If you’re worried about being able to touch your toes in order to do yoga, then yoga may not be for you. And I say this with all the love in my heart.
What? Am I serious? Well, kind of. If you’re worried about touching your toes, then you may not be aware of what yoga is and why one would do yoga. What we have in the west is a lot of asana, the physical postures that make yoga (sometimes) look very aesthetically pleasing. What we don’t have, is a lot of the seven other components of yoga, because they are more internal and can’t be seen or put on display. Yes, there are eight parts of yoga, eight limbs to be exact. And physical asana is only one of the limbs. So although it can be intimidating, and all we can see is the physical side of yoga, there is so much more, enough for a journey of a lifetime! Maybe even several lifetimes!
If you think yoga is just asana, then you have not been introduced to what yoga truly is. And that is OK! I repeat, that is OK! You can start with asana, you can start with meditation, you can start with breathwork, called pranayama. There is no hard and fast rule on what you have to do first or what has to be mastered. Yoga is an individual journey as unique as each person on this planet. I started with asana and have barely scratched the surface of meditation, pranayama, and some of the other limbs, like the yamas and niyamas (a sort of universal code of ethics).
Yoga means union, union between your physical, earthly self and your higher, infinite self. Union to all energy around you. There is no separation, we are all connected and yoga helps to bridge this union. It’s a long journey, a journey of a lifetime, and it can be a painful, arduous, even isolating journey. It reveals things to you you’d rather not know. But it also opens you up to a whole new world that you had no idea was possible. This does not just happen by moving your body through asana. It can start there, absolutely. You might find that over time, you are ready for more, and that is when yoga really appears.
I like this explanation, given on the website of Ananda, a spiritual movement, on their section titled Yogic Encyclopedia:
Yoga literally means “union”. This union can be understood on different levels: philosophically, as that of the relative, limited self with the absolute Self; religiously, as that of the individual soul with the Infinite Spirit; psychologically, as the integration of the personality – a state wherein a person no longer lives at cross-purposes with himself; emotionally, as the stilling of the waves of likes and dislikes, permitting one to remain in all circumstances complete in himself.
According to the ancient sage Patanjali, yoga is the neutralization of ego-directed feelings, because once these become stilled, the yogi realizes that he is, and that he has always been, one with the Infinite – that his awareness of this reality was limited only by his infatuation with limitation.
So, if you’re worried about touching your toes, can you do yoga? YES OF COURSE! I am only trying to make a point. It is easy to focus on the physical aspect of yoga because, not only is it everywhere, it’s really the only yoga that we can see. And it looks intimidating. There are a lot of really flexible, beautiful bodies doing yoga. They are not more worthy of yoga. They do not have more of a right to be in a yoga class than anyone else. Yoga belongs to everyone, and yoga is for everyone! Yoga does not discriminate. It is here for all of us, ALL OF US. Find a teacher who you feel like you can trust, who uses inclusivity and welcoming languaging when they teach. Who offers adaptations for all ages and stages. I hesitate to even use the word modification. I don’t like that word, because it assumes there is a hierarchy in yoga. It assumes that one pose is more valuable and worthy than another. And that is simply not true.
You don’t have to do yoga anywhere you don’t feel welcome and included. There are many places to do yoga besides studios. You might even find you like doing it better at home with YouTube videos, or reading out of a book that explains the postures. You can find yoga in the park, donations based yoga classes, and some businesses or workplaces even offer free yoga. The yoga world in the west has a long way to go, and I think we are starting to do better at making yoga more inclusive and available to all.
I will leave you with this quote from Krishnamacharya, who is often known as the grandfather of modern yoga.
“If you can breath, you can do yoga.”