“I’m so not flexible”
“I’m so not flexible.” It may be the most common refrain I hear as a yoga instructor. Whether it is a new student or simply somebody who happens to overhear that I am a yoga teacher, people seem to feel compelled to say that “I’m so not flexible” or “I am horrible at yoga” or “I can’t touch my toes” or “I am really stiff, but really” or any one of dozens of similar permutations.
My answer is always the same – “So what?”
Flexibility is not a prerequisite to practicing yoga, and the ability to touch one’s toes does not make them a better person!
A student’s performance on the yoga mat is not judged and does not receive any points, stars, stickers or extra credit. Whether or not you can reach the most advanced form of a given pose or the final pose of a sequence does not determine the value of the practice. It is the process that contains the intrinsic value. The ability to reach your toes, or not, is not the point at all. I keep reminding my students that they all have a hundred percent of experience and hundred percent of the benefit regardless of how advanced the pose they reach or whether they actually touch their toes. It is about the process. When you open yourself up to that mindset, you find a wonderful opportunity to learn about the habits of your body, your breath and your mind. With a new awareness, you begin to cultivate new habits and new abilities.
Narrowing yoga to physical limitations such as lack of flexibility does a big injustice to both potential practitioners and to the “magic” called yoga.
The “magic” of yoga is the positive shift that is happening throughout your daily experience on the mat and especially the shift that occurs over time with consistent practice.
Join me and taste a part of a yoga class.
Start in a child pose. If you have a hard time sitting on your feet, place a blanket between your seat and your shins. Place another blanket under your feet if you need more support. If the pose causes strain, you may sit in a cross-legged position with or without a prop or any other seated position that will allow your body to relax.
Take a few moments to pause. Give yourself the permission to slow down even for a bit. Notice what you bring today to the yoga mat. Scan your body, exploring where you feel tension. Don’t judge, don’t try to fix anything, just explore and acknowledge. Take a few breathes. Notice where you feel the movement of your breath – in your ribs, in your diaphragm, in your back or anywhere else? What movements of breathing do you feel when you inhale? What movements do you feel when you exhale? What’s easier for you today, to inhale or exhale? What is usually your pattern of breathing outside the yoga room in your daily life? Begin to deepen your breathing, inhaling to the bottom of the pelvic floor. When you exhale, release the breath up and out through the top of your crown...start and direct your breath gently to all the areas that feel tense and need a little more attention.
Just by placing your attention on your breathing, you have already slowed down your breath and began to quiet your mind. There is a calming impact on your muscles and physical body. Everything is interconnected. When it comes to your physical body, the less you force, the more you will open up.
How do you do it? How do you open up? How to unlock the knots? Have a gentle non aggressive approach, work with your breath, honor your limitations and be patient.