Nothing irks us Yoga teachers more than when people say to us, “oh, I can’t do Yoga, I’m just not flexible.” I want to put this excuse to rest once and for all: you do not need to be flexible to practice Yoga. Flexibility is just one of the many things you gain because of a Yoga practice, but it is not a requirement, nor should it be the primary goal either.
Let me step back for a moment and admit that the title of this post may be a bit misleading.If you are blessed with natural flexibility, Yoga is still a great practice for you. I am simply trying to reach out those individuals who are misinformed about what Yoga can do for even the most inflexible body. So please, if you are flexible, do not think that I am trying to discourage you from doing Yoga!
Yoga is more than just a set of tricky postures and contortionist moves. Yoga is a comprehensive system, developed over centuries, to help us gain control over our senses and bring peace to the mind. It is a path of inner well being and self-transformation. It can offer us techniques to enhance physical well being, but more importantly mental, emotional and even spiritual healing as well.
My body has transformed immensely because of my practice. I have always been athletic and muscular, but 10 years ago I would have never described myself as flexible. In fact, when I started doing Yoga I could not touch my toes in a forward fold and I hated (and I mean hated) the downward facing dog pose. Now these postures come easily to me and have become a place of refuge and release. Gaining flexibility and muscle tone was definitely partially why I began doing Yoga, but I quickly realized it helped me in even more vital ways.
I have struggled with anxiety all my life. I am not officially diagnosed with a mood disorder, but have the symptoms of both anxiety and depression, and mental illness runs in my family. Yet, I do not feel the need to seek medication. I get the results I need through a regular Yoga practice. Yoga brings me inner stability and calm, with many additional benefits and without the negative side effects of some medications.
I want to be clear, Yoga is not a suitable replacement if you are currently taking medication for anxiety or depression, but it can be beneficial to add it to your health regimen and overtime, with the help of a professional, you may be able to cut back. I also recommend finding a counselor who resonates with you to help you process the thoughts and feelings that feel overwhelming. A good Yoga instructor can serve as a guide and encourager, too. In our profession, we help people deal with discomfort through breath work and our knowledge of the asanas, or Yoga postures.
Relaxation and meditation are also aspects of Yoga that make it a vital tool for personal transformation and healing. During relaxation we rest and allow our bodies the opportunity to find balance. I like to think of it as an opportunity to set things right internally. Research indicates that relaxation halts the production of stress hormones, reduces the impact of anger and frustration and helps improve mood. It also aids in digestion and neurological functioning. In meditation we are alert, but calm. This is our chance to clear the clutter in our minds and center on something more simple, like our breathing.
These techniques require absolutely no flexibility and even novice Yogis can begin practice immediately! It does help to have a teacher, but thankfully the internet is a great place to start. You can begin meditating at work on your break or listening to a guided relaxation in your bed before you go to sleep. You will notice the physiological changes immediately, and the mental and emotional benefits will increase overtime as you make it a part of your health and wellness routine.
I think of meditation the way some people think of brushing your teeth. It is takes some conscious effort to make it a habit, but I can’t imagine not doing it for days on end! Even setting aside once a week to start doing a little bit of Yoga will help. It has been shown that attending a Yoga class once a week can benefit mood, physical well being and emotional processing.
You don’t need to be flexible, or strong, or athletic, or knowledgeable to attend a class, you just need to be open to trying something new. It helps to shop around for the right class or instructor, as there are hundreds of style of Yoga and the personalities of Yoga instructors varies widely. I consider Yoga an art form and a very personal experience, so you have to listen to what is right for you.
If you want to learn more about how I use Yoga and other holistic practices for healing please check out my blog and feel free to contact me directly. Good luck on your journey, and Namaste.