Yogis are great at appreciating all the good in the world. There are some things we yogis can take for granted because our of capabilities in yoga. There is a chance that at some point we won’t be able to stretch as deeply or hold a pose as long. Will that mean we can’t do yoga anymore?
Tracey Eccleston of Ageless Arts Yoga certainly doesn’t think so. For the past ten years, Tracey has made it her mission to make yoga accessible to everybody and for every body.
Tracey experienced the benefits of meditation at a very young age as her family were frequent meditators. Then, when she first started yoga, Tracey found it most beneficial as a way to cope with bi-polar disorder.
“In my teens, I started having some serious struggles with bi-polar disorder. Yoga was the one thing that calmed me when I was anxious and uplifted me when I was down.”
Tracey says yoga quickly became an addiction. She has now completed four teacher trainings and teaches at conferences around the world.
“I was never dedicated to an individual lineage—I saw the benefits and challenges of each.”
It was during her second teacher training where Tracey really started noticing the differences in every individual’s body. By understanding more about anatomy, she noticed each person has limitations built into their biology. Good yoga teaching is helping people to discover and work within these limitations.
In Tracey’s case, she realized the length of her arms were shorter than the length of her lower leg, so placing her hands flat on the floor in a runner’s lunge was impossible. As well, compression in her ankles limited Tracey from their full range of motion, and she is unable to place her heels on the floor in downward dog or a complete squat without lifting her heels off the ground.
“If I look around the room and everybody is in the exact same pose, I am not doing my job as a teacher,” she now realizes. “[I focus] less on what things should LOOK like and more what things should FEEL like.”
How many times have yoga teachers heard someone dismiss yoga by saying, “I’m not flexible enough?” Tracey notices a lot of people would write off yoga based on misconceptions of what an “ideal yogi” body is.
“I didn’t think the industry or media was letting people know it was okay that your body had limitations,” Tracey noticed during her trainings. She pointed out that many of the “classical yogis” now entering their 60s and 70s have all kinds of chronic issues from focusing on achieving ideal yoga poses and not ideal yoga poses FOR THEM.
“The ‘market’ focuses on traditional thin yogini bodies. Because the industry emphasizes these types of bodies, people of ‘different and unique bodies’ feel they can’t or shouldn’t do yoga.”
Tracey thinks these misconceptions lead a lot of people away from something that could really help them. She points out the benefits of yoga go much deeper than a good hamstring stretch or impressive looking pose.
“It wasn’t doing handstands or balance poses that made me healthy. It was the pranayama and meditation that were helpful to my mental health.”
However, pranayama and meditation don’t require any physical flexibility. But people see yoga through the lens of how it is marketed and write off the entire industry—even the parts that would be the most beneficial for their age, experience and body.
Tracey has been doing yoga full time for 10 years, but before that she had a lengthy career working with seniors. Having been involved with yoga and completed a variety of trainings, she knew the positive impact yoga could have for seniors.
Chair yoga is one of the ways Tracey makes yoga accessible for seniors.
“Just because someone can’t bring their body to the floor, doesn’t mean they can’t bring the floor up to practice yoga on a chair,” she points out.
She worked with one man, Tom, whose speech and movement was impaired after a severe stroke. He was emotionally frustrated by his physical limitations. Working with him, Tracey was able to determine that what Tom wanted most was to walk again. By visualizing and practicing yoga, Tom could take back control of his life and body. Eventually Tom was able to stand again, something he could not have done without giving his body the strength through yoga.
Tracey says providing accessible yoga is different from traditional yoga classes but provides similar benefits. For example, when working with people with arthritis, she is careful with her instruction.
“Usually you say, ‘if it hurts don’t do it’,” Tracey says. “But when you’re living with pain, everything hurts.”
In the cases of people with arthritis, the pain felt during yoga usually leads to less pain overall.
Tracey also works with the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada providing SaTaNaMa meditation, which is recommended by the society as a way to slow Alzheimer’s in patients. Tracey recalls working with a man who was thought to be unreachable. However, through this musical meditation—as well as playing the Chicken Dance!—the man’s eyes lit up and he started moving his hands. His family realized that they could still access their loved one.
Yoga doesn’t have an age limit—or any kind of limit. Tracey’s work is showing us that all kinds of people can experience the benefits of yoga, even if they aren’t the traditional types you see in a studio.
For those who want to help make yoga accessible, Tracey is a wealth of knowledge. Join one of her workshops at this year’s Toronto Yoga Conference or RSVP to her event if you’re interested. Tracey teaches classes regularly throughout Kitchener and Cambridge and offers many trainings and workshops year round. Everybody and every body welcome!