by Aubree Sorteberg

Most likely you have seen the photos, watched the videos, shared a meme, or read an article about it. Happy people in strange positions, with shining faces, praising the benefits of yoga. Today more than 36 million Americans in the United States reportedly practice yoga. In the year 2017 more than a third of North America citizens say they will give yoga a try.

Why the yoga craze? Yoga has been proven to have numerous health benefits; including cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, balance, and strength. Yoga can reduce stress and the symptoms stress causes; such as anxiety, depression, and tension. A yoga practice has been shown to lead people to a healthier lifestyle, introducing the benefits of eating sustainably and living actively.

How exactly can a yoga practice lead to so many wonderful benefits? It sounds like a miracle. What exactly is yoga anyway? Yoga in a word means “union.” It is a practice rooted in over 5000 years of Indian traditions. It is the uniting of mind, body, and spirit to achieve harmony in the present moment. It is a physical practice based on compassion and self-acceptance.

“Yoga is so much more than an exercise class—it’s a journey.”

So why not give it a try, everything until now sounds great. It’s because of those photos. Those pictures and videos of young fit looking individuals. Of young women and men who are flexible and athletic, it makes yoga look exclusive, only accessible for stretchy, bendy, or spiritual people. Sheryl Cooper, a client with RumiSol Yoga here in Cuenca says, “I am a 70 year old disabled woman; yoga is the only feasible exercise for me. It heals and opens my body, my mind, and my spirit.” The yoga world is about accepting every Body, no matter the limitations. Yoga is not perfection, it is not about doing beautiful poses and posting them online to show your friends. It is about building awareness in your body, tuning in with yourself in the present moment. It is a journey of learning, observation and self-discovery. Every pose can be modified to suit physical limitations; oftentimes it depends even on how we feel that day. In a safe yoga practice, we use props such as blocks, straps, chairs, or blankets, modifying the pose to fit the individual’s needs.

“I wanted to be stronger but didn’t want to go to a gym so I gave yoga a try and fell in love,” says Taylor Brooke, an expat living here in Cuenca. “I’m more aware of my breath during the day and it centers me. My mood benefits from the meditative aspects of yoga. Because I’m getting stronger every day, I’m able to engage in physical activities that I had not thought would be possible for me. Yoga is so much more than an exercise class—it’s a journey.”

If we stay true to what yoga really means–union–we can move forward by creating a yoga community that truly unites every individual. A world where we practice yoga safely, with mindful awareness, sharing the benefits together.