“Oh! You’re a yoga teacher. Well, I can’t do yoga. I’m too ______ (fat/weak/stiff/old/sick/etc.)
I smile and look around the crowded lobby of the local theatre. Then I gently ask, “You’re able to come to events like this, right? Going up and down stairs in the theatre isn’t very easy and you do that very well.”
“That’s different. I walk every day.”
This is a conversation I have nearly every day. There is a lot of misconceptions about yoga and the abilities you need to have already in order to begin to practice it. And this is especially true if you have a condition that limits your mobility or causes discomfort regularly. But many doctors actually recommend yoga for people who suffer from excess weight, who are older or have a chronic illness. The key is to listen to your body and find a teacher or guide who understands and leads yoga for your needs.
Can I do yoga if I am overweight?
You can absolutely practice yoga no matter what size you are.
There are great resources and teachers who specialize in guiding yoginis who are curvier or have some extra weight. For every type of body, I recommend modifications based on accessibility in the pose. And these experts have done the work to find the modifications that really support and free a plus-sized body.
Can I do yoga if I am "old?"
I put this in quotes because I usually hear this from potential students who are younger than me or around my own age. No matter your age, yoga can be a great way to feel easier in your body, which makes you feel “younger.”
Again, sometimes it is advisable to use modifications to make the physical practice more accessible, and I love to use props like blocks, blankets, and even chairs to find ease and release tension.
For some great resources for yoga geared towards senior citizens, check out Silver Age Yoga
What about chronic illnesses?
This is another issue that comes up very often when I have conversations with people who are interested in starting yoga. And this requires a few different elements to answer completely.
First, your doctor is your best guide for deciding if yoga is a good idea for you and your protocol. Depending on your illness, yoga may really grant some relief and bring you more abilities that make day to day life easier.
I have a lot of faith in yoga but I don’t preach that it will cure any serious illness. However, it can greatly reduce the effects of many illnesses such as anxiety, depression, autoimmune illnesses, digestive issues, and more.
Second, finding a yoga teacher or guide that has experience in the illness you are living with will greatly enhance your yoga practice. Many teachers are called to lead yoga after finding it’s benefits while struggling with their own illness. These types of teachers are such a light for those who suffer from everyday illness.
Lastly, there are some medical protocols that weaken the body to a point where a physical practice may be dangerous. If you are undergoing chemotherapy or another type of rigorous medical protocol, please speak with your doctor about whether yoga is a good option to support you as you heal.
If you are into reading research papers, this is a good one for more on the use of yoga as a supportive therapy for cancer.
When should I avoid yoga?
As much as I love yoga and I know that it’s benefits can really change your life, there are times in which yoga is not the best choice when trying to find a movement method or fitness routine.
If your doctor says that yoga is not an option for you, please listen to their advice. Ask about meditation or other breathing methods that can be used while you heal.
If you are injured or still recovering from an injury, some aspects of yoga should be avoided. Meditation might be available to you, with the approval of your doctor.
I would avoid doing a vibrant physical yoga practice while intoxicated or under the influence of pain medications. These dull your ability to monitor your body and avoid injuries. If you feel called to move during this period, maybe some light dancing or walking would be better.
While there are some instances where yoga is not the answer, most of the time we can benefit from the reduction in stress and opening that yoga offers. As long as you honor yourself and your body, seeking advice from experts when necessary, you can enjoy yoga even if you are coping with an illness or limitation.