Think Yoga Is ALL About Flexibility? Think Again.

Photo of Shanna Tyler by Tom Lew
By Shanna Tyler

"I am not flexible." That's the first thing I thought when I started practicing yoga. I hear the same exact words very often from my students as a yoga teacher. Flexibility and yoga seem to be synonymous now. From Instagram to Yoga Journal, so many images are circulating of yoga practitioners touching their toes, doing splits, and practicing backbends. There's so many reasons I would love to talk about yoga and flexibility so that we can all better approach our mats and observe our practices.

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We are yogis, flexible or not. The minute we practice on the mat, we are yogis. Whether we can put our legs behind our head or barely touch our toes, we are all equal as yogis. Being a yogi and being flexible are not one in the same.

I love talking to yogis who are just beginning their practice about this. Yoga is a way to strengthen our mind-body connection through asanas, poses, that enlighten us and reveal our true selves. By no means, do we have to be flexible.

Trust me, I used to think the same thing. In beginning my practice, I was so frustrated when I was not able to touch my toes in a forward fold or grab my heels in camel pose (pictured). I thought why can't I do what's in the picture and/or video! What is wrong?! Then I decided to stop.

 I practiced under teachers who told me it was the journey and not the destination that was important. The most important lesson I learned was that yoga was about quieting the mind and all that talk was nothing but mind-stuff (outside noise). After about two to three years of practice, I realized I could do all kinds of flexible stuff that my body could never do in my earlier years.

Flexibility is a perk of practicing yoga. Regularly coming to the mat will naturally result in being more flexible over time. Revisiting the same poses and working on getting into their full expression will allow us to eventually be flexible.

Pigeon, triangle, and monkey poses are a few of my personal favorites to practice in order to see the perk of being flexible enough to reach the full poses. Many, if not all, yoga poses are wonderful for stretching muscles and gaining flexibility, which leads to less injuries.

 It is so much fun to incorporate flexible poses into personal practice but it is so much more important to note that it will take time and patience. These poses can be practiced with props like blocks underneath our hips and fingertips until there is a time we do not need them. Even though I can do the full pose, I still practice pigeon pose with a block underneath my hips if I feel extra tight one day. It also is hard for me to get to a full split sometimes so I like to use a blanket or pillow, I find I like something softer right underneath my l bits :D I share this to say that flexibility is a perk but something that definitely is still work, and that's okay! It does not make us less or more of yogis. It's more important to flow in yoga than to flow with expectation.

Coming to our mats is not about flexibility! It can definitely be an added bonus after years of practice, but it is not something that is necessary to feel the benefits. It feels good to talk about this because sometimes I come to the mat expecting to rock out in a split. But I am quieting that self-talk and allowing myself to enjoy this ride. Allowing ourselves to enjoy the present moment in yoga can be taken off the mat, as well. I find my years of practice has increased my patience and my ability to work toward my goals. The mental and emotional benefits outweigh the physical benefit of flexibility, for sure. Anytime those pesky thoughts come around saying we aren't flexible enough, let's gently remind ourselves that we are in it for the mind-body connection and that flexibility will come with time. It's only a cherry on top of the yoga cake!

This article appeared on ShannaTyler.com
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