Flexibility is THE biggest concern/objection I get when I tell people that I’m a yoga teacher. I talked about some more deeper issues and lightly mentioned flexibility in my last article (hence the ‘continued’ tag on this title?). If you want to read it, click here. Like I’ve said before, yoga is about much more than just physical flexibility.
What Yoga Is and What it Isn’t…in a nutshell
Thanks to social media (and regular media) we’ve been duped into thinking that yoga is all about skinny bendy ladies twisting and bending into shapes that would make gumby proud. But, yoga is much more than twisting and bending yourself into pretzel shapes. Real yoga isn’t just about cool-looking poses and flexibility: it’s about a way of life, a way of thinking, of being mindful and overcoming our not-so-good natural tendencies (in Christian circles, you’d call that “overcoming the natural man”).
In the physical aspect of yoga, which is called asana, we are always reminded to start where we’re at without judgement. That really is the only place to start, when you think about it…. you really can’t start where you’re not at because, well, you’re not there – yet! Yoga is about balance, unity and flexibility of thought. They call it a yoga ‘practice’ because you’re constantly practicing, trying to get better and better at connecting with your body, higher Self, and with God. Improvement, not perfection.
Learning to Start Where You’re At
I had one of the best teacher trainers out there, when I took my 200hr yoga teacher training! Her philosophy around yoga asana gelled with mine and with yoga philosophy in general. She confirmed to me that yoga poses are the tool, an instrument, to gain access to our divinity and to The Divine. Every body is different. Not a single one of us, short of being identical twins or clones, has the same exact body. So, to expect that every pose/asana, will look the same and feel the same in every body is just plain silly! I always felt like there were some poses I just couldn’t do the same way as others could and I would modify it to fit what I could do
Each of us has slightly different bone structure which can flat out prevent us from reaching “the full expression of the pose” and that’s just fine! Some of us have longer limbs, others longer torsos and vice-versa. And, it goes without saying we each have different levels of flexibility. What’s even more interesting is that our flexibility and ability to reach certain levels of expressions in these poses can actually change from moment to moment, or part of the day!
Making the Pose Work for You: Physical Flexibility Not Required
You might still be thinking:”yeah, lady, but I can’t even touch my toes!” And I’ll say, “that’s perfectly alright! Just bend your knees!” It’s as simple as that. If you can’t touch your toes with your legs extended, bend your knees until you can? OR you could just reach down and touch whatever part of your legs you can reach. It really is as simple as that. Just do the best you can and give yourself grace and love for just trying.
This is the only time I even advocate for ‘participation awards’ in yoga, and in life, all that’s required of you is your best. That’s why I love practicing at home, so my ego doesn’t get in the way as much. When I’m with others, I tend to compare myself to them and make it more competitive, which is the opposite of what yoga is all about. Yoga is very similar to life and teaches us many lessons that way. Just like in life, the only one we’re in competition with is ourselves. We should always try to improve ourselves without comparing ourselves to others. “Try” being the operative word in that sentence. Being the humans that we are, it is so difficult to not compare, sometimes. So, all we can do is try. And, that’s enough.
Using What You Have and Making it Work for You
Even as a yoga teacher and having practiced yoga for years, I simply can’t do certain poses (i.e. splits among others). What I have learned is that I can just use blocks, straps, and bolsters to make certain poses more comfortable or accessible to my body. Now, if you don’t have those, you can use a pile of books, long scarves, belts/leashes, or couch cushions until you do.
I can tell you that I’ve used the stuff around my house for a long time and they served me well, though once I decided to get a good set of blocks, it really changed my practice! It was a lot more convenient. Since I cannot do the splits, I use blocks under myself to bring the ground up to me. I also used blocks when I couldn’t reach the ground when in a forward fold after I tore my inner thigh/hamstring muscle.
This is what I love about the physical aspect of yoga: you start where you’re at and use whatever is around you to support you in your practice. Nothing needs to be fancy schmancy. I’ll write an article on my favorite yoga props soon. These are super helpful if you want to really practice yoga. In order to get the full benefits, it needs to be practiced near daily or as often as possible.
A Friendly Reminder
In the meantime, remember to start where you’re at. There’s no shame, ever, in not being able to do certain poses. If you try and fail, just find a different pose or modification that works for your body. And, don’t compare yourself to others. Remember, yoga is about balance, union, and creating space for you to feel peace and connect with your highest Self and with God. To gain a better relationship with your body/temple so that you can recognize when God or your highest Self are communicating with you. It’s about union, and when you become one (or as one as possible) with your body, you can become one with God and with everything. Physical flexibility will come in time.
Enjoy your joyful life!
The Joyful Life Blueprint
P.S. Let’s get to know each other. Here’s my story, what’s yours?