When I’m chatting to someone and they find out that I’m a yoga teacher, their instant response is often “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” This is a common misconception that is reinforced by many of the images we see of people in yoga poses that are not accessible to most of us. Some people find these pictures inspiring, but others are put off even considering yoga as an option when they see them.
Yoga is not about a pose; it is about awareness*. We can all find a place to work within yoga to grow our awareness of our body, breath, and emotions. This can be done without trying to get into a complicated yoga pose, wondering what on earth we are supposed to be feeling as we do so, and then trying to work out how to get out of the pose again! In fact, you don’t even have to do yoga poses to be practising yoga. Simple joint mobilisations, meditation and breathing practices are just a few of the many ways through which we can improve our awareness. My Dad was a farmer. He would often take a pause when starting work and watch the sunrise, or sit watching the sunset at the end of a long day. I always felt this was his meditation. His yoga practice.
Yoga works on many levels and poses are tools to help us, but they are very adaptable and can be modified to suit the individual. One of the things I love when teaching is to help a client find a version of a pose or a movement that works for them.
Yoga should never hurt. We should feel safe when we practise and understand what we are doing, and why. There are many benefits from yoga poses which is one of the reasons they are so popular, but the benefit lies in how you feel, not in mastering a pose and what it looks like. The focus is on the internal not the external.
Yoga can definitely help improve flexibility. We work on improving our functional range of movement and that brings the benefits of more ease through the body and more ease as we go about our daily activities. Yoga can also help with understanding where we feel stiff and what might be contributing to it. Spending long hours sitting at a desk can contribute to stiff hips, shoulders and back. There might be a structural issue or something related to an injury contributing to stiffness in the body. Whatever the cause, there is a version of a yoga pose, a breathing practice, or a relaxation technique that will help.
It is important to find a teacher or a class that is at the right level when you start. Look for a beginner or gentle yoga class, or book some private sessions with a teacher to have a more individual and tailored introduction to yoga.
Having worked with clients who describe themselves as too stiff for yoga and clients who are very flexible, I would say that it can often be more challenging for very flexible people to practise yoga. They can move into positions without the awareness and feedback that someone who is stiffer gets. I am flexible and it took me a long time to really be “in” a pose rather than just forming a shape. It was well worth the effort, and I have gained hugely from the process, but for anyone who feels they are too stiff for yoga please give it a go – you might be pleasantly surprised!
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to discuss this further or if you have any questions.
*Awareness: There are many definitions of awareness, but in yoga, awareness can mean being an observer of our body, breath, and mind. As we become more familiar with this approach in a yoga practise, we can find that we pay more attention to how we are feeling through the rest of the day. This has a positive impact on our health and well-being.