When I talk to people about yoga (which is quite a lot!), so many people say “I’m not very good at yoga” or “I’m not flexible enough for yoga”. I can assure you I am not super flexible just because I have a regular practice – some days my body surprises me and others I feel like I’m scrunched up! I do, however, totally understand why some may feel nervous about practising: many of us have grown up being surrounded by competition and comparison… “Did you get top marks at school?”, “Who ran fastest in the race?”, “Who can fit into the smallest size dress?”. Questions quickly answered in your head by “Will I be told off?”, “Will I be laughed at?”, “What if I don’t look as good as they do?”. (Interestingly, my husband regularly laughs at me about my fears of being told off!). It is these thoughts and feelings though that can make us run away from something that could benefit us or we put so much pressure on ourselves that we end up feeling anxious or panicked.
BUT what if I said to you, yoga isn’t competitive and you can just do whatever you feel like that day and it doesn’t matter what it looks like? For some this would be a massive turn off as it’s human nature to enjoy a bit of friendly competition. I have to say beating my notoriously quiz winning brother at multiple games of lockdown ‘Online Scrabble’ was quite satisfying, but, never as satisfying as taking some time on my mat to sit/stretch/flow/breathe.
BKS Iyengar’s ‘Light on Yoga’ talks about why “asana (physical postures) is important on the yogic journey but it is not the end goal. The purpose or goal of asana is to align and harmonise the physical body and all the layers or sheaths, of the subtle emotional, mental and spiritual body”. I love this because it reminds us that yoga is not just about the physical – how strong or flexible you are. Yoga involves, breathwork, concentration, meditation and just sitting with stillness (Pantajali’s 8 limbs of yoga is for discussion another day) as well as physical postures which, by the way, help to build strength as well as flexibility.
In the Western world a lot of what we see is the physical, particularly with the widespread use of social media, but your yoga should be for you and no-one else. Being able to do a perfect handstand doesn’t make you a better or worse yogi than someone else. Perhaps that person you see nailing the handstand would love to be able to sit comfortably in stillness and just be. We all have our own story and it should never be judged as bad or good.
What I like to think (and encourage others to think) about is to explore and find what you need and know that that can change from moment to moment. What the shape looks like doesn’t matter if you can feel something that makes your mind and body feel good.
Next time you think you’re not flexible enough to practise yoga, ask yourself if you’re too dirty to have a bath?