We’ve all heard the excuses: I’m not flexible enough. I’m not in shape. I’m too busy. I’m too old.
Getting someone you know and care about to start practicing yoga isn’t always easy. Some people might blame an old injury, others will say that it’s too new age-y or dogmatic. But the problem with yoga is not the yoga, it’s how the practice is portrayed in the media—especially on Instagram. What people see determines their perception, which creates an embodied reaction, be it Like or Dislike, bliss or rage.
When the majority of images available to us still depict thin, hard-bodied women decked out in expensive, flashy spandex and contorting themselves into pretzel poses, it can create a false perception of what yoga is. Not that there is anything totally wrong with these photos—especially if the practice helped that person in some way. But for a yoga outsider, these images send mixed signals. Some might find it off-putting or even absurd, while others could come to the conclusion that there’s no way they could ever do yoga since they don’t look like what they see on social media.
In instances like this, we have lost sight of the essence of yoga: Linking breath and movement to reconnect to the body and stabilize the fluctuations of the mind. This is the reason why we so often encourage our loved ones to give the practice a try: We want them to live happier, healthier, and more fulfilled and purposeful lives.
So with all these misinterpretations out there about what yoga is really all about, how do we begin to shift the message to make the practice more inclusive—less about “look at me” and more about the “we?” By coming together and creating an authentic community of trust and acceptance. We must remember that what makes us yogis is not having a hyper-mobile, bendy body, but honoring the limitations of the body to reestablish inner peace and equilibrium.
Is there someone you love who could use a healthy dose of self-love? Here are a few ways to bridge the yoga gap and encourage that person to get started on the path toward self-compassion and inner freedom:
Give them a simple private lesson.
While avoiding the encouragement of non-yoga teachers to start teaching without certification, there are many simple, yet powerful elements of the practice that any yogi can share with a newbie. Ask a loved one if he or she’d be willing to sit and breathe with you for 10–15 minutes. There’s probably a good chance they won’t say no.
Together, take a comfortable seat facing each other (give them a blanket if their hips need the extra support) and invite them to close their eyes. Ask that he or she sit up straight without forcing anything. Breathe together, focusing on the rise of the belly with each inhale, and the contraction of the belly and ribcage on every exhale. Invite them to scan their body and mind, taking notice of how they feel, and acknowledging those feelings without judgment. Teach that acceptance of where they’re at from one moment to the next is fundamental to yoga and meditation. Guide with a simple mantra, maybe “So Hum” (I am), or one of your favorites from class.
Set a timer so that you can continue together, without distraction. Remind your loved one that it’s okay to have thoughts. Just like you can’t ask the heart to stop beating, you cannot ask the mind to stop thinking. When you’re finished, check in, and ask if they’d like to make it a regular practice with you.
Take it one day at a time.
Once you’ve given your friend or family member a couple of one-on-one breathing sessions, and maybe even graduated to some simple stretches and movements like Cat and Cow, try a beginner level yoga class together at a studio you know and trust.
You could also bring them to a day long event like a Wanderlust 108, the world’s only “mindful triathlon.” The event incorporates running, yoga, and meditation together at outdoor parks. Now that the 108s take place in myriad cities around the world, your loved one will see firsthand that yoga really is for everyone, regardless of body size, age, or ability. And even if they sit out of the yoga portion of the day, they’ll still receive the benefits of being surrounded by positive, like-minded people.
Make it part of something bigger.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy experiences! Yoga festivals are an incredible way to come together and make those connections in real time. Plus many big festivals, like Wanderlust, incorporate other activities like hiking and outdoor adventures, slacklining and of course, music. If the person you love is on the fence about yoga, you can entice them with a festival that features a few of their favorite musicians or bands on the bill, while also taking a vacation together in the process.
Immersing into the experience and culture of a mindful music festival will only help to stoke their yoga curiosity, encouraging them to open their mind and heart and try something new.
Bonus Tip: Start simply. For yoga newbies, beginner level or even restorative classes are always the safest and most effective way to ease into the practice.
Try something they like in exchange.
If someone you love is insistent on sticking to what they know, perhaps you could agree to do their preferred activity with them in exchange for a yoga class together. If say, that activity is boxing, perhaps you could hit the gym with them (proper headgear, please) and try your hand at sparring together. What you could realize is that their chosen sport or activity is actually a moving meditation in itself, and as a result you’ll be able to explain yoga to them in a way that is more relatable, by speaking their own language and piquing their interest.
Make it work with their interests, no matter how busy they are.
Does your friend have a full-time job, children, or a household to run, and is just too busy to “slow down” for yoga? Sure, you can insist that taking time for mindful movement might help them become a better and more effective parent, business owner, or what have you—but what they might really need is for you to actually show them.
For example: The next time you’re at their house and laying on the living room floor with their kids, pop yourself up into a Downward Dog. The kids might laugh, even ask that you show them how to do it. You might demonstrate Tree Pose, Child’s Pose, or Lion’s Breath, and then let their parents know that there are studios that offer kids’ yoga, as well as some that are available for parents and kids to practice together. (And hey, if they still refuse, you can always offer to babysit!)
Bringing a friend the gift of yoga is one of the sweetest things you can do. Try out these methods, or find your own unique ways of establishing connections to this timeless practice.
Andrea Rice is a writer and yoga teacher. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, NY Yoga + Life, SONIMA, mindbodygreen and other online publications. Connect with Andrea on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and her website.