One of the students I am privileged to teach in Leicester is Jignesh Vaidya, aka Jig. When we are in the hot room and it starts to become challenging, and we want someone or something to blame, we take a few breaths and are inspired by Jig.
He shows up for every single posture with desire to do his best, and patience to listen to his body. This means something a bit different for Jig, though, as he uses a wheelchair.
Born in Mumbai, he got polio as a child, leaving him paralysed from the waist down. But Jig has shaped his life around what he can do, not what he can’t. He kindly agreed to share in his own words what yoga means to him, how it’s changed him, and his thoughts on how to make the yoga community more inclusive.
How did you discover hot yoga?
I met Libby [Nockles] of Bikram Yoga Leicester about eight or nine years when she was doing an interview for local radio. I was interested in trying yoga, but I didn’t know if I could, with my disability. She said, “everything is possible.” The only thing is, the studio is on the first floor. I leave my wheelchair at the door and scuttle myself up.
What was your initial reaction?
I felt good inside, really energetic. I thought, this is awesome I can do this like everyone else. We started looking into ways to modify the postures. Libby and the other teachers make sure I stay involved. They adapt it for me, so I don’t get left out.
What’s an example of a posture you’ve adapted?
Tree Pose. Obviously I can’t use my legs but I lift myself up on my arms to get the same upper-body alignment as the other students.
What changes have you observed from doing hot yoga?
I’m more focused and disciplined. Before yoga I would go to the gym when I could. Now, at 6:30 every morning I go. That is the discipline of yoga. And every Saturday I’m doing my Bikram yoga
How has it changed your outlook on life?
I decided after doing yoga that everything is possible, if you can adapt.
Was yoga your first foray into sport?
I’ve played wheelchair basketball for more than 20 years. I started when I was in college and was naturally pretty good. It gave me a confidence to focus on the things I could do, not the things I couldn’t. Since yoga I’ve seen my inner strength, my stamina on the court increase. When I was 40, I thought I couldn’t keep up anymore. Now, at 48, I can last more than half an hour without being breathless.
How can the yoga community become more inclusive?
That’s a good question. I travel all over the country and meet people with different disabilities. A lot of them say, “I’d like to try yoga but would I be welcome? Could I do it?” Teachers and studios need to reach out and let people know that yoga is available to everyone. They need to focus on what people can do. Every single class, Paul brings something new to me, something to build my practice.
What advice would you give to a first-timer?
Don’t be scared. Talk to the teacher beforehand if you can. Let them know what you need. Ninety-nine percent of the time they will help you. I’m glad that people like Libby and Paul have the attitude that everyone can do yoga, regardless of disability or health.
Jig is a tremendous soul. When he’s not giving his all in the studio, he is working, coaching basketball, or fund-raising for charity. He also recently raised £1,000 for Guide Dogs UK.