What comes to mind when people hear the word ‘yoga’? Images of human bodies contorted into various mind-boggling shapes that make your jaw drop to the ground? A man sitting cross-legged with closed eyes, levitating on a ledge high up on a mountain?
Have you ever heard the excuse, ‘I don’t do yoga because I’m not flexible enough’?
Well, good news! You do not need to be flexible to be a yogi!
Yoga is not all about touching your toes or being able to kick up into a handstand (unless of course that is why you started yoga in the first place). The form of yoga that most of us are familiar with, the yoga poses (asanas), is only the third limb in the eight limbs of yoga as described by Patanjali. All of the steps are components towards the ultimate goal, which is Samadhi, or Bliss.
Think about it: you can’t be peaceful and happy if you have chronic pain in your body, right? A yoga asana practice is designed to bring the physical body into a state of optimum health, so that the practitioner can then move on to other aspects of the self.
How do you feel when you attend a yoga class? That feeling when tight areas of the body get the chance to stretch and muscles get to be worked out in a non-strenuous way? What about during the final pose, everybody’s favourite pose, Savasana?
As stated earlier, the aim of yoga asanas is to bring health to the physical body, and the health of the physical body is linked to mental and emotional health too. So when your physical body is relaxed, your mental and emotional bodies will be relaxed too! Bonus! Moving the physical body also gets the energetic centres, or chakras, working, therefore eliminating any energetic blockages and ensuring proper flow of energy throughout the body.
Besides that, practicing yoga asanas require you to be attentive towards the position of your limbs, your muscles and your breath. This mindfulness then becomes a moving meditation, because your mind cannot possibly focus on so many things and do the poses at the same time!
A good yoga teacher will emphasize the importance of breathing properly. Most of the time, we are unconsciously taking very shallow breaths or breathing rapidly throughout the day, which causes our physical bodies to go haywire. Rapid or shallow breathing, or both at the same time, tells our physical bodies that there is something wrong, or that there is danger approaching. Our physical bodies then react by releasing adrenaline, causing us to be in a constant state of stress. So another reason you feel relaxed during and after class is because you were breathing properly!
So, it really doesn’t matter if you are flexible or not – flexibility will come with practice and time. An asana practice brings relaxation in both the short and long terms; it doesn’t require anything more from you than showing up on your mat.