• Dom Catto

Do I have to be flexible to do Yoga?

When I tell people that I teach Yoga the first response is, “Oh, I’m not flexible enough to do Yoga!” This is like saying, “Oh, I’m too hungry to eat!”

The physical practice of Yoga (asana or poses) helps to make you more flexible. It is a result of the practice, NOT a requirement. You can be in any physical state and be able to practice Yoga.

We use a number of props and variations of the poses to make sure you can feel what the pose is meant to feel like. We can always find variations for your body if you’re not feeling flexible enough. Use blocks and props to support your body.

According to Wikipedia, flexibility in the physical sense refers to the range of movement in a joint or series of joints, and length in muscles that cross the joints to induce a bending movement or motion. Flexibility varies between individuals. Flexibility in some joints can be increased to a certain degree by exercise. Flexibility is also explained as a personality trait that describes the extent to which a person can cope with changes in circumstances and think about problems and tasks in novel, creative ways. This trait is used when stressors or unexpected events occur, requiring a person to change their stance, outlook, or commitment.

In actual fact, being inflexible in your body is a great place to start your practice. It gives you the opportunity to really get to know your body, your strengths and your limitations. To really learn the lessons your body is holding for you, and it’s a great way to see a consistent, measurable improvement in your practice.

Starting Yoga being inflexible allows you to consciously move into places in your body and your mind, your thought patterns that you haven’t had the opportunity to explore. These practices may bring up interesting thoughts and fears, they may be a bit scary at times and they will definitely be challenging. These lessons that are presented to you are allowing you to find flexibility in body and mind, to get to know yourself a bit better, to work things out in a different way than you usually do and become more flexible in your mind. Becoming more flexible isn’t restricted to your body, becoming more flexible opens up your thinking a little bit and starts to shift your perspective. In understanding your body a bit better, you start to be more flexible in your mind and see things from a different point of view

Improved flexibility produces a wide range of physical benefits and can have a positive effect on your overall well-being, a few of them being:

Fewer injuries: Once you develop strength and flexibility in your body you’ll be able to withstand more physical stress. Plus, you’ll rid your body of any muscle imbalances, which will reduce your chance of getting injured during physical activity. Correcting muscle imbalances requires a combination of strengthening the under-active muscles and stretching the overactive (tight) ones.

Less pain: Your body is likely to feel better overall once you work on lengthening and opening your muscles. When your muscles are looser and less tense, you’ll experience fewer aches and pains. Plus, you may be less likely to experience muscle cramps.

Improved posture and balance: When you focus on increasing muscular flexibility your posture is likely to improve. Working out your body allows you to have proper alignment and correct any imbalances. Plus, with an increased range of motion, you may find it easier to sit or stand in certain ways. Yoga has been shown to improve balance.

A positive state of mind: Regularly engaging in poses that stretch and open up your body can bring about feelings of relaxation. The physical benefits can extend to a relaxed state of mind. You may find it easier to unwind once your body feels better.

Greater strength: It’s important to increase strength as you become more flexible. This ensures your muscles will have the right amount of tension so that they’re strong enough to support you and your movements, allowing you to become more physically fit.

Improved physical performance: Once you increase your flexibility to allow greater movement in your body you’ll be able to perform better physically. This is in part because your muscles are working more effectively.

In her article The Myth of Flexibility and Yoga, Alison Bristow says: “Basic physics tells us that an atom is 99.99999% empty space. When people say they are not flexible, this points to a feeling of constriction or lack of space wherever their tight zone is. But if our bodies are made of atoms and atoms are mainly space, then what causes tightness or lack of space? Is it matter or mind? This is where new research in bio-mechanics sheds light. Whereas we once envisioned our muscles like taffy that we could stretch through effort, with the goal being to make short muscles longer; we now understand that stretching is not so much about the physicality of our muscles but about the nervous system that controls them. The brain which controls the nervous system is a survival mechanism whose sole aim it is to keep us safe. The brain interprets familiar movements or body positions as safe ones. Anything new sends a threat signal to our muscles causing constriction. The way around this is to go to the edge of your stretch enough that the nervous system starts to warm up to the movement and gradually allows more range of motion.”

This explanation starts to go deep into the psyche and the autonomic responses of the body, which, to be honest, fascinates me! Flexibility is so much more than touching your toes, it’s about feeling safe in your environment and your body which is definitely something that is learned and doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us.

As with all of yoga’s benefits, positive results come over time with consistent practice of a wide variety of postures. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see improvement. It depends on where you begin and what other things you do. Do Yoga regularly and you will improve your flexibility. If you never start, you’ll never get results.

Remember, Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down. Whatever state you arrive on your mat in physically is the most perfect place to start for you. Take it breath by breath and don’t push yourself too hard, to begin with.

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