I’ve always been flexible. I started ballet when I was 3 and I did the splits for fun. Before you start hating on me, let me tell you that being flexible is not always a good thing. I’ll eventually write a post about how having flexible feet resulted in me having a broken foot during a half marathon! I had to wear a boot for 6 weeks, and that was not a fun time.
Back to yoga though… a lot of people think they can’t “do” yoga because they can’t touch their toes. “Doing” is such a small part of yoga. Yoga is more about “being”. Being present, being in the moment, being aware of your body, and being kind to it. Below is a beautiful quote I learned from one of my yoga teachers:
“Yoga is not merely touching your toes, or standing on your head, or folding yourself into a pretzel. It’s about how you do what you do, and how you live your daily life on a moment-to-moment basis”– Erich Schiffmann
There are many aspects of yoga, and the poses are only one part (of eight) that we partake in. I will write about the eight limbs of yoga another time.. but this article today is to focus on how being hyper-flexible can limit your yoga experience. In fact, I would argue that if you’re not flexible, yoga is more beneficial. Yoga is a balance between strength and flexibility, and there is such thing as being too flexible.
Being flexible can reduce mindfulness
It’s important to be mindful when you’re practising yoga. Being present, enjoying the moment, and being aware of your body allows you to fully experience each pose. I’m not the most flexible person in the world and there are still poses I am not able to do. However, for the most part, I can just slip into a pose without thinking too much about it. This reduces the mindfulness experience. It can also mean that my alignment may be poor because I can’t feel where my limbs are flying. If you’re not flexible, you can feel it. You know where your limit is, and you know where you’re stuck.. so then you learn modifications so that you still get the benefits from the pose, but in a well-aligned albeit “easier” form. I don’t like to use words like “easy” or “hard” because yoga isn’t a competition, but I think you know what I mean.
Being flexible can shorten or lessen the “journey”
So much of yoga is the enjoyment of the journey. I remember when I first learned Ashtanga Yoga there was a pose called Marichyasana D, which I could not dream of ever being able to do… but with daily dedicated practice, I eventually got there in about 4-5 weeks. People who are not flexible get more of these moments of joy because they have further to go. If you’re someone who can’t touch his or her toes, and one day you touch your toes, can you imagine how amazing that is going to feel? I would encourage anyone who considers themselves “not flexible” to give yoga a go. Even for someone like me who is already quite flexible, it was amazing to observe how my body kept changing in its mobility over the few weeks I did an intensive yoga teacher training course. The body can change. We just need to be patient and dedicated.
Being flexible can lead to injuries and more muscle strain
I have had my fair share of injuries. I hyperextend my knees all the time, which is a problem in many poses. When you hyperextend any joint, you put a strain on the ligaments that support that joint. For example, hyperextending the knees strains the cruciate ligaments. In order to hold my legs in a “normal”, straight position, I need to use my muscles to hold my joint in that position because my natural tendency is to hyperextend my knees. Similarly, sitting up straight really hurts for me. I always get told that I slouch, but it is actually a lot of effort for me to sit up straight. A physio once told me that my spine was like a soft noodle. In order for my noodle spine to be well aligned, I need to contract a lot of my para-spinal muscles to position myself upright. It can lead to all sorts of muscles aches and pains. I even get neck pain when my hair gets very long (I have very thick, heavy hair) because my neck is so bendy and I need to use a lot of neck muscles to stop my neck from getting pulled back by my big, heavy pony tail (which is why you’ll often see me put my hair in a top bun… also because I can’t be bothered to brush my hair sometimes.. let’s be real).
So, I hope I’ve given you a bit of insight into how the grass is not always greener. Sometimes you might look at these bendy people in a yoga class and feel envious of their ability to ease into poses so effortlessly, but trust me, they have their problems too. So whatever your level of flexibility, don’t be distracted by others. Your yoga practice is about you. Always listen to your body and just do what it can do for that day, and remember that every day is different too, so there may be some days you can do more/less than others and that’s okay.