Say the word “yoga,” and it often conjures images of slim people bending their flexible bodies into awe-inspiring shapes, eyes closed, looking peaceful. As someone who has been a yoga enthusiast since college and recently completed my 200 hour teacher training, I’m eager to suggest people give yoga a try for both their physical and mental well-being. However, I’m often met with the misconceptions these pictures cause: “I’m not flexible,” “I can’t sit still that long,” and other statements that roughly translate to “yoga is meant for somebody else - not me.”
Erin Motz of Bad Yogi said in Yoga Journal: “Yoga is for people with bodies. If you have a body that breathes, you can do yoga.” If you’ve been curious about yoga but have felt like you might not “fit in,” here are some reasons why yoga is for every type of body, including yours.
1.) There are yoga classes for any style and ability level
Whether you are looking for a sweaty workout or more of a gentle stretch, there is no one way to practice yoga. Vinyasa, bikram, and power yoga are great for people who are looking for a workout, and yin, hatha, gentle and restoratives are options for a peaceful practice. Have any mobility challenges? Chair yoga classes may be a good place to start. Feeling adventurous? Try aerial yoga, or sign up for yoga on a paddle board. Your options are endless!
Regardless of what your area of interest may be, try different types of classes and teachers to see what fits. For example, while I tend to gravitate toward vinyasa style classes, I’ve found that trying restoratives and yin classes keep things varied, deepen my practice, and teach me new things. I also recommend taking a class that is specifically for beginners so you can get a full breakdown of some of the key poses. It can be the difference between starting a positive yoga journey or walking away feeling frustrated.
2.) Yoga is about more than the physical shapes you make.
As a Pinterest addict, I’m often searching for fun sequences and quotes for my practice online and pinning them for later. But among all the great things I find, I also find a disappointingly large number of photos that show only skinny white women. If you’re a man, a person of color, or are curvy, let’s face it -- you’re probably intimidated because you don’t often see pictures of people who look like you doing yoga.
All of these images completely miss a key point: Not only can you have a beautiful, perfectly aligned practice regardless of physical size (the fierce yogi Jessamyn pictured is just one example), but more importantly, yoga is a mental workout. Often the “feel good” vibe you get from yoga class has more to do with the focusing and quieting of your mind than whether your heels touched the floor in downward facing dog.
In the Yoga Sutras (the spiritual text that describes the philosophy and system of yoga), poses are not even considered the main goal. There are eight components, or “limbs” in yoga. These include how you interact with others, how you treat yourself, breath work, meditation, and more. The shape you make with your body is just one small slice of the practice.
3.) Yoga is great self-care, both physically and mentally.
Yoga involves observing your breath, thoughts, and body without comparison or harsh judgement. It’s just noticing what is happening in the now. In fact, the Yoga Sutras discuss santosha, or contentment, which is defined as “the ability to live in the present moment” (Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 139). It allows us to meet our bodies and our minds where they are at any given moment, rather than rushing onto the next thing. One of my teachers often talks about finding the grace in transitions in class, encouraging us to stay so present that we’re aware of even what happens in between poses.
In our achievement-focused culture, being present is something that is easier said than done. But, picture for a moment what it would feel like if we could regularly practice contentment by being in the moment with our body and ourselves! Yoga gives us a glimpse of that.
4.) Yoga is not a religion, and you don’t have to buy into a philosophy to do it.
Yoga does have a philosophical side, but you don’t have to commit to it to practice. Also, yoga is not an organized religion. Whether you are Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, Jewish, pastafarian, or something in between, yoga does not require you to abandon your spiritual (or non-spiritual) path so you can do yoga “the right way.”
While many find a deeper sense of connection through yoga (myself included), just focusing on the physical elements of yoga still gives you physical and mental benefits.
5.) There is no pre-requisite to begin.
When I asked my coworkers if they were interested in doing a lunchtime yoga class, one of the first questions I received was “Do you have to be able to touch your toes?” The answer is no, and at no point do you ever have to touch your toes to do yoga. You don’t have to know how to meditate, or stand tall, or be naturally flexible. You don’t need to be “zen” or spiritual to do yoga. The only requirement is to come to your mat as you are with a mind that’s willing to experience something new - that’s it.
Give Yoga a Try
So if you’ve read this far and are thinking of giving yoga a try, drop in to a class. Full disclosure: yoga classes can often be expensive, but there are ways to avoid sticker shock! Look for studios that offer community or karma classes that are donation based. More and more, places like community centers, hospitals and the YMCA are offering classes at reasonable rates. The web is also a great resource; YogaWorks, which I did my teacher training through, has online class memberships as low as $15/month.
When you take a class, whether at a studio or at home online, notice how you feel when you start; notice how you feel when it’s over. Like anything new, give it a couple of tries before you make up your mind. I hope you find at least a good stretch, and maybe even some peace and self-acceptance - no touching your toes required.
Author: Amanda Flitter, RYT-200, is a yoga enthusiast and newbie graduate of the YogaWorks yoga teacher training program. She was first drawn to yoga to get her body moving, but in the hustle and bustle of college found it was also a useful tool to cope with anxiety. When she’s not on her mat or at her day job as an Inbound Marketing Specialist, she is usually found crocheting, posting too many pictures of her cat on Instagram, and traveling (or dreaming of traveling) whenever she can. She is based in New Hampshire.