When I tell people that I teach yoga, the most common thing I hear is “I wish I could do yoga, but I’m just not flexible enough. I can’t even touch my toes.”
NEWSFLASH!! Being flexible is not a prerequisite for yoga. In fact, that is why we do yoga: to find more flexibility. That flexibility is not just within our bodies as we lengthen and strengthen our muscles, it’s within our minds as well.
Yoga is for every single person. The flexible and inflexible. The tall and the short. The skinny and the overweight. Man and woman. White and black. Strong and weak. As you start to practice you might actually discover that although you have tight hips, you have a flexible back. Or maybe you have really loose hips but extremely tight shoulders. Often times what we lack in some areas, we make up for in others.
Flexibility, or the capacity of muscles and connective tissue to stretch around joints and bones, is based on each individual persons genetic makeup. Our bodies are all uniquely made and there may be areas in your body that will never achieve full flexibility. Sure, I might be able to touch my toes but my left outer hip miscles are extremely tight and after years of yoga practice they aren’t getting any looser. But, between running and cycling I think about how tight they would be if I didn’t stretch them at all. So, I continue to work towards one day finding more freedom in my hip. With anything else that is worth having, it takes time to get it.
The great thing about the human body is how much it can vary from person to person. Women have a larger pelvis than men and the size of it varies at different rates among various people, some people have a sixth lumbar vertebrae (about 10% of the population), the way our femurs set in the acetabulum of the pelvis is not the same for everyone and a whole host of other issues including the size of our muscles and bones which could cause bone on bone, muscle on bone or muscle on muscle compression issues that are not easily corrected. We must also take into account what we do with our bodies on a daily basis. Some people sit at a desk all day while others stand on their feet. Some are very active and live athletic lifestyles while others spend most of their free time on the couch in front of the tv. Some people don’t get a whole lot of movement in their job while others have physically demanding jobs that require them to moving all day long.
We must learn to understand that we are all uniquely created and accept our bodies as they are.
“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life-yoga is not to be performed, yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, it’s essence must be embodied.” Aadil Palkhivala
I often tell people that the first couple of yoga classes are a little awkward. It’s all about the experience and soaking it all in. My first few classes were definitely not pretty. I was so consumed with worring that others were judging me that I couldn’t relax. It didn’t help that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I wasn’t sure what the heck the instructor was saying and it took me a few classes before I started to learn the cues to get into the postures. I always recommend setting your mat up towards the back of class so you can observe what others are doing. It takes a while to realize that nobody in the room is paying attention to what you are doing and the sooner you can come to terms with that, the more you will be able to completely be yourself and truly reap the benefits of your practice.
When you step on your mat, do so with an open mind. No expectations. Allow yourself to fully embrace your practice. Connect to your breath. Stay present and aware of what’s going on with your body. Observe but don’t pass judgement. Let every breath you take bring you closer to letting go of what needs to be gone and taking in everything you need from your practice. Remember, we are all unique and you’re practice is yours alone. It’s all about your experience with your body and mind.