There are several ironies about yoga, which Yogaland doesn’t like to acknowledge.
1; the proclamation it is a practice for everyone, that it is inclusive and is accessible for all body types and all ages. You just need to go to a vinyasa or dynamic practice at any of the yoga studios in London, or indeed the gyms to know that your overweight colleague at work would struggle, or that your elderly mother, who is getting on a bit, and has as slightly bad back would not be able to keep up in the fast paced, dynamic class. Vinyasa classes are abound in London, they are the by far the most commonplace class on any studio schedule. But they don’t really encourage inclusivity. They are attended by lithe, able-body, athletic females, who come to test their physical limits, wanting to contort their bodies in to poses, ever hopeful under the guidance of their teacher, pushing themselves just like they do off the mat. Indeed how you do one thing is how you do everything. The mat is another place where striving and achieving can be re-inforced. Read my blog – How you do one thing is how you do everything.
2; the shi shi yoga studios, with big airy rooms, wooden floor boards, chill out places to sup your juice, showers, organic shower gels and shampoos are expensive. The customer service is good, the IT booking systems are efficient. This all costs money and it’s passed on to the practitioner. In other words, yoga is really only for those who can afford it. And that’s predominantly white middle class ladies. Yummy mummies who are retaining their svelte figures, who know that the yoga studio down the road completes their image of clean, flexible, open minded super mum.
3; that under the guise of clean eating, a devoted practice and commitment to a spiritual path, there hovers an unhealthy obsession with body image, of being thin, flexible and strong. Today a lot of people use yoga as an exercise programme. The practitioners put pressure on the yoga teachers to give them a work-out and the teachers buckle to the pressure because they want to attract more students. So often a yoga teacher is heralded as a great teacher because the classes are physically challenging. A powerfully physically challenging class will burn those calories females are so desperate to lose (2 in 3 women are on a diet and trying to lose weight).
The teacher and the student are missing the fact that yoga is really about being kind and taking care of yourself. The first tenant of yoga is ‘Do no harm.’ Sadly yoga sends the message “fix your body rather than accept it.”
4; it is only the physical we identify with and practice in the West. Practice, practice practice and all will come, however of the 8 limbed path, we are only rigorously practicing one of them. The one which centres on the physical. Most instructions, if you really listen out, are about perfecting the image of the pose, the outward appearance. In Chinese Medicine we have 2 forms of physical exercise; external, which is aimed at developing muscles and sinews – all Western exercises can be classified as such. Most people in the West equate fitness with health but this is not so. For example jogging puts a strain on the knees and the lower back, weightlifting weakens Kidney Qi, (a well known axiom that excessive lifting injures Kidney Qi and the lower back.) Other exercise like HIT generate often more tension in already tense people. Stress hormones are produced when we do exercise – do we really need more of these in our bodies?
The other form is INTERNAL exercise, aimed at massaging the internal organs by a coordination of movement, breathing and concentration. Movements are slow, intentional and put the body in to positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation. It’s not about contracting and stressing the tissues of the body but about releasing and freeing energy around the body. Some yoga classes do this and also exercises like Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
External forms of exercise are ubiquitous, pilates, spin, HIT, boxing, jogging, athletics. I would recommend attending a yoga class to nourish the internal. The breath, acceptance, mindfulness, expansion.