Yoga with the Yaais: Finding Variation

Danyal Eisenbrandt, 128 YinD

As many of us know, yoga shows itself as being a wonderful tool that can benefit and enrich our lives in a series of ways. Immediately I know yoga can be made a prevalent adaptation in my Peace Corps bubble as a life skills encompassing tool #BringinItBackToYinD. However, it’s also a practice used by many to find stillness in body and mind, for developing and extending one’s meditative practice, toning and strengthening, stress relief, and as a key resource for rehabilitation. At site, I’ve been able to use it as kind of an IRB-ing tool with the Puu-Suung-Ahyoo (senior citizens) students who I’ve been leading in weekly seated yoga sessions with my counterpart and co-facilitator.

If you can imagine the first day leading up to these sessions I was given that classic Peace Corps Thailand scenario; my counterpart (CP) gives me five minutes heads-up that I’ve got to do a “thing,” and it’s gotta be active for a full hour. Reaching my conclusion to do yoga was all well and fine, but then I was forced to ask myself a critical question, “How was I going to adapt and provide proper variations and options for an audience of 50+ year-old yaais (grandmoms/older women) whom I’ve yet to share my practice with?”

This isn’t a terribly uncommon task for teachers leading a class whether it be yoga, Zumba, calisthenics, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). I’ve certainly struggled in the past when leading a workout with others who clearly needed other options than what I was giving them for the training we were doing, or some who’ve more directly requested variations. Similar experiences like these have also come up in conversation with others. For many I’ve spoken to, they’ve struggled to give variations or simply ignored the person having trouble doing a pose or producing the proper form and in repetitions (the latter I’d imagine being rather uncomfortable and potentially harmful for the other person.)

There is a dire need to make visible and aware bodies that require more variation than what’s often made accessible and is widely viewed.

The importance of my previous question is that it requires us to think more critically about the bodies that we work with and more so about the bodies that are most visible in the mainstream representation of yoga. An issue that comes up frequently when working with different body types is that when we are teaching students with bodies that have little difficulty replicating a pose we know what they should be feeling in certain postures and what muscle groups are being activated; however, when we teach students who require modification it’s possible that they might be feeling something different.

For many with a lens gazing into the yoga landscape, the western world can be illustrious from a surface level. Filled to the brim with trendy fashion designs, coffee mugs with soft inspirational quotes, and a skinny, flexible, Eurocentric, and “feminine” woman depicted in a seemingly impossible position. There’s a clear set of bodies that are represented in this view and most that fall outside of it are left out. This is why I’ve come to appreciate sharing my yoga practice with the yaais in my community. It’s forced me to be present with an audience that’s so inviting and transparently declares where they are within their practice.

My big “so what” stems from a brief but powerful quote from the founders of the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, Melanie Klein and Brigitte Kouba: “Yoga belongs to all bodies, or rather every “body” is a yoga body.” It’s not made out for one body frozen in some intense, confusing, and contorted position. Nor is that the goal where one should romanticize and necessarily be focused on striving for. Rather yoga is an opportunity for all of us to become more aware, present, and intimate with ourselves in our own skin. In this life we receive but one body, and finding compassion and patience with it can mean all the difference in progressing through the practices that we set for ourselves.


I know that in the past I’ve shown that I can be very stubborn with my running. Often times I push myself even with an injury. For myself, it’s living with a body that’s so susceptible to injury despite the desire to want to go beyond my body’s limit. Having a mind that exists outside of those limits while simultaneously coinhabiting and being impounded by that frailty can be so frustrating. Yoga invites and requires me to come to grips with that frustration and find variation and appreciation for the body that I have, and working with others offers a basis for greater understanding of the human body and of the practice of yoga.

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