After teaching yoga for over 15 years (and practicing yoga for as long as I can remember), the most important lesson I’ve learned is that not all yoga classes are appropriate for every BODY, all the time.
It would be crazy to think that every single person can share the exact same passions or hobbies. It is this appreciation for our natural diversity that inspired the Yoga For All Movement. The Yoga For All Movement celebrates and promotes diversity in yoga classes—classes designed for many different people and their many different body types and life experiences. I teach eight asana classes in my local community each week. Six of these classes are Yoga For All classes, designed for all types of bodies. The other two classes are relatively more powerful, athletically challenging practices in which I pull from my inner-fitness leader. These classes celebrate physical strength and agility, while still honoring the mind-body-breath connection and the community of inclusion.
I encourage each individual in the room to simply come as they are, use what they have, and do what they can.
My weekly "Power Yoga Core" conditioning class in particular is where my strongest and most powerful side emerges. This is where my pitta dosha is pumping at its highest frequency—hot, fast, strong, and intense. I tell everyone who attends these classes to expect an intense and powerful practice—and remind them that they are welcome to stay—but that they are by no means forced to participate in any aspect of the practice that doesn't feel right in their own bodies. I encourage each individual in the room to simply come as they are, use what they have, and do what they can. And though the intention is never to leave anyone out, not all yoga classes are for every BODY all the time. Naturally, there are those who aren't ready for the intensity, and they don’t return to this class again the following week.
By offering classes for those with different bodies, tastes, and expectations, I have been fortunate to interact with a very diverse population of yogis. I tell every student who walks into one of my more powerful classes to reflect on our dual nature of being both soft and strong. Just as some spices are more pungent than others, some of my classes are just more intense than others—variety and exploration are the spices of life. Sometimes students feel up to the challenge of being in a stronger asana class. In some cases, it inspires them to go deeper and add a greater challenge to the asana practice. Through their own self-study, they may test their own ideas of what their bodies can do. There is an attitude of “bring it on, I am strong.” Other times people aren’t ready for the intensity of the asana and choose to practice another favorite pose until they are ready to join the rest of the class in the current asana. In my classes, I make space for this. I love the idea that we can find our own way in our bodies. By creating a personal relationship of mutual trust between myself and my students, I am able to advise my students about which classes I feel will serve them best, and also to remind them that they are free to explore the challenges of different classes.
While not all yoga classes are made for all bodies, all bodies are absolutely made to experience yoga. Yoga For All means that all of us are invited onto the yoga mat for a positive experience. We must remember that everyone is different and everyone has the right to experience yoga. We also must remember that we are each responsible for our own practice and our own life, and so we must make choices that reflect what works best for us on any given day.
While not all yoga classes are made for all bodies, all bodies are absolutely made to experience yoga.
As a student, you have a responsibility to yourself to honor your body and your personal practice: to learn, understand and come to intimately know your own physical, mental, and emotional challenges. You must learn to always be kind to yourself, first and foremost. Not every yoga class is going to be for you, and not every teacher in every situation will be able to support you in the ways that you may expect. We must learn to take care of ourselves when others cannot. We must also learn to be soft and sweet enough to express loving kindness and forgiveness to ourselves in times of need and sorrow. At the end of the day, you are your own best yoga teacher!