When I tell people I’m a yoga instructor, I oftentimes get this response: “I’ve been meaning to try yoga, but I’m just not flexible.” I’ve given a number of different answers over the seven years I’ve been teaching, ranging from an explanation of yoga’s other benefits aside from flexibility (stress-release, strength-building, etc), encouragement that beginners will actually see greater results in shorter periods of time than someone who is incredibly flexible, to just straight up saying that flexibility doesn’t at all matter in yoga. Because it doesn’t.
There is a saying I’ve seen time and time again, something along the lines of, “Yoga isn’t about touching your toes. It’s what you learn on the way there.” For me, I’m not so much interested in touching my toes anymore (sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t). I’m interested in feeling the healthy stretch across the back of my legs, in deepening my breath even more, in unclenching my jaw and in not trying to prove anything to anyone, myself included.
Yoga can be incredibly intimidating. As I watch the popularity of yoga in the mainstream increase, I notice the general public becomes even more intimidated. Then it’s not even “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible,” it becomes “…because I’m not a size 4” or “…because I’m too old” or “…because it’s too expensive.” It’s so easy to make self-deprecating excuses (and I’m absolutely guilty of doing this). What yoga teaches us, however, is the opposite of that – self-love, self-acceptance, patience, and courage to try something new, no matter what the outcome might be.
I recently saw a post from a friend of mine on Facebook that she was looking in the mirror in a locker room while washing her hands, and a woman came up next to her and said, “I hope you’re being nice to yourself as you look in the mirror.” My challenge to you, my friends and fellow yogis of all makes and models, is can you be nice to yourself as you approach your yoga mat? Can you look at a new challenge in your practice with an attitude of “Why not?!” instead of “Psh, yeah, right!”?
This holiday season, I encourage you to share the practice of yoga with someone in your life. Extra points if it’s someone who’s nervous to give it a shot. And if they tell you they can’t do yoga because they’re not flexible, tell them that it’s like saying they can’t eat because they’re hungry.
The above clip from my Stretch and Restore class is a deep hip-opening variation of Single-Leg Stretch (Janu Sirsasana). For those of you who can reach your toes already, you may find this decreases your reach – you know, to remind you what it was like when you couldn’t touch your toes. And let’s face it, it’s the day after Thanksgiving – we’re all going to have a harder time touching our toes.
You can watch the entire class, Stretch and Restore here.
By Elle Potter.