Yoga for all

A few days ago, the yoga world mourned the death of B.K.S. Iyengar, an enormously popular and influential yoga scholar and teacher. All three of the men who became the main conduits of yoga into the West are now dead: Satyananda passed away in 2009, the Belgian André van Lysebeth in 2004. Their work is continued by legions of followers, and a body of knowledge that had languished in obscure ancient texts until the middle of the 20th century is now, in one form or the other, a daily practice for millions of people worldwide.

The significance of Iyengar’s passing and his impact on the Western world were underlined by multiple tweets from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yet, in my study of these masters’ teachings (in which, as you may know, I am partial to Satyananda’s), I have sometimes found that the Iyengar style, with its emphasis on rigorous execution of forbiddingly difficult asanas, scares people away from even trying their first approach to yoga.

Mayurasana-Yoga-Pose-BKS-Iyengar

By now, people look at the popular depiction of a yoga practitioner – a 20-something woman in designer gear with a lithe physique stretched into a contortionist’s pose – and say: sorry, yoga is not for me. I can’t do that.

I disagree. As you know, yoga is routinely taught to pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy. I know teachers who teach the elderly in retirement homes; I know teachers who teach inmates in jails. There are now people who teach yoga to former pro wrestlers: yes, those guys with spines made practically unbendable by multiple injuries, stiff with thick layers of traumatized muscle. If these folks can benefit from yoga, everybody can benefit from yoga.

So: don’t be afraid to try. It is not a competition. It is not about whether and how you fall short relative to others. Ignore others. You set your own bar, test your own limits. Your practice is about your body. Stick with it, and it will be about a lot more.

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