If there’s a topic I can talk about knowledgeably, it’s this one. Over the past eight years that I’ve been teaching, I have received this same question (or comment) over and over again. It has been a strong “disclaimer” from a great many students as they enter the door.
Speaking from experience
I started practicing yoga in my early twenties when I probably had way more natural flexibility than I would have had if I had started now. If I had not practiced yoga for over 15 years I would not be where I am today. I am not naturally flexible, and when I took up yoga, I was a runner and not very disciplined about stretching before or after my runs. Postures were challenging for me, and I remember how much I celebrated the first time I was able to touch my toes on a forward bend, or bind my hands in a twisting position.
Yoga is more than just flexibility
Here is the good news for those of us who are not flexible enough to post an almost-impossible photo on Instagram: the practice of asanas (yoga postures) involves way more than flexibility. The aim of the postures is to create a good balance between strength, proper alignment, and a good sense of control and body awareness. These poses are looking to increase flexibility, as well as balance, and to provide a good understanding of the connection between deep breathing and anatomical movement.
So if you are feeling curious about the practice of asanas (what we recognize as “yoga” in modern times), I encourage you to give it try with the understanding that this practice is more than just random stretches. This is actually a method to open up your body, remove impurities, create stamina and most importantly, a state of calmness within the body and the mind. As B.K.S Iyengar said in his book Light on Life, “The serenity in the body is a sign of spiritual tranquility”.
One of the beauties of yoga’s physical practice is that it focuses neither on the muscular nor the skeletal systems. This practice aims to do a very internal deep work, in our organs, respiratory, digestive and nervous system, brain, senses, emotions and all the different layers of our being. We can finally recognize the mind-body-spirit connection.
Flexibility is relative
As for flexibility, I repeatedly explain to my students that this is a very relative concept. What we perceive as lack of flexibility is usually the fact that we are unable to reach our toes in a forward bend. But as we practice yoga, we start noticing there are different areas where we are more bendy than others. As in example (and even after years of personal practice) my forward bends are just “ok”, but I have a good external rotation of my hips and my abductors are not very tight, which allows me to go deeper into certain postures related to the hips. But my psoas muscle and shoulder joint tend to be quite tense, which makes my backbends really stiff. “Flexibility” is more than just having loose or bendy hamstrings. It includes every muscle, joint and more. Sometimes what we interpret as a lack of flexibility in the body might just be (more than anything) a lot of tension and stress accumulated in our bodies.
Jumpstart your flexibility with Bodhi Sessions
At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we run weekly sessions where our guests have the opportunity to participate in a curriculum of five yoga sessions that lead us to discover different aspects of the practice of yoga. Over those five sessions, I’m always amazed by the wonders of this magical practice that helps in a very subtle and effortless way to release the tension away from the body. I tend to notice that in many cases, our students arrive with a degree of tension in their bodies, but that melts away as we progress through the week.
My advice is to not buy into the idea that you aren’t flexible and therefore yoga would feel more like a physical punishment. I suggest you try it, maybe it will be a bit of a challenge (as everything that’s worth doing usually tends to be in the beginning), but little by little, your body will find its own rhythm and space. Don’t push yourself, let the practice do the work, this is (pretty much) an exercise in repetition. You just need to show up on your yoga mat in a disciplined way. And plus, if you are suffering from a serious case of lack flexibility, maybe yoga is actually a must for you!
Good luck and Namaste!
If you need a few more reasons to start a yoga practice, check out Pilar’s top three!