In Western culture we associate yoga with a physical practice done on a mat. The images we see of yoga — the physical practice — seem to imply that yoga requires strength and flexibility. Some of those poses do require both, and you can cultivate both through years of practice.
But true yoga requires no physical ability at all. The physical part of the practice is only one of eight limbs of yoga.
How do you deal with change?
How do you navigate a situation where things aren’t as you want them to be?
That’s the essence of yoga.
Legendary yogi Ganga White writes that the asanas (poses) are tools, not goals. The pose is a setup for the exploration of the self.
What does this mean?
On the mat, when you’re in a pose that is easy for your body, does your mind tend to wander off and think about other things or do you stay focused and engaged, constantly tweaking your body?
Where do you focus as you transition between poses?
What happens when you’re in a pose that is difficult for your body? Do you tense up, get aggravated and frustrated? Silently (or audibly) curse your teacher or yourself?
Do you look around the room to see how others are doing a pose and try to replicate what you see? Or do you look within and feel into what’s right for your body today?
How do you feel when you are unable to do a pose or variation that you did yesterday or last week?
When attempting an inversion, do you freeze in fear, aggressively kick up, or take a slow, methodical approach?
How do you approach poses that are new for you? Do you shrink back or go for it with gusto, or something in between?
As you begin to notice your patterns on the mat, you will find that these patterns show up in the same circumstances off the mat.
How do you respond to difficult or new situations? What’s your pattern when things aren’t happening in the way that you want them to unfold? How do you react to fear?
The exploration of yourself in these situations is what yoga is really about.
You do not need to be flexible or strong to do yoga. You don’t even need a mat.
Whether you’re on your mat and your body is struggling to get into a shape, or you’re in your car sitting in traffic, or anywhere else where things aren’t exactly as you planned or ideally wanted, you are in the perfect position to practice yoga.
The practice is to tune in to yourself and notice how you engage with the circumstances of the moment.