“Oh I am not at all bendy!” Three people have said that to me this week when contemplating coming to yoga. In my ignorance, I have replied, “what’s that got to do with coming to yoga?!” (Thinking, have they got a very small car they need to squeeze into in order to drive to class?!) I can be a bit slow.
As I never pick up a yoga magazine and am not on Instagram, and as I teach Kundalini Yoga, which is more about strength, energy flow, healing and mental & spiritual well-being, rather than holding long bendy postures, I have forgotten how stereotyped and stylised yoga has become and how inaccurately it is portrayed to the public.
I live in a blessed part of Herefordshire and I am in touch with a seemingly endless number of body therapists, healers, yoga teachers of all descriptions and none of them have got an Instagram account. Or at least, if they do, I have never seen it and I imagine it’s full of beautiful views or good food or circles of mat. I am pretty certian they have no lycra-clad skinny bendy people doing impossible postures. In fact very few of the yogis that come to my classes are particularly bendy. If you consider how much yoga I do every week you would be surprised how normal my own flexibility levels are.
So, today in class I had a sudden urge to blog about what yoga really is! Then I went on Facebook and saw that a fellow yoga teacher Amanda Hamilton had the same urge! I highly recommend you read her thoughts!
While she focuses on the very important ethics of yoga and reminds us that everyone should be welcomed into class and to be able to join in and feel safe and respected, I wanted to focus on the massive range of things we do – all of which I call Yoga! Partly because my ego wants everyone to know that I don’t just wear leotards and stretch and tell people to breathe and touch their toes.
But mostly because of this. The inspiration to write this blog came to me this morning as I looked at a room full of beautiful women (no men this morning) in their late 40s to 70s dressed in comfortable, loose, colourful and flowing clothes, caring for themselves and luxuriating in simple forward bends. All shapes and sizes, all different abilities, all enjoying the dance of stretching tall and opening their hearts, of bending forward and letting go of their stuff…then we had a wiggle and a shake and ended up celebrating our hips and bums and pretending to be African mamas… just because…it is Friday after all.
All were laughing and relaxing and loosening up, and then they stood still, with their shoulders back and their hearts open, resting so that they could feel what they were feeling. And I saw a room full of angels standing so tall (their postures allowed them to do what they could) but to me they were all standing SO TALL! I felt so privileged to be among all these vulnerable yet powerful, strong women dedicating themselves through yoga to being healthier, stronger, happier and more loving member of families, communities and the world. There was so much grace in the room at that moment!
I told them they looked like angels and they smiled and became more angelic. So I felt inspired to do a guided visualisation right then. We were angels with radiant halos and auras and as we were in the hall by the church on top of the hill I invited them to bathe our little town of Kington, down below, with light and love. And they smiled even more.
We stood strong for a while – one woman looked so empowered and radiant she could have taken flight in that moment – and we tapped into our radiant healing powers that all we women have – and we visualised light and love flowing from every cell and pore in our bodies and shining all around us and then we sent it to all the schools, nurseries, old folks homes, market, shops, housing estates and so on. We sent our prayers of love and light to all who were alone, struggling, unhappy as well as to all those who were working hard to make the world a happier place. We sent it to those battling with addictions, those living in violence… Only yesterday 7 children out of 10 raised their hands to say they see adults hit – and saddened by this I was even more grateful and humbled by these women’s readiness and delight in sharing their healing power with those around them.
Then we did some more yoga and they deeply relaxed under blankets after I went around and tucked them in and then we drank yogi tea. We shared, listened and laughed. We shared recipes and I gave them a crash course on Ayurevedic tradition and diet. Someone recommended a TV programme for feeling good and there was definitely some Strictly debate.
That is when I thought… So many people think yoga is bending into impossible shapes or just stretching or exercising… People have no idea what a deeply beautiful loving all-embracing practice it is and that ANYONE can do it and EVERYONE benefits from it… whether they come to class, live or work with someone who comes to class or is simply bathing in the light of someone who comes to class!
So what really is yoga? All of the above.
Breathing, moving, stretching, dancing, not dancing, choosing what and what not you feel comfortable with, sleeping if you need it, shaking your stuff if you need it. Closing your eyes, opening your eyes. Touching your toes, not touching your toes. Being happy with both. Playing with your boundaries, resistance, comfort-levels… Noticing your head is full of thoughts. Loving your head full of thoughts. Gently dropping from your beautiful noisy head into your heart. Experimenting with opening your heart, twisting your torso, holding your arms over your head for ever increasing moments of time (Kundalini Yoga invites a lot of that!) Building resilience, building tolerance, building the sense of self. Yoga is discovering what our deepest heart’s desire is and finding ways to achieve something near it amidst our daily reality.
Yoga is therapy, relaxation, strength, flexibility, immune-boosting, health-improving, spiritual healing. Yoga is community, love, light, sitting with darkness, conflict, pain, stress. Yoga is acceptance, letting go, grieving, moving forward, change, transformation… Yoga is REAL, messy, hilarious, deeply moving, sometimes a bit smelly (yes you will not be the only one to fart in any given yoga class!)
Yoga is union of mind, body and soul and everything else out there. And therefore Yoga is for EVERYBODY and as all true yoga teachers know, if the whole world did it, there would probably be no war on earth. Do yoga (for a while) and you WILL find peace within whatever else is happening in your world.
You might find your toes too, but that only matters if your life’s deepest longing is to do so!