Why you do not have to be flexible to practice yoga
“I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible” - I have lost count how many times someone has said this to me! This statement is 100% false. The truth is, flexibility is not a prerequisite to practicing yoga.
I wasn’t very flexible when I started practicing yoga, my hamstrings and quads were wooden from years of sports without stretching. Even now, my body’s structure does not bend into a pretzel, but that’s ok. Yoga is so much more than that.
A misconception is that yoga is just a physical practice and has become associated with the practice of the postures (asana). The postures (asana), are a small part of what yoga is. Without mediative awareness, we may be exercising the body, but it is questionable if we are really practicing yoga.
When I first started teaching yoga in 2017, I was predominantly leading yoga in gyms and it would always surprise me when students would leave class before final relaxation (Savasana). Skipping Savanasa is like taking a early morning hike to the top of a mountain and then not watching the beautiful sunrise.
In Yogic philosophy, the most sacred ancient text is called "Yoga Sutras" by Patanjali. Patanjali compiled the sutras in India somewhere between 500 BCE and 400 CE. Patanjali is to Yoga what Buddha is to Buddhism.
In the "Yoga Sutras" Pantajali tells us about the "8 Limbs" of yoga which offer guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life. Here's the "8 Limbs" in summary:
Yamas - morale disciplines/practices for conducting ourselves in the world
Niyamas - refers to morale duties/practices directed towards ourselves
Asana - postures/the physical practice of yoga
Pranayama - breathing techniques
Pratyahara - sense withdrawal
Dharana - focused concentration
Dhyana - meditation
Samadhi - bliss / enlightenment
The physical practice of yoga, Pantajali tells us, is to help prepare the body for meditation. My mother for example cannot do challenging asana but can sit for hours comfortably in meditation; she is practicing yoga.
Slowly over time yoga has helped to lengthen my muscles. Using the support of blocks, straps and bolsters you can stretch deeply, even if you don’t think you are ‘flexible’.
Perhaps you have an injury or condition which makes getting up and down from a mat uncomfortable. Yoga can be practiced using a chair; either sitting or standing using the chair for support. So don't be put off by thinking you cannot practice yoga; yoga is for everyone and for every body.
Wrapping your legs around your head will not bring you happiness. Learning to consciously breath, sit with stillness, and feel comfortable in your body will.
Remember yoga is so much more than touching your toes! If you think you can't do something then you are being inflexible to possibilities. You can start being more flexible today by just changing your thinking, and giving yoga a try.