‘What you think, you become.
What you feel, you attract.
What you imagine, you create’ – Buddha
I’m strong, but I’ve never been super bendy. Every day when I step onto my mat I’m working on my flexibility, releasing residual tension that’s built up from years of long distance running, triathlons and sitting at a desk.
The most common thing I hear from people who come to class for the first time is ‘I’m totally inflexible’. It’s often said with an air of nervousness and apprehension as if they’re expecting to be sent home. Or, worse still, they fear that everyone else in the room will be uber bendy and they’ll be humiliated, all because they are struggling to touch their toes.
So, here’s the thing. You don’t need to be flexible to practice yoga. Flexibility comes as a consequence of practicing; it’s not a prerequisite. I often use the analogy that you wouldn’t think that you’d need to know how to play the piano to take piano lessons; it’s the same principle.
The thing to remember is that all bodies are different, and everyone is faced with different challenges and things to work on, whether it is flexibility, strength, balance or just simply being still, mindful and present. What’s easy for some can be super difficult for others. No one has it nailed, even the uber bendy one at the front who seems to effortlessly bring their head to their shin.
Yoga is a practice. It has to be cultivated, day by day, week by week. We are always work in progress. We tend to avoid the stuff we find hard because it brings us face to face with our weaknesses and takes us to a place of vulnerability. It’s about recognising that, showing up, letting go of the ego, accepting where we are and not comparing ourselves to others, in the knowledge that that each moment on the mat is an opportunity to progress our own practice. And with time, our bodies start changing. Then one day, without effort or struggle, you’ll be there on your mat rocking a pose that you thought seemed impossible a few months ago.
But, I hate to break it to you; your work will never stop! No matter what the makeup of our bodies or how long we’ve been practicing. As we develop, we keep revealing more layers, more depth to the practice, and we discover more things to explore and more ways in which to grow, both physically and mentally.
Which brings be to my main point; that yoga isn’t about flexibility, anyway. It goes far beyond the physical. In the beginning you may think that it’s about being able to bring your head to your shin or to balance on one leg or on your hands. But once you step onto your mat with the intention to feel, rather than to achieve, through the process of letting go of self-judgement and allowing things to unfold, something shifts. You create space where you were once stuck, and you start to realise that what you thought was important doesn’t matter at all.
Because the goal of yoga isn’t to perfect a pose. Step away from the attachment to achievement, and allow yourself to observe the mental space and the clarity that your practice brings. See how it helps you to start to appreciate and understand your body and become aware of the mind and the noise that it creates. See how you can start to peel away the layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. And through the cultivation of this space and openness, you can start to find peace with who you are; to find self-acceptance, to let go and simply be. Because the goal of yoga isn’t to perfect a pose. The goal is ultimately to find the space to love yourself, just as you are.
Forget flexibility. Just breathe and let go.