Updated: Oct 16, 2019
I talk to a lot of people about yoga. Mostly because I can’t help myself … Yoga is a practice that is meant to be shared; a practice that is for everyone. So I end up asking almost everyone I know, meet, or run into at some point in our conversations whether they have a yoga, meditation, or mindfulness practice. What I hear from those who say “no” is usually pretty discouraging about how yoga is perceived. I hear things like “yoga is not for guys”, “Yoga is not for women my age”; “I am too old… too big… too stiff … too lazy … too whatever …”; “I am not fit enough”; “I don’t fit in”; “Yoga conflicts with my religion...”
Some have tried yoga and gave up – they stopped going to class when they felt like an outsider, the only one who couldn’t keep up, the only one who didn’t seem to know what to do, the only one in their demographic. Some gave up because they had pain or physical challenges and didn’t know how to work within their limitations; some didn’t know how to move into and out of a pose safely; some were afraid that they would be the only ones left lying on the mat at the end of a pose or class because they couldn’t hear the teacher. Some gave up because they were hurt in class or by a teacher, had strong emotions emerge without support, or were upset about something that was said in class.
Among those who do yoga, some have confided that they have encountered teachers whom they perceived as having pushed too hard, made painful adjustments, failed to offer props, been too demanding, and had no experience with older people, men, individuals with physical limitations, people with emotional or mental challenges, and on goes the list. Some talk about being bothered by having to look at themselves in a mirror, feeling uncomfortable about their clothes, or feeling left out when they can’t access a pose that everyone else in the room seems to do with ease.
As yoga teachers we understand these concerns. Most of us are well-intended and thoughtful about prepping classes. That said, we likely all have left students behind in our classes. We can all do better; we can all become more mindful to make yoga more accessible.
As yoga teachers, we can use many tools to make this happen:
We can accurately label our classes to invite the students who will most benefit from what we have to offer.
We can offer classes that are focused less on form or posture practice and more on breathing, mindfulness, or meditation.
We can offer classes that expose students to the psychology and philosophy of yoga, integrating emotional supports, mental coping strategies in a context of physical practice that is easeful and accessible to most, if not all.
We can offer physical practices that honor varying levels of skill, physicality, emotionality, and psychological needs.
We can learn to demonstrate multiple expressions of the same pose, giving our students opportunity and permission to choose what is right for their body in any given moment.
We can adapt, modify, and show variety in all poses, modeling mindful awareness of the range of needs in our classroom.
We can develop gentler, more accessible physical and breathing practices that are adapted, inviting, and realistic for the average, non-stereotypic practitioner
We can use props for every pose – demonstrating all poses with props, encouraging the use of props, and inviting our students to be advanced practitioners by honoring their body and using the proper supports for a safe practice.
Our language can become clearer, our voice crisper. Our words can be chosen to be more inclusive and inviting.
We can invite humor and lightness into the practice without making fun of anyone.
As a yoga community, we can remember to work on changing the face of yoga:
Let’s develop more classes that are specifically geared to non-stereotypic practitioners
Let’s offer appealing and beautiful practices that attract seniors, individuals of all genders, individuals with physical challenges, people who have struggled emotionally, persons who are searching for community, students who want more than exercise
Let’s offer classes that are on a sliding fee scale or free to those who can’t afford them (using the honor system – no questions asked)
Let’s offer classes in community centers, museums, classrooms, and libraries – places that are not associated with the glamor of yoga…
Let’s show more diversity in pictures that demonstrate yoga poses –
Let’s show props, modifications, adaptations, restoratives ...
Let’s show people – teachers and students – of all ages, shapes, sizes, and more …
Let’s not succumb to the materialism of the practice
Let’s show images of yoga without fancy clothes
Let’s show fun home-made props
Let’s offer scholarships and free classes
All yoga teachers can work on solutions for bringing yoga to everyone. All of us at YogaX look forward to collaborating with many of you on transcending current notions about who can practice and who is welcome. Let’s become part of the change that will carry yoga into more lives.
With gratitude for collaboration and new ideas,
About the Author:
Christiane Brems, PhD, ABPP, E-RYT500, C-IAYT, is the Director of YogaX, a clinical psychologist, registered yoga teacher, and certified yoga therapist. She has practiced yoga for over 40 years. You can read more about her on the YogaX Team page.