“I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible.”
That’s the first thing most people say when I mention that I’m a yoga teacher.
I assume they are referring to their bodies. Mental flexibility is a requirement to do yoga. Physical flexibility is not. In fact, lack of flexibility can even be a strength in its own right.
There are many goals of a yoga practice, and many things that happen on the way to those goals. Bending yourself into a pretzel might be meaningful for experienced yogis but yoga’s more accessible benefits are accessible to everybody.
Strength vs. Flexibility
Most people do not have strength and flexibility in equal measure and in general women are more flexible than men. So even if you are not flexible and have tight muscles (i.e. a man) there is no need to deny yourself the benefits of a yoga practice any longer.
Why Practice Yoga if I’m not Flexible?
1. If you’re not flexible, it can be because your muscles are strong. Flexible people who don’t practice correctly can stress their joints and injure themselves. Flexibility without strength is just collapsing into your joints. But if you’re more strong than flexible, all the poses can be adapted until your body opens up.
2. Your soft tissues need release to reverse years of postural habits. Yoga can gently stretch soft tissue and muscles which have been contracted for years due to posture and habits. It’s never too late.
3. Stress Reduction. A gentle yoga practice is your refuge from the world. It balances your nervous system and switches on your relaxation response. You should get off the mat feeling renewed and relaxed. You just had a vacation.
4. There are so many kinds of yoga that there is something for everybody. The challenging classes you’ve heard of or tried may not be right for you today. A gentle, restorative practice can be adapted for every age, body type and situation. Your practice doesn’t need to resemble somebody else’s.
5. Not all the benefits of yoga are physical. Yoga works on many layers. Focusing on what’s happening in your body instead of in your mind allows you to become more balanced, settled and in harmony with your surroundings both during and after your practice.
The benefits accrue over time. When you look back down the road, the thing you enjoy the most about yoga may have little to do with the reason you began a practice.
Most beginners get into a yoga practice for the physical body. I believe that it is a yoga instructor’s job to create a space for you to pursue your goals. She layers up the practice with a buffet of other possibilities that might become relevant over time.
The Link Between Yoga and Ergonomics
If you are hunched over a computer for long hours every day, a regular yoga practice is a great way to refresh your body and your mind. Your body opens up to the outside world as your mind discovers places in yourself that you may not have visited for a while. Your will feel better, your concentration will improve, and you will be able to focus and work better.
While waiting for the perfect time to begin a regular practice, you can start with chair yoga at your desk or getting down on the mat to stretch in the middle of the work day. If these refresh and restore you, imagine how you’d feel after an hour and a half.