One of the most frequent declarations I hear as a yoga teacher is, “I can’t do yoga. I’m not flexible.” Much advertising and media coverage of yoga and yoga products portrays slim, young people contorted into challenging yoga asanas, leading to a misrepresentation of what the practice of yoga is really about.
Here is one of the most important things to understand about yoga: It has nothing to do with being able to twist yourself into a pretzel. It is true that the physical practice of yoga can improve flexibility, strength, and balance, however, none of these things are required to commence on your yoga journey.
The origins of yoga are not rooted in the physical practice that we tend to be most familiar with in North America. The main tenets of yoga have more to do with developing an awareness of, and a positive connection with, your mind and body, than it does with the ability to touch your toes. Yoga can be an exercise in learning to listen and respond to what your body is telling you. Sometimes your body may be telling you that it does not want to go any further into a posture, or that it may not want to go there at all.
The practiced yogi is the one that is in tune with their body and will not push farther than their body can comfortably go. The practiced yogi understands while they derive health benefits from their physical practice, being the most bendy, or even the strongest person in the room is neither essential or important to their practice.
Whether you are looking to practice for spiritual reasons, or for physical and mental health benefits, know that your yoga practice is unique to you, your body, and your mind. We may all have different reasons for practicing, and have different styles of yoga we prefer. We may all look different in our postures—some of us can touch our heels to the floor in down dog and some of us can’t—and that is okay. Yoga isn’t about being flexible. The only thing that is important is that you are getting something beneficial out of your practice.
“The success of yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.” —T.K.V. Desikachar