When I tell people I am a yoga teacher and invite them to a class, the most common thing I hear is... 'I am not flexible enough to do yoga'. I want to challenge this belief...
"Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down."
For starters I want to dispel a myth that yoga is all about physical postures! In the Western world it has become very much about what is called Asana - which describes the poses we have all come to think of when we talk about yoga.
And while Asana is an important part of yoga - and a beautiful part I might add, one that brings me so much joy, comfort and strength - there are also a huge number of other elements that make up the practice - none of which require a yoga mat or you being able to put your leg behind your head! More on that another day...
I am not that flexible!
For now, I am talking about flexibility in the physical body and, while I have some parts of my own body that are quite open and flexible, I also have other areas that are the total opposite! If anyone has been in one of my classes and seen me try to do a reverse prayer position or a bind behind my back with my hands - they will know what I am talking about. My arms just DO NOT move in that way!
When I started practising yoga, my hamstrings were so unbelievably tight that I couldn't forward fold with straight legs... not even a tiny bit... not even at all! I was still sitting bolt upright while the rest of the class had their heads on their knees! My shoulders were permanently wrapped around my ears thanks to a huge amount of tension caused by work and stress, and don't even get me started on how terrified I was of doing a back bend!
However, if I had let those things prevent me from getting started then I would not be where I am right now and I would not have experienced the incredible insight I have gained from being with my body on my mat.
I have to work hard on my flexibility, as do a lot of my fellow yogis. Yes there are some people out there who make it look effortless and easy - but the vast majority of us will more often than not be found sweating through challenging postures and working our backsides off to discover what our body is offering us in that very moment!
Don't let 'flexibility' stop you...
If I had been put off doing yoga by not being flexible enough - I would never have started. And that determination on the mat has taught me so much off the mat.
What we learn in Asana is so powerful in our everyday life - it teaches us to breathe and deal with discomfort on the mat in order to equip us to keep breathing and dealing with discomfort in our life outside of the studio! If you can keep breathing through a strong Warrior II, despite the leg burn and the aching arms, then you quite possibly will find that next time you have a stressful situation during your day, you can tap into that inner strength and breathe your way through it.
An opportunity to learn...
What I love about yoga is that it teaches you so much about your body which, unless you dared to get on the mat, you wouldn't even know about.
We have no idea how much we compensate in areas of the body because of stiffness and tightness. We don't know that one side is more supple than the other. We don't realise how stiff our feet are. We don't have a clue that we have spent so long slouching over an office desk that the muscles in our chest have shortened and are literally drawing us into a hunched position.
Our body defaults to the easiest posture without us even noticing, and this can lead to strain and discomfort over time. By actually becoming aware of these things - even though sometimes it is a harsh reality to face - you can start to do something about it. Gently and slowly - integrating small tweaks to your daily routine, taking time to move in a new way and gradually teaching the body to release the areas that have been holding for so long.
One of the things I adore about the physical practice of yoga Asana is what it teaches us about our body and how we can learn from the way a posture feels. The need to be flexible before you start yoga is actually a complete contradictory statement and even the most 'flexible' of yogis will notice that every single time they come into a pose it will be different.
Yoga Asana teaches us to meet our body where it is at that very moment, it is the ultimate mindfulness practice for me. Some days you wobble and shake and wince when things get tough, other days you effortlessly flow into a pose and maintain strength and composure.
It's what makes life so interesting!
"I bend so I don't break."
I will leave you with this final quote which always resonates with me. It can be applied to both the physical practice of yoga as well as the mental side. When we work on our flexibility in the body and the mind we can be more open and free in all areas of our life.
PS... I am about to start filming my first round of yoga videos to share with you all. If you have any requests then please post them in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will see what I can do!