…Is the usual response when I tell someone I teach yoga. I said that to my first (ok, first few) teachers too. When new students arrive in class, they scan the room to work out where the back is and swiftly claim their spot as far away from me as they can. When I ask about their experience of yoga, they will tell me they’ve done a bit, but are really inflexible. I was recently warned by a student in Hove; ‘you’ve never seen anyone with hamstrings as tight as mine!’ ‘Oh, I don’t know, mine are quite tight today’ I replied.
I teach yoga as a form of physical therapy and a science which creates the conditions for the body to relax. The breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system, taking the body out of the fight or flight of modern life. So a more accurate warning from new students would be ‘I have a very active sympathetic nervous system,’ as it’s the body’s state of fight or flight that is holding you back, not flexibility. You can’t run a marathon, get a personal best in the weights room or just lounge on the sofa (yes, that’s allowed) of an evening in that condition. The body wants to find equilibrium, we just have to let it. A regular yoga practice is how we bring the body and mind into balance.
Yoga is turning people off by perpetuating the image that it’s an inaccessible, competitive sport. It isn't! Although the first Yoga Olympics was held on International Yoga Day 2016 doesn't help my point here. Sigh. But there are a lot of yogis like me who are challenging perceptions that yoga is for the super fit and flexible. In fact, flexibility without strength leaves the body vulnerable to injuries as joints lack stability.
I genuinely believe one of my greatest strengths as a yoga teacher is my entirely average level of flexibility! I have worked for every millimetre of muscle fibre I have gained and the journey has had a life changing impact on me; I've felt discouraged, humbled, I now understand how the body works and have stopped writhing around trying to pull my body into a shape.
So yogis, unroll your mat, free yourself of ideas of what postures need to look like, the only person placing expectations on you, is you.
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