Let me set the scene: You walk into a room and you see people touching their toes with ease, coming into the splits and doing downward facing dogs like its really a resting pose.
Immediately, regret sets in- you think, why did I decide to try yoga?
And then comes the fear, I’m not flexible enough to do yoga!
Let me tell you, the most common thing I heard from new yoga students is:
I can’t do yoga because I am not flexible enough.
But here’s the truth: everyone that can breathe can do yoga.
Sometimes, being less flexible is actually a good thing. Most often, people who are not as flexible are actually a lot stronger. Their strength helps support the lengthening of their muscles while stretching. The support of strong muscular action in our yoga poses is how we stay protected from injury. On the contrary, many people who come to yoga with hyper-mobility have to learn how to support their flexibility with strength. Believe it or not, gaining strength is often times just as difficult as gaining flexibility.
Tips for gaining flexibility:
Our breath supplies vital oxygen to cells in our body, required to help lengthen our muscles and actually pave new pathways in our nervous system. Our nervous system then sends messages to our brain to let us stretch deeper and try new things.
2) Don’t compare yourself to others in the room. Let your yoga be your yoga. It’s cooler to be you, anyway.
3) Celebrate the tiny steps of your progress. We’re talking centimeters and longer breaths here, people!
4) Acknowledge your inflexibility as an opportunity to grow. In the Yoga Sutras 2.33, we see a practice known as cultivating the opposite or shifting your negative to positive. “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” *In this case, we can see that inflexibility or strength can actually be an asset to cultivating flexibility without injury.
5) Practice yoga to gain flexibility. You have to practice yoga for it to actually work! As Pattabhi Jois said, “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.”