Yoga is for Inflexible People
By Dorna Djenab
Somewhere along the journey, yoga in the West has become identified as a stretching system which is only suitable for flexible people. The number of times I hear someone say ‘I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible’ has been enough for me to want to write about it, so that it can be shared not only amongst those who already do yoga, but those who don’t. I am sure that if you practice yoga, you have heard the same statement many times before. Perhaps we can turn this false belief around and hear them say: ‘I am inflexible, yoga is definitely for me’!
The physical side of yoga wasn’t developed for or by people who could do the splits and put themselves into knots. It was developed by people who started connecting to their body through movement and enjoyed it so much they spent more time moving and discovering their body’s full potential. As a result they became stronger and more flexible. Depending on what they started with (genes, bones structure, physiological tendencies, conditioning, lifestyle, etc…) and how much they practiced, some became capable of performing poses impossible for the majority of the population. Masters have shared their capabilities to ignite inspiration and although they succeeded in many cases, there are some for whom the goal seems so far away that they won’t even begin the journey (or stop as soon as they find their body’s limitations). The general belief that stops many from trying is: ‘I am not good at it’. The whole point is: you don’t have to be good at it at all, it is good for you!
We have been conditioned to want to do everything we do properly and at its best. Some would quite rightly say, “unless you are prepared to do it badly you’ll never practice enough to perfect it”. In yoga, we go one step further. You have to step aside and let aware movement and the breath do what is good for you. You don’t have to do anything! Our body has its own intelligence and it does its best to heal and renew itself daily. However, our habits have created so much limitation throughout the body – limitations that we remain oblivious to, until we step on the mat. In order to feel how these limitations get created, I’d like you to imagine wearing a leotard that covers the entire body from the toes to the top of your head. Now, imagine that it is getting tighter and tighter gradually (on a daily basis) but it happens so slowly that you don’t notice where your feeling of uneasiness is coming from. After years of wearing this slowly shrinking leotard, you start feeling uncomfortable – so much so that you project this discomfort outside and react accordingly. You do everything to forget this restlessness and go out of yourself to find a lasting escape from the feeling of being trapped inside. Out of nowhere, you start having difficulty to breathe, to sleep and you start having anxiety. All the things you’ve heard would worsen with age. As you see it happening around you all the time, you take it as normality and give into it.
Perhaps there is another reason. Your fascia is like this leotard with the difference that it is not only around your entire body from the outside, but also around every cell, every muscle, tendon, ligament and organ. With age and stress it tightens and in the same way that if you held one posture (let’s imagine sitting for hours on end), your leotard would lose its shape. Your body’s fascia changes shape according to your habitual movement – or the lack of it. As the fascia loses its shape and takes on the shape of your habits, all the workings of the body are affected. I don’t believe this stops on a postural level. The fascia is very deep and hence all physiological systems are affected (circulation, nervous, lymphatic, glandular etc). If you are not flexible, your fascia, your inner leotard has become very tight and is affecting how you breathe, think, relate to others and generally feel towards life.
Through yoga we start seeing the effect of our lifestyle on our body. We start seeing the habits that the body has picked up and we learn to undo those habits. As we work on opening and strengthening the body and freeing it from its tendencies, our mind is affected. As we feel more freedom inside, we start projecting this outwards and see the world as a better place to live in. As we feel more space in the body and the mind, our attitude changes, the world around us seems like a friendlier place and we start tuning into the wisdom of the universe. Our life is enriched with more bliss than we could previously experience. Open and expand the body and see for yourself how the world opens in front of your eyes. What you feel inside, is outside. What you see outside, is inside. If you want freedom and peace start by removing tension from the most tangible place you live in!