When I am out socially and someone introduces me as a yoga teacher, inevitably at least one person will tell me he or she would like to try yoga. “Unfortunately,” the person will continue, “I can’t.” He will explain that he really isn’t flexible, or she will say she tried it one time and couldn’t keep up, or he will add he has a bad back and couldn’t possibly twist himself “like a pretzel.” When I respond that he doesn’t have to twist himself like a pretzel to do yoga, or he doesn’t have to flexible, or that there are classes where she wouldn’t feel as if she always had to “keep up,” my listeners are either skeptical or surprised.
The image of yoga as an athletic physical practice has kept many people away from yoga when they could benefit from an appropriate practice designed to meet their needs. One of the most profound teachings of the great yoga teacher Krishnamacharya is that the individual should not be required to fit him or herself to yoga. Rather yoga should be made to fit the individual’s needs.
To do that you work privately with a teacher who takes into consideration your needs and interests to come up with a practice that fits the time and space you have available. The teacher makes sure the practice fits into the your life even if you only have time for a twenty minute practice. As you do the practice and progress, the practice changes, for one’s needs and goals change. There is no one size fits all yoga practice.
Many people choose to begin yoga by attending a class regularly. While a once a week yoga class cannot replace the personal practice designed for you that you do each day, it does offer the possibility of exploring different practices and perhaps experiencing something that you would like to pursue further, like chanting or meditation. It also provides a sense of community, as people come weekly and see one another and often become friends.
One of the most beautiful things about a yoga practice is that it is empowering. The personal practice requires that we take responsibility for doing it regularly with a positive attitude, and over time, observing its effects. But it is also beautiful because it is up to us to take the teachings into our lives, both on our mat in practice and in how we live and relate to others. Accepting where we are, and starting from that place, with the help of a teacher, is the way to begin.
Ultimately, the question should not be whether our practice enables us to do a complex yoga pose requiring a great deal of strength and agility and stamina. It should be, instead, whether our practice is helping us to have greater happiness in our lives.