I was standing around waiting for something the other day (in the interests of full disclosure, when I say ‘something,’ what I mean is for the doors to open at Barry’s) and got chatting to the girl next to me. After a few moments the talk turned to yoga and she said something that I’ve heard before but for some reason stuck in my mind this time – she said “Oh, I’d love to do more yoga but I’m just not flexible enough”.
What a massive, massive shame. Here is a woman who clearly wasn’t afraid of a challenge (she was, after all, at Barry’s Bootcamp) but she felt excluded from something which should be welcoming her with open arms because she felt she wasn’t ‘flexible enough’.
For one thing, yoga teaches us that actually we are ‘enough’ – in whatever capacity we choose – and that’s been the biggest and most powerful lesson I’ve taken from it personally. But what bothered me here was the fact that this woman didn’t want to do more yoga specifically because she didn’t have the flexibility she thought a yogi needed.
We have an image in our heads of people doing yoga and having to put their feet behind their heads (and yes, that’s an action used in a few poses). The thing is, that’s not a particularly useful skill to deploy in day to day life, so it’s fun to work on if you’d like but it’s hardly the ‘point’ of yoga. The reason most of the poses were developed was to give one a greater sense of ease within one’s own body – and increasing flexibility and stretching muscles (particularly ones that have been chronically tightened by modern life) is definitely going to help with that, but only within the limitations of the individual body. The ‘point’, if you like, is the progress – and the feeling at the end of practice – not the aesthetic. If you’ve found a little more space, and a little more comfort, in yourself after a yoga practice then you’re doing it right regardless of how it looks from the outside. And actually, if you do feel stiff and inflexible a lot, then you’re going to gain loads from doing yoga; maybe even more than someone I saw outside a different class doing the splits as a warm up (!).
Because the thing is, saying that you’re not flexible enough to do yoga is a bit like saying you’re too hungry to eat. There’s no point only working on the things you can already do! It’s so much more powerful to learn to push your limits – to try something you’ve never tried before – and to let go of the ridiculous thought that not being perfect at something is a reason to not do it at all. I, along with any other teacher worth their salt, don’t care if you can or can’t touch your toes. But we care that it feels good when you try.