We are all different. Some of us look different, come from distant unpronounceable parts of the world, act radically different even when given the same set of circumstances and pray and worship different idols in different ways. However, inside each of us human beings, we are made up of the same goodies, like chromosomes and synapses and the like. All human beings have the same needs and wants. All want to be happy and free from misery. All want to have enough food and shelter and all want to take care of their families. All want to love and be loved, give and receive. No difference.
In yoga, we don’t care about your differences. We take everyone. If you have a body and use lungs to exchange your C02, then we want you. We don’t care about you color or creed or whether you can touch your toes. We don’t even care if you have toes. One of the great joys and challenges of being a yoga instructor is to recognize that every student is unique and not just in a physical way. Each student has a different propensity to receive information and translate that to body movement.
Yoga is more, much, much more than you see on the cover of the fancy yoga magazines at the Whole Foods checkout line. It’s too easy to dismiss yoga as another fad or only for skinny, white girls. It’s said that yoga postures were originally used to prepare the body for long meditations. Most of us don’t sit in meditation for hours, but we do have to sit in overpriced office chairs, faux-leather cars seats and Ikea’s Poang chair, one of which I own. If you’re breathing and moving with conscious attention and focus on your body and state of mind, then you’re doing yoga. You can be sitting in a hospital bed raising and lowering your arms or on a peak doing a headstand.
I remember with affection one of my first yoga teachers, Larry Schultz. His studio was a large and carpeted with two loud, clangy industrial heaters that clicked on and off during the practice, blowing warm air on warm bodies. With tall ceilings it had once been a sewing factory in the changing south of Market area. Sometimes there was music, sometimes not. No props, no mirrors. The room was usually full, but not packed–30-50 students. Larry welcomed everyone, regardless of limitations or yoga experience. We all practiced as a group, each in our own way. Some students were beginners, some were advanced. You did what you could and sometimes what you couldn’t and that was that. It made no difference.
Larry would often quote Patthabi Jois, “practice yoga and all is coming”. There was an innocence about the yoga practice and lots of freedom to explore your body and what it would easily do and where it resisted. Lululemon was just starting in Vancouver and Lucy was still Charlie Brown’s friend. I look back on that time with fondness and a bit of longing.
If you’re already a yogi or thinking about starting, my suggestion is to make your practice joyful. Find some ease and wonder as you explore the limits of your balance and the strength of your biceps. Marvel at when your body yields and what makes it holler. Find a smile when your balance just won’t cooperate and also smile when it will. Yoga is for everyone,