I've recently finished my Yoga For All teacher training and one of the biggest take aways was this: the postures should be adapted to suit individual bodies - not the other way around.
When people tell me that they're scared to try yoga, a lot of their reasoning stems from feeling that they'll never be able to touch their toes or perform a flawless king pigeon. If you look up #yoga on Instagram, you'll see tons of incredible[y unrealistic] photos of thin, lean (mostly) women contorting their bodies into seemingly impossible poses and positions amongst stunning beach sunset backgrounds. What you won't see is context or history: the many times the model fell out trying to get into that particular posture, the years of dance lessons that allowed her to easily bring her foot up over her head, the long and specifically timed walk to a particular beach to perform a single posture for a camera, the huge number of photos taken to produce the one you see in front of you.
These images are deterring because they create an image of yoga as something exclusive and impossible for many body types. People look at these images may decide yoga isn't for them because their versions of particular postures look nothing like those hashtagged #yoga on social media. Injuries happen as people attempt to contort their bodies into similar positions, compromising the integrity of the postures as well as their own physical and/or mental wellbeing in the process.
The reality is this: bodies don't need to change to suit particular postures. In actuality, it's the other way around.
Whether or not you can touch your toes, the benefits of a forward fold are still there. When you forward fold with bent knees, you're stretching out the back of the legs and the back, as well as bringing your head below your heart which creates a calming effect. The visual aspect of touching your hands to your feet or the floor does nothing to 'improve' these benefits - they're there regardless. We practice asana not to look a certain way, but instead to reap the numerous benefits that come from an asana practice.
The same goes for using props. There is a general misconception that props are used when someone can't do a particular posture as performed by "Yoga Girl" Rachel Brathen - that the use of props is a sign of weakness and inability. On the contrary, using props usually actually *enhances* the benefits of particular postures, allowing us to get the most out of each asana we do. Sitting on a block in a seated forward fold, for example, tilts the pelvis forward, allowing a person to stretch deeper into the lower back. Likewise, wrapping a strap around the feet in this posture assists a person in flattening out their spine, enhancing the stretch through the lower back and hamstrings while protecting the back from injury.
I think, as a community, we need to shift the discourse around asana to be more frank, inclusive and benefit-focussed rather than image focussed. You don't need to make your body a certain way to do a posture: instead, you need to adapt the posture to suit and honour your body. This is how you can get the most of your asana practice physically, and perhaps mentally as well.