There’s more to yoga than flexibility
Have you ever thought about trying yoga and a voice in your head said something like “You’re not flexible enough to do yoga”?
Yoga has been a familiar friend of mine for nearly 30 years. At first, I was a practitioner of yoga and like many who practice yoga, I eventually took a yoga teacher training course. My first of many as I continue my journey with my familiar friend.
Over the years, I have frequently heard “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible” or ``I can't do yoga because I cannot touch my toes.
As innocent as these comments are, the root of these comments come from what “yoga” is perceived to be.
When you scan the pages of many magazines or social media threads, the word yoga is marketed, especially in the west as something only thin, flexible people can do. This, like many things used in marketing, cannot be further from the truth.
Growing up in the suburbs of London my neighbor was a kind Indian lady, Mrs Shah. She would teach yoga wearing a traditional sari, she taught yoga long into her 80’s in her mother tongue of Gujarati. Not the typical western image of a yoga teacher, Mrs Shah exemplified what yoga actually is.
Let’s unpack some myths about yoga and flexibility:
Physical yoga poses are known as asana. The word asana is a Sanskrit term with a simple translation into English as “to sit down”. We could stretch (pun intended) that translation to mean “sitting poses”. The Ashtanga series of asana yoga poses was created by K. Pattabhi Jois primarily as a tool for teenage males to burn off their energy so that they could eventually sit still to meditate.
Maty Ezraty, an amazing yoga teacher and founder of Yoga Works would say “Asana practice has one meaning: to learn to sit in your own beautiful true nature”.
Asana will help with flexibility, however you do not need to be flexible to practice asana.
One of the meanings of the word yoga is to yoke or to bring two things together. If we consider asana as flexibility, we also need to ask ourselves what is it that we are yoking with flexibility? I would suggest that flexibility needs to be yoked with stability. When we look at yoga asana through the lens of stability, the practice of yoga opens up to all. I would also suggest that for many parts of the body, stability is an asset over flexibility, I’m looking at you lower back!