Who is yoga for? I often mull this over in my mind as the obvious answer to this is ‘everyone’, but as a past teacher of mine pointed out, not everyone is for yoga! This throw away comment is supported when I consider the number of people who contact me about coming to class compared to the number of people who become committed students. This is a guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 40 or 50 enquiries per committed student.
Back to the main question, except for the people who aren’t for yoga, who is yoga for? Everyone else? I am a teacher and practitioner of Iyengar yoga, so a lot of what follows will be from that perspective, but I do feel I should recognise the fact that there are many different styles of yoga that go about their practice in many different ways. Just as we don’t all wear the same style of clothing, different styles of yoga may suit different people. I think what I’m saying here is that if you don’t like a particular style or maybe even the teacher don’t judge yoga on that one experience, try a different one! When you consider the health (physical and mental) benefits of yoga, you’d be silly not to.
I’m not going to start listing all the health reasons for doing yoga, you can look in any yoga book for this, but I will say this. I am 43 years old and have been doing yoga for 20 or so years, each week I go to an intermediate class which is difficult enough to seriously challenge me (and I would’ve struggled with 10 years ago). Many of the other students are older than me, some 20 or 30 years older, a few have been practicing yoga as long as I’ve been alive. Some of these people have restrictions from earlier illnesses, injuries or general wear and tear, suffer from arthritis, have operations just like most people in their sixties or seventies, but they are just as fit, strong and supple as their younger class mates, some of them more so! Just saying!
So, of the ‘everyone else’ who is Iyengar Yoga for? Again if you require more information about this style of yoga get a book by one of the Iyengar family (or google it), but Mr Iyengar devised a way of practising yoga with the very intention of making it accessible to everyone by using props (you can buy a whole shed load of equipment these days, but to be honest a pile of blankets, a straight wall, a belt and maybe a chair ought to be enough). As a result of this Iyengar Yoga often gets billed as ‘Yoga for old people’, a quotation that always gets my friend all riled up as it suggests it’s easy! Easy shouldn’t be mixed up with accessible!
To help visualise how yoga is for everyone I will consider my student demographic. I teach (or have taught) age ranges from 14 to 90 year olds. Their jobs are wide ranging, here are some of them: teachers, nurses, builders, office workers, gardeners, photographers, computer programmers, shop workers, students, engineers, fitness instructors, mothers, fathers, grandparents, you get the picture. I do teach more women than men, but I have quite a few male students some of whom are among the most committed. YOGA IS MOST DEFINITELY FOR MEN AS WELL AS WOMEN.
My students health/ well-being can vary greatly, from strong and flexible to one older lady with very bad arthritis in her knees and hips who came to class because she kept falling over. I thought she would never manage, but happily she proved me completely wrong and ceased her random falls. She was committed to improving her quality of life.
As I scan through my text I see a word that has cropped up several times – committed. I think, for me anyway, this is the defining concept. Yoga is for everyone who is committed. It might be that they are committed to the yoga itself or the way it makes them feel about themselves and life. It may well be that they are committed to improving their health, being committed to managing their levels of stress or even being committed to having an hour or two to themselves. Whatever the reason yoga requires a certain level of commitment, whether it’s attending one class a week or practising everyday.
So, finally, yoga is for everyone who is committed to their own practice. Whatever the level, time given to it or reason for it. If committed, students of yoga soon find that it permeates through every part of their life and are left wondering how the rest of the population manages!