Sandra Luis firmly believes that everyone is capable of doing yoga.
“My biggest message to people is that yoga is for everybody,” she said. “A lot of people get all wrapped up in like, ‘Oh, I can’t do this and I can’t do that.’ But yoga is something that can be modified for every style of body, every body injury. There’s always modifications.”
Luis started doing yoga in 1998, shortly after she started working as a dental hygienist.
“With dentistry it’s a lot of sitting and a lot of repetitive work, so just sitting down for eight hours, I really felt that I needed to stretch,” she said.
So, Luis signed up for a yoga class.
At first, she said, it was just about the stretching and movement. However, after involving herself with yoga for several years and becoming a yogi — the name for someone who practices yoga — she started seeing other benefits from it, too.
“After a few years, it just kind of became a lot more than that. It gave me a lot more than the stretch, so, it’s a total mind, body, and soul kind of experience once you engage in that higher level of spirituality.”
Yoga originated in ancient India and originally came from the chief aim of calming the mind and trying to ‘unite’ the human spirit with the Divine spirit.
There are various types of yoga that can be practiced, as well. Some are gentler, such as restorative yoga and yin yoga, and focus more on slow movements with the help of props. These ones are often used for people with injuries, pain, inflammation, and tightness, and they hold positions for longer and focus on settling the mind, as well as the body.
“Sometimes the yoga poses are not the difficult part, but quieting the mind, more so,” Luis said.
Other yogas, such as hatha yoga, encompass more active movements and motions, so the practice works often as physical exercise, as well as mental. All practices, however, focus on breathing and movement — or non-movement — in some form, as aligning breathing with movement and focusing on the breath are what help bring the mind and spirit into the practice, as well as the body.
Luis said mentally, yoga has helped her deal with stress and anxiety in her life, along with the physical and mental aches and pains of everyday life.
“It’s personal, and every person experiences things different at different times, in different rates and different experiences, but it just became more of a kind of coping mechanism, also, for, you know, different stresses and anxieties that arise through everyday life,” she said. “You kind of lean on [yoga] like you would faith, I guess, right?”
Several years ago, Luis got tendinitis and a tendon tear in one of her elbows. Because of that, she had to take a break from work and ended up getting surgery and needing three years off.
“During that time yoga was, like, a huge thing for me, just to cope with everything, because it was difficult to not be working and I love my career, I love dentistry, and it was hard to let that go.”
Luis still works in her same office, but was unable to continue in the same position after the surgery due to the repetitive nature of the hygienist’s work.
Before her injury, Luis had been involved with more active yoga’s. However, she ended up having to move towards more relaxation-type yoga’s after her injury, as these allowed her to use props to help support herself and her injury, and involved slower movements and more modifications as she needed to accommodate her elbow.
“It gave me a little bit of hope, because I used to do a lot of active yoga,” Luis said, “So I had to really change the type of activity that I did, because I couldn’t do a lot of weight-bearing activity, right? So a lot of the active yoga I couldn’t do, so I really took a huge interest in what I was able to do, which was restorative and yin.”
Last year, Luis decided she wanted to expand her knowledge and complete some training to become a yoga instructor.
“I went into the teacher training without intention of teaching at all. It was just for a personal experience.”
Luis said she learned a lot about yoga from the experience, but still feels like she has much to learn.
“There’s so much to learn with yoga, like, even doing the course, I’m constantly learning and still gaining knowledge. There’s just so much to learn, it just such an ancient art for, like, so many years back, you know? It’s like, yoga is yoga is yoga. Like, if you stem it back to the roots, not a lot has changed.”
After returning from the training, Luis said a few of her friends convinced her to start doing some teaching, so she could share what she had learned with the Kitimat community.
“I went in it just doing it for myself, not really thinking I’d go into teaching, and yet, here I am.”
Luis said her goal with teaching is to ensure she is able to include everybody and anybody in the practice. One of her favourite things about teaching and going to yoga classes is having people see the modifications that are available and realizing that they can participate, despite any injuries or body restrictions.
“It’s not only for the young and not only for the fit,” she said. “As long as the yogi has intention with the yoga practice, everybody can practice.”
Luis said she also enjoys seeing and experiencing the mental and physical changes that come from practicing for a longer period of time, and the inner tools that yoga provides to help her deal with everyday mental and physical issues that arise.
“We all have those experiences in life where we really need to draw on the tools that we can find within ourselves, you know. There’s other aids and other tools but if you’re able to combat stress and anxiety within yourself, and have the tools within yourself, that’s basically the best prescription for stress and anxiety.”
“It’s not only a physical change, but you see the mental, spiritual change. You see changes in the — just a different outlook in certain situations,” she added. “It’s just a connection of mind, body, soul, so you can’t really isolate one without the other, I think. I feel like it’s a big connection.”
Luis said she doesn’t see herself stopping yoga anytime soon, and is grateful her friends initially got her to start teaching, as well.
“Yoga will always be a part of my life for sure, and I think as long as I’m able to share it, I will continue to do so. If I’m not doing it with people, I’ll be doing it by myself, so why not share?”
She said she would like to do more training, especially into prenatal yoga for parents and trauma-informed yoga, as there’s so much to learn and continue to share.
“The knowledge that I have right now, I could still share that, right? But there’s always lots to learn.”
Luis said she is always happy to share her knowledge with others because, while she knows it can be intimidating, yoga is about healing the self, internally and externally, and there is a way for anyone to be a part of that.
“Don’t be scared to put yourself out there and try something new, because, like, I said, yoga is for every size, shape, ethnic origin, background, and as long as the yogi has an intention to practice, then you practice without judgment and go forward and just learn and submerse yourself, and don’t fear trying something new. Because you won’t regret it.”