I understand why people would think this. In today’s society it’s common to think about yoga as backbends, handstands, and turning your body into a human pretzel like you see on Instagram. But guess what? This is absolutely not what yoga is about.
One of the first things I want to point out is that yoga is not about doing complex poses perfectly. It’s not about being able to balance on your hands or touch your toes. Yoga, and exercise in general, should first and foremost be about loving and caring for your body. Think of all the things your body allows you to do. Your two legs support you and allow you to walk to beautiful places. You can spread your arms to give your loved ones a hug. You can take a deep breath and breathe in the scent of lilacs. Our body deserves to be loved vs shamed. Don’t bully your body for not being good enough. Instead, appreciate your body for everything it does for you. In my opinion, this is the first step to successful yoga practice (or exercise in general), because movement is coming from a place of self-love.
Movement of any kind is medicine in more ways that one. Not only does movement lead to happy muscles and joints, but it helps the mind perk up and de-stress. Cue Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” (teenage Nicki would be so proud for including this quote). Now even though our bodies are incredible, I understand that we want to better ourselves. Yoga is a great way to do that. But you do not need to be flexible to do yoga. Let me repeat that. You do not need to be flexible to do yoga. This is a myth we tell ourselves based on the pictures of complex poses we see all over social media. Not only will yoga increase our flexibility as we do it (when done correctly), there are plenty of ways to modify yoga to work for your level of flexibility at this current moment.
One of my favorite ways to modify my practice to work for me is through the use of equipment. This can include incorporating bolsters/pillows, straps, blocks, chairs, the wall, or anything else you find helpful. I’ve been doing yoga for years and I continue to use straps and blocks when doing certain poses. Using equipment is great for injury prevention. Instead of ignoring your body’s resistance to certain movements, the use of equipment helps you respect your current boundaries while getting the benefits of certain poses. I fully believe that utilizing equipment also promotes peace of mind while doing yoga. For example: Instead of stressing out trying to maintain your balance while doing a standing pose, you can use the wall, a chair, or even do the same pose laying down to shift your focus to opening your hips.
How often during your day do you just take a moment to forget about the rest of the world and breathe? (Hint: here’s your reminder to try!) I will frequently find myself taking shallow breaths and/or holding my breath throughout the day. That is, except when I am doing yoga. As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, I highly encourage every person who does yoga to move with their breath and to try different breathing techniques. And bonus, trying different breathing techniques requires no flexibility at all!
Lastly, if you are a frequent reader of my blog (thank you!), you’ll notice that the majority of what I write about is related to the physical poses (asana) and the breath (pranayama) when doing yoga. But yoga is much more than these two things. Traditionally speaking, there are eight limbs of yoga that are meant to be applied to every aspect of your life, not just while on your yoga mat.
- Limb 1: Yama. This is our attitude towards our environment.
- Limb 2: Niyama. This is our attitude towards ourselves.
- Limb 3: Asana. Physical postures is by far the most popular of the limbs of yoga.
- Limb 4: Pranayama. This is the restraint or expansion of the breath.
- Limb 5: Pratyahara. This is our withdrawal of the senses.
- Limb 6: Dharana. This is our concentration.
- Limb 7: Dhyana. This is our meditation.
- Limb 8: Samadhi. This is us putting it all together and becoming self-aware.