Here in the West, we have taken yoga and turned it into an ever-physical practice. Our representation of yoga that is shown through social media or advertisements for yoga clothing brands and studios is often photographs of yogis in near contortionist looking postures that are not easily accessible for most bodies. Because of this, many gain the belief that yoga isn’t for them — that to practice yoga, you have to look a certain way or already have a certain level of flexibility or strength to begin with.
The truth of the practice is that the mat is a place that can meet you exactly where you are, as you are. Yoga is not about curated postures that look good for the camera, at just the right angle in just the right lighting with just the right backdrop. Yoga is a personal and sacred practice, which is why the display of challenging yoga postures as a means for inspiration in the yoga space can be harmful and isolating to many. Yoga is about feeling good in our bodies, which is going to look different for everyone. We are all uniquely varied beings who arrive onto the mat to remember our wholeness within our uniqueness.
My daily practice is nothing “crazy” compared to what we are so commonly shown within the representation of physical postures. My mat is laid out next to my bed in my apartment. If I look straight ahead, my view is my bedroom wall. If I look long enough to the left, I have a view of underneath my bed where I can stare at dust collecting that the Swiffer doesn’t reach and my glasses that continuously fall through the crack of the bed frame and the wall. I often sit in an extended child’s pose or down dog for as many breaths as I need. Some days my practice is simply sitting and breathing with my hands on my belly.
I teach yoga to kids with disabilities, and I find so much beauty in their practice. It can look like laying down on their mat for the entirety of the session, bending figurines into yoga shapes instead of doing the physical practice with their own bodies, or coloring a mandala. Some students enjoy just sitting and observing, and I full heartedly believe that they receive the same exact benefits of the practice by doing so that every other student does, because they are being present with yoga in a way that suits their needs best.
When I go to a class where a teacher is demonstrating a one-handed handstand or insane arm balance, even I as a teacher sometimes let my thoughts spiral and wonder if I’m enough of a “yogi” if I cannot fully access this posture. That’s not to say that teachers should not be teaching advanced asana. I believe that there is an incredibly powerful and inclusive way to teach these postures, when cueing variations and options for everyone in the room, while also encouraging students to try new things and step out of their comfort zone.
There is something for every human from every walk of life in the practice of yoga. Our practice is our own and nobody else’s. Our mat is a safe space, and that sticky little piece of rectangular plastic is waiting for you to arrive just as you are.
Photo by Chevanon Photography.
Tori Allenspach is a Denver-based yoga teacher/kids yoga teacher, counselor for at risk youth and writer. She hopes that by baring her heart to the world through her yoga classes and writing, she will help others feel more understood and less alone. When she is not on her mat, she is out exploring and playing in the mountains of Colorado —preferably with the sun on her skin and as far from cell phone service as possible! You can connect with her on Instagram at @mountainsandflowers.