Welcome to the second article in the series on dispelling commonly held yoga myths.
Yes, that’s right, I’m here to speak the truth.
This article will cover that dreaded word: flexibility. I have heard so many people say “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible enough.” If I had a buzzer, I’d buzz it. Those are the buzz words, and you’d be surprised how often people say them.
Saying you’re not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath. That’s quite a gross allegory, so let’s go with: it’s like saying you’re too bad at playing the piano to take piano lessons.
If you are not flexible, that’s okay, but wouldn’t it feel great to lengthen and strengthen those muscles and to be able to move and stretch in a way that feels great? Yoga is what you need if you are NOT flexible, and even just a small amount of yoga each day can encourage this.
You’d be surprised.
Why flexibility doesn’t matter for yoga
Yoga is not like gymnastics, it is not a performance, and you’re not going to get a medal for how flexible you are.
Yoga is a personal practice, and flexibility is just one of the many wonderful benefits and outcomes of your practice. Over time, yes you will feel your body becoming more flexible because your muscles, joints and bones will get used to moving in different ways. But if you don’t feel this at the start (which is totally normal!), or even for a while after that, that’s okay too!
Just because you’re not standing on your head or sliding into a split doesn’t mean you ‘can’t’ do yoga.
It is a practice which is infinitely adaptable to fit each individual’s needs.
Using props in yoga is an excellent way to encourage the less flexible into the most beneficial poses. Even the most advanced yoga practitioners I know still use blocks, belts and bolsters in various poses because they come from a fabulous concept (coined by Mr BKS Iyengar) to help your body to ease into poses and also to avoid injuries.
Even as a yoga teacher, I still use many of the modified versions of the poses in my own self-practice as well as in class.
Sometimes you wake up and it is just that kind of morning when you need to use a block in Trikonasana (or if you have no block, use a thick book, I find the Harry Potter series is great!) or use a belt in Paschimottonasana (this is where your winter scarves come into play!).
In fact, I sometimes feel a greater benefit and a deeper stretch when using the props. They help you to maintain the full benefits of the pose without compromising your alignment.
So don’t be afraid to get prop-heavy!
If you encourage yourself onto your mat for a small amount of time each day, you will start to notice the benefits of yoga.
And enhanced flexibility is just one of these.
It may take longer than you expect if you are completely new to yoga, because your muscles are currently used to a certain movement pattern, but it will happen. As a result of this, your new-found agility will also have other positive outcomes. You will start to feel balanced in both mind and body, your strength will be enhanced and your stability will be more obvious, your co-ordination and posture will also improve.
The habits you may be stuck in will start to loosen and you will find with each practice — it gets easier.
Understanding your physical limitations
It is important to point out that we all have our physical limitations, and part of yoga is being mentally aware of these.
Once you obtain this awareness of your limits and “how much is too much” to challenge yourself, your practice will begin to flow nicely and over time you will start to feel comfortable to push yourself a little more.
But remember to listen to your body, and only do what feels right to you.
Remember that it doesn’t matter how deep you go into a stretch or how close you get your nose to your knee, there is no wrong way. As long as you are practicing the pose in a safe manner, your version is perfectly as valid as anyone else’s, and by the way — you are losing out on no benefits by not pushing yourself into the full pose.
All the muscles, joints, systems that are working in a pose will work at any level, so modifying a pose is not only okay, it’s encouraged. Not only to avoid injury, but to maintain comfort and ease in your practice.
The goal of yoga is not to stick your foot behind your head, or to twist yourself into the most uncomfortable position while pretending it’s so easy.
Yoga helps to delve inside yourself, to reconnect to your true self and then carry that out into the world.
Yoga is a progressive practice and a learning process for everyone.
We are all learning more each day about ourselves and what we can achieve, so remember what YOU can achieve and what YOU strive towards is what matters, not what the person next to you can do.
Yogis come in all shapes and sizes, some are extremely flexible and have rock hard abs, and others can’t touch their toes yet. But they all have one thing in common, an inner calm, and a connection to themselves, or a yearning for it (which means it’s on its way).
Your flexibility is just an added bonus to all that.
It may be slow to arrive but it will come in time, the mental and spiritual advantages such as…
- mental calm
- inner peace
they will all come a lot sooner.
So, while you’re waiting for your flexibility, why not try reaping the other benefits, you might find you like them.