Exercise is a vital part of a healthy life. It is important for both physical and mental wellbeing. Yet as Graeme Turner wrote recently on DiVine, finding an accessible and enjoyable type of exercise can be difficult. We don't all have the ability to lift weights, go for a run or spend the weekend cycling. One form of exercise that claims to be suitable for all people is yoga. But is this true? Is yoga really for everybody?
Not just human origami
A common perception of yoga is that it involves bending the body into all sorts of awkward positions. It is true that some yoga poses – called asanas – do look like human origami. But asanas are only one aspect of yoga. They are designed to enhance balance and flexibility. They also build strength. However, the true purpose of asanas is to prepare the body for breathing and meditation practices. These in turn are part of a larger system of principles and attitudes. The idea behind it all is to achieve harmony between body, mind and spirit.
There are many different types of yoga. Not all may be suitable for all people. But most yoga poses and practices can be adapted for a range of abilities. Yoga encourages people to become more aware of their bodies and to take responsibility for their practice. It empowers practitioners to work at whatever level they feel comfortable. Respect for our physical form can also be learned through yoga. This can be especially helpful for anyone holding a negative attitude toward their body.
A sequence to try
If you're curious about yoga, here's an easy sequence to try. Like all yoga practices, it aligns breath with movement. This practice also includes a mental focus. It aims to inspire a positive and appreciative outlook. If you have difficulty moving your arms and bending, only do as much as feels right for you. Alternatively, you can concentrate on aligning your breath with your thoughts, and just imagine yourself doing the movements.
Begin in a comfortable standing or seated position. As you breathe in, raise your arms above your head. With your arms reaching up, take a moment to honour the sky.
Breathe out as you bend forward and lower your hands towards the ground. Give thanks for the earth beneath your feet.
Breathing in, straighten up and extend your arms out wide to each side. Open yourself up to all possibilities.
Bend your elbows and draw your hands in towards your body. As you breathe out, stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms raised. Use your breath to push away all negativity.
Breathe in and raise your arms above your head again. Bring your palms together, fingers pointing up.
Keeping your palms together, breathe out and bring your hands down in front of you. Briefly touch your forehead as you lower your hands. This is to encourage kind thoughts. Touch your lips to encourage kind speech. Then allow your hands to rest at your heart. Think about bringing happiness into your life.
Be still for a moment and reflect on how you feel. This sequence can be repeated as often as you like.
Yoga for every body
As this simple practice shows, yoga accepts and respects the abilities we have. The issue of whether yoga is for everybody is only partly to do with our physical capacity. It is really more a question of whether or not people find it appealing. The asanas are only one part of yoga. Other practices such as meditation or breathing techniques can also be beneficial. Yoga can almost always be adapted to suit whoever chooses to do it. In that sense, perhaps yoga really can be for every body.