I’m not flexible enough. It’s the usual response I get anytime I ask someone if they have ever tried yoga. I would but I’m not flexible enough. I did but I’m not flexible enough. Never, I’m just not flexible enough!
I often wondered who said you had to be flexible to do yoga?
The answer came from the last person I spoke with, it’s all the photos you see of bendy, stretchy people contorting their bodies into unimaginable poses and smiling at the camera as if they were picking up a loaf of bread.
Social media makes it all look too easy. So when someone tries it, they give up because they can’t reach that bendy pose the first go.
Yet I often think if they just tried a yoga class with a great kundalini (one of the oldest and now fastest growing schools of yoga) teacher, they wouldn’t be thinking that.
In yoga the goal is not how far you can bend but rather how you use the poses and breath to prepare your body to meditate. Yoga brings your body, mind and breath into unity and can open a door to better health, self-love and transformation. It’s the science of stimulating, accessing and directing your energy of awareness by focusing intently. So really the more pertinent questions are: can you breathe? can you focus your attention?
Yoga is so much more than the bendy poses on Instagram. If you go back to the origin a couple thousands of years ago, the Yoga Sutras will tell you Yoga is a state of mind, it’s a science, a system, a philosophy made up of 8 limbs can that assist the mind to find clarity and enable us to find bliss. Practicing postures is but one of these limbs.
There’s yama (how you interact with the world), niyama (how you treat yourself), asana (practice of postures for health), pranayama (use of breathing techniques to direct your energy), pratyahar (synchronisation of senses and thoughts), dharana (one-pointed concentration), dhyana (deep meditation) and samadhi (awakening of bliss and absorption in spirit).
The benefits of a daily practice are enormous. With 25 years and 1200 days straight behind me, I know. By aligning the body, mind and breath, one can find deep relief from stress, anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and never being good enough. Better yet you can develop positive attitudes about yourself and others and embrace a more relaxed approach to the often unsettling circumstances in your life. And couldn’t we all use a little more of this right now in the stress filled, cognitively over-loaded, ever changing world we live and work in.
Yoga postures are merely a way to help get your body comfortable to prepare for meditation. They enable you to feel into your whole body (sounds strange but there are a lot of people who are completely out of sync and numb to their body) and work through areas of resistance. In yogic philosophy, our bodies are a temple for the soul, through which it experiences life. How you think about your body and the messages your body sends you are but indicators of your mental state.
Yoga as a state of mind encourages us to journey towards self-knowledge and ultimately to increased awareness. The first step is often through the postures for it is here we practice self-acceptance and release all the expectations of what we should do, should look like, or should be. As you do this you may find yourself moving closer to the saying “I am who I am and that is that”.
That includes being flexible or not.
I’d like to acknowledge the work of Seibel, M.M., M.D., and Khalsa, Hari Kaur. (2002). A woman’s book of yoga, the teachings of Yogi Bhagan, my teacher Sirgun who has influenced my daily practice and Leanne Davis for introducing me to Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras.
In my art therapy practice I often draw on yoga breathwork and meditations to assist people to relax.