Body & Mind

Yoga for All

Body & Mind | 6.3.2019 | Katja Kokko

Yoga suits any age, size, fitness level and shape.

It’s beneficial all round and has a holistic effect. Where someone approaches it as a form of physical exercise, someone else sees it as a mental practice. Both are right and will reap results, each at their own pace.

Yoga is a lifelong practice, and stages and sensations in both body and mind will come and go along the way. At best, yoga enriches and brings a deeper dimension, creates increased self-understanding, and brings us in touch with ourselves. Yoga is an expedition into the mind and body.

Social media overflows with picture-perfect images of yoga asanas coupled with mottos. There’s nothing wrong with that but I have wondered for a while whether social media is giving a false impression. Do hopeful beginners wonder whether they need to be as supple and strong and without an inch of body fat as the images portray? The poses may also seem far too challenging.

Personally, what I would like people to take away from yoga is a feeling that they are perfect just the way they are right now. The mind and body are under constant change, but the inside is the same. Yoga helps strike a balance between the body and mind, which helps get in tune with the inner world.

Yoga brings a whole lot of joy, new friends, improved wellbeing and vitality, concentration, a peaceful mind… a better life!

Two years ago I got the idea for a yoga photo project that would demonstrate that yoga is suitable for ordinary people. I wanted to include my own students in the project, who explain what yoga means to them and what made them start in the first place. I wanted the photos to be joyful and authentic. The photos were captured by Elina Simonen on film without any editing.

Riina, 29

”I took up yoga last winter after being on the search for an inspiring form of exercise. I’d been going to the gym, taking fitness classes, running sometimes and doing some racquet sports.  Yoga was something completely new to me. I’d never tried anything similar, but it still felt approachable: perhaps because I felt I was quite supple (but soon realized I was under false pretenses).

I was also fascinated by the spiritual side to balance out my busy everyday life. I was hoping yoga would help me calm down, bring a balance to stress, and make me more patient. My expectations have been met in these areas.

At first I was a little worried it would involve a lot of embarrassing nuttiness, but these concerns soon subsided. I gained a better understanding at a session where we were told about the yoga philosophy. I realized that the thinking is in line with the asana practice, making it more rewarding.

Yoga has brought the inspiration, joy and challenges I was after. It has eased stiffness and aches resulting from office work. The best thing about yoga though is the fact that it has brought a lot more than strength and suppleness. It has taught concentration, patience and gentleness towards myself: it’s not about knowing how to do everything there and then, if ever, but you can still enjoy the practice. I’m sure yoga has come into my life to stay.”

Jukka, 39

”I decided to take up yoga because I’ve always been so stiff. I can remember never being able to sit with my legs crossed even in primary school. Things didn’t really improve as an adult, and I wanted to take charge of the matter for a while. The whole thing got in motion only when my wife put my name down for a ‘guy yoga’ class. 

I had my prejudices about yoga. I thought it would be a lot more boring, but also easier and lighter.

Yoga makes me feel I’m doing something useful for my personal health. It’s easier to pull on my trousers now that I can lift my legs higher. Sometimes I get scared about the thought of where I would have been in twenty years’ time if I hadn’t taken matters in my hands.”

Sanna, 38

”I knew intuitively that yoga would suit my wild mind. I’ve always needed a lot of “quiet” time to avoid going into overdrive mode. Yoga is the perfect answer to these aspects while it’s also a very physical practice. I sort of go into my “own space” during yoga practice, and charge my mental and physical batteries. I also like the thought that you don’t need any equipment ­– your own body (and mind) are enough.

When I first started, I thought I’d be really good immediately. I had a false impression of having a flexible body ­– Astanga yoga has been a pretty humbling experience.

Yoga has given me a more restful mind and well-functioning body, so pretty much a better life. My former near-chronic migraine has almost disappeared. I don’t even remember the last time I had back or neck ache, which used to be a frequent occurrence from sitting in front of my laptop. My mind is clear and I can concentrate better. Yoga has opened the body as well as the mind and taught patience, gentleness and compassion towards myself. All in all, I guess it has made me more in touch with the real me, and shown how every aspect of the body and mind are interconnected.  I’ve also had some physical aha moments, and learning new things and achieving poses that at first seemed totally impossible is  so much fun. Maybe my temper isn’t as short as before either.”

Esa, 35

”I started yoga because I was after a new form of exercise alongside running. I had already been interested for a while, and was quick to jump for the chance when I heard Katja was starting lessons for just men.   

Yoga makes you feel good every single time. It has increased my stretchability and muscle tone. Learning ujjayi breathing has helped my concentration in demanding situations. The men’s Astanga group has also had a great atmosphere. Yoga has become my favourite hobby.”

Riikka, 26

”I’d been thinking about starting for many years. I read about different forms of yoga online, and Astanga felt like a match for me. I felt I simply had to register. I joined a beginners’ Astanga course in January 2017.

At first, I thought of it simply as a physical performance, and that’s what it was like for me: panting my way through the Astanga poses trying to perfect them technically. Any thoughts on my flexibility and muscle mass quickly changed after the first sessions. My body felt stuck and it was stiffer than I’d imagined. Although yoga was far from pretty and light at the beginning, it made a big impression. Gradually I realized that how well you place your hands on the ground or whether you achieve every single asana isn’t what matters. It’s more about what I could learn from the practice.

Yoga has had plenty of positive impacts on my life. It’s been wonderful to notice changes in both my physical features and thinking. I have a better posture now, and the long-term stiffness in my upper back has gradually subsided. I’m kinder towards myself. I find it easier to accept my body and let things progress at their own pace. I’ve felt fear, rage, joy and determination ­– each practice is different. The practice might be when I meet myself as I am at the time. I don’t have to perform anything on the mat.”

Mikko, 40

 “Yoga has given me the chance and ability to be here and now as I am. When I practice yoga, I don’t want to be anywhere else or need anything else. Just me, my breathing and the asana.”

Tuire, 32

”I took up yoga in the hopes that it would help with my back problems. My friend recommended Astanga.

For me, yoga is like an oasis in the middle of my daily life. It offers a proper workout and chance to calm down. Astanga has helped my back heal by strengthening my mid-body muscles and stretching my tight pelvis.   

Photos Elina Simonen

Translation Rebecca Watson

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