are impossible to achieve for an average person.

The story is compounded by the fact that all yoga studios (in the West anyway) offer very rigorous forms of yoga asana – Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Hatha Flow, Anusara, Power yoga, Hot yoga, Naked hot yoga, Iyengar with its props, etc. Seeing all this, most people do not even venture into a class because it is just too alien a practice.

However, please know that yoga is not a scary, intimidating, gymnastic practice. It is a discipline that will meet you wherever you are at your stage in life. It will address your emotional, physical and medical issues based on your individual needs. It will help you move, stand, sleep, digest, and function better. It will steady your mind, alleviate the stress, increase attention, sharpen focus and make you happier.

Let yoga find you.

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