“I can’t do yoga. I’m not flexible.”
Every yoga teacher has heard this.
For now, I’ll save the (true) reassurances that anyone who can breathe can do yoga, that yoga has nothing to do with flexibility and everything to do with attention, awareness, and acceptance.
I understand the impulse to look at someone doing something remarkable and compare myself. I am not immune to self-judgment. It tears at my heart to think of people of all ages and abilities skipping yoga because they think it means “doing bendy poses” while missing out on yoga itself, practices that awaken awareness of the self and the moment and can help us choose our body’s and mind’s attitude in subsequent moments to align with what we hold most dear.
A friend who is about to begin yoga teacher training sent me this blog post: “I Don’t Do Yoga, and It Could Be Your Fault.” When I read it, I thought, No wonder people who don’t yet practice yoga think they need to be different than they are before they could:
Yoga, a highly personal journey and practice of breathing, moving and silencing oneself, and as Merriam-Webster defines it “a Hindu philosophy that teaches a person to experience inner peace by controlling the body and mind” has turned into look at me in all my skinny, doing freaky things with my awesome bod! I don’t know about you, but this kind of competitive nonsense doesn’t feel very inner peace-like.
We humans are social creatures. What other people do affects our very nervous systems. Knowing this doesn’t eliminate our initial internal reactions to seeing fit, contorted bodies. How could our nervous systems possibly have a relaxed, accepting response to images of barely clad people with one leg farther from the other than seems possible?
These women might as well have a bubble over their head that reads, “You can’t do this, you loser! But I can and I’m going to be in your yoga class!” Yeah, makes me want to run and grab my mat, stat, right?
We use what we have to get what we think we need. Some super-flexible people exploit themselves and yoga poses to impress others. It’s human to want admiration. It takes a level of awareness to realize this and move on to more fulfilling goals. They might grow out of it. They most assuredly will grow out of being as young and able as they are now (if they’re lucky).
For the rest of us, the author reminds us of what yoga really is:
Yoga is not competition. Yoga is not an opportunity to outdo another person. Yoga does not give you safe permission to expose your private parts for the world to see. And lastly, yoga is a fiercely personal inner journey, so get OVER yourself and get INTO yourself.
Now come and breathe.