Dear rigid, inflexible friends who think you can’t do yoga because you’re not flexible:
Yoga is not just for the bendy. Flexibility is not a requirement — it’s the RESULT.
But there’s SO MUCH MORE to it…
Please don’t let your stiffness stop you from giving yoga a chance, because you do not want to miss out on this divine, metamorphic practice.
Yoga is NOT an activity that was designed just for women or dancers or those blessed with open hips. It wasn’t set forth as a challenge to wind oneself up into a pretzel, nor to defy the anatomical structure of the human spine.
Yoga is an ongoing, lifelong practice that teaches you to reign in the mind and to live in a way that supports your spiritual growth. It’s not so much about the physical at all, which is why you can do yoga if you’re not flexible.
The popularity of hyper-bendy yogis on Instagram and Facebook gives an entirely different impression. Today’s most famous “yogis” are famous because they can balance on one hand or wrap their legs around their head. Their elasticity has put them in the limelight, but it actually makes them no better yogis than someone who can barely touch their toes.
A brief history of yoga postures
Very few were even described in the ancient yogic texts. There was certainly no speak of downward facing dog or warrior 2. Rather, the texts explained a few handfuls of meditation postures. These were considered the most important asanas — ones that created a stable base for long bouts of mediation.
The practice of yoga was likely continued in this way over thousands of years; less focus on the physical and more focus on the mental and spiritual. But when yoga started to gain popularity in the West sometime in the 1960’s, it started to change. Corporeally-oriented Westerners focused on the physical aspects of the practice. And since then, yoga has developed as a practice aligned with the flesh.
It seems that yoga these days is more about handstands and cute Lululemons than it is about spirituality.
In some ways this isn’t a problem at all. People come to yoga for all kinds of reasons — some more superficial than others — but if they stick with the practice long enough, they’ll eventually converge on the same spiritual path. That’s just the law of yoga.
But this process is delayed by the fact that the spiritual aspects of yoga have been abandoned in daily teaching. Rare is the yoga teacher who teaches yogic morality or even meditation in her vinyasa flow class. Her students will eventually experience spiritual transformation, but it will take much longer without the guidance of a teacher. Yoga is much less beneficial when its not being used to its full potential.
What is the purpose of the asanas?
So how exactly is yoga a spiritual practice? What does balancing on your hands have to do with the development of your soul? For one thing, the asanas, or yoga postures, are simply one of the early steps on the yogic path. They prepare the body for sitting in meditation, which is one of the later steps on the yogic path.
It’s near impossible to meditate for 30 minutes if your low back and hips are tight. Your mind will be more focused on pain than it is on the breath or a mantra. Improving flexibility solves this problem.
For another thing, winding the body up into complicated yoga postures trains the mind. It’s not easy to balance on your hands with your legs flying against gravity. This takes great concentration — another skill that’s need to meditate.
And of course, a regular yoga practice promotes a healthy body. If you’re not in good health, it’s all the more difficult to develop your mind. Your thoughts will be on your pain, discomfort or limitations rather than positivity and growth.
The ultimate goal of yoga…
…Is not a 10 minute headstand but spiritual enlightenment. Meditation is the way to get there, and the physical aspect of a yoga is the preparation for meditation.
It’s certainly a journey, and we can’t all hope to become spiritually enlightened in this lifetime. We can, however, work on improving ourselves as much as possible. And yoga gives us so many tools to do just that. It includes ethical codes and spiritual philosophy that span every aspect of human life. Yes, yoga makes us flexible — but only as a byproduct of its greater goals.
Moral of the story:
Do not let your stiffness stop you from taking a yoga class. You may be a little uncomfortable as your body is challenged to stretch in unusual ways. But don’t worry; you’ll slowly open with time and practice. And that’s all beside the point anyway. You’re embarking on a spiritual journey — one that will elevate your body, mind and soul.