If you can breathe, you can do yoga

Witness my father, who at the age of 85 surprised me by announcing he ‘took up yoga.’ For him, that meant sitting in a chair and breathing with awareness to gain calm and perspective. Such is yoga’s accessibility that even my hard-nosed, hard-boiled, Korean War veteran father found it to be a source of strength and renewal in the last years of his life. (Honestly, this was just one more example of the boundless resilience we had witnessed in our father many times. Of course, he would try yoga if there was any way it could help.)

Yoga is often represented in our culture as a form of gymnastics, but it is both more and less than that. Many people have told me they ‘cannot do yoga’ because they don’t think they are flexible enough. So let’s put the record straight:

(1) Yoga can increase your flexibility, but you don’t need to be flexible to do yoga. Some poses, for sure, require more flexibility than others. But achieving one pose or another is not the point. The point is to build openness, strength and balance in your body as it is right now (meaning not as you wish it was, not how it will be after you have lost weight, or not how it will be after your hip replacement – right now).

(2) Except for Mozart, no one has sat down at a piano and played a coherent tune without lots of practice first. Yoga practice is called ‘practice’ because we are all just trying things out and slowly building skill in our own ways. It takes time and everyone has their own road to travel.

(3) There is no great yoga recital we are preparing for where we would show off this move or that. All yoga is in service to us, ourselves, not to an audience. Forget the magazine covers. It is not what it is about.

(4) Finally, yoga has many other dimensions than physical practice. As my dad learned, breath work all on its own can be healing and transformational. Many practitioners would say the same for meditation and yoga’s ethical practices.

The bottom line is that if your body chooses to seek out a headstand, yoga is there for you. If your body chooses to rest in meditation, yoga is there for you. If your body needs something different every day, yoga is there for you.

My goal is to find the yoga that works for you today. It may change tomorrow, but if you are alert to what matters today, the yoga you seek tomorrow will be accessible and liberating.

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