Safe Yoga: Don’t let your physical ability keep you from practicing

I’m going to say it, I don’t mind what you do on the mat or what your version of a yoga pose looks like, as long as your pose is safe for you then I’m happy. What I do care about is how you are feeling on the yoga mat, what a pose does to your emotions, and if you can find space to be with them. As Bernie Clark says “we don’t use the body to get into the pose, we use the pose to get into the body”. 

I care about yoga poses because they can give us insights into ourselves and they offer us a way to feel into the present moment (and they can be really fun). Yoga doesn’t care how flexible you are, it cares that you are present to the mind. So many people have said to me that they will be “bad at yoga” because they aren’t flexible and as a result, they have never given it a try. Sure, doing a regular asana (yoga posture) practice will result in increased flexibility (and this can have some great physical health benefits), but the idea that not being able to touch your toes keeps you away from such a beautiful traditional means that yoga teachers, including myself, have not properly illustrated the beauty and the core concepts of what yoga is and can offer you. 

How to practice safe yoga

Everybody looks different on a yoga mat and ultimately I’m not inside your body so I won’t know what you might feel or not feel. I have taught flexible students, strong students, partially paralysed students, beginners, and advanced students and I can safely say that no student is a “better” yogi than another based on their physical abilities.

Flexibility is also not linear- some days I can do the splits and more often than not I’m about 10 inches off the floor. How my body feels depends on my sleep, what activity I have done that day, the temperature, and also where my mind is. When I am holding onto tension in my mind, it comes out in my body. 

I teach yoga and work with students because yoga is a concrete practice that offers us an opportunity to come back to our true selves, time and time again. A yoga asana practice alone won’t allow you to fully tune into your truest self we also need breath work, and meditation among other things, but it’s part of the steps laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (a practical text which guides you on a spiritual journey to remember who you really are). 

Becoming aware of how the body moves and feels is vital from a physical health perspective (in the form of noticing a pain before it develops into an injury) but also on a deeper level. When we are disconnected from our bodies we can miss out on life because very often our bodies are an excellent sounding board for what is happening in our minds. When we become completely detached from the whole body we can be shutting ourselves off from information, making it harder to make the best decisions for ourselves. 

I should point out that being able to feel the body is only one way to tune into the messages which our bodies give us, but this isn’t always available to everyone and there are also many other ways that we can tap into our inherent wisdom such as spending time in deep meditation, observing the mind or following the breath. 

Remember, yoga is not about being able to touch your toes or do a crazy backbend, it’s a journey to connect you to your breath, body, and mind and to draw you closer to your true Self.