I can't do yoga, I'm not flexible
There's quite a few myths about what yoga is. I hear them nearly every time I say I'm a yoga teacher. 'Oh, I'm no good at yoga, I can't touch my toes,' or 'I've aways fancied trying yoga but I can't balance.' Have you heard these too?
When you try a yoga class or a yoga asana (posture), you'll notice that you really have to concentrate and use all your muscles to get into position and stay there, even if it's just for a few seconds. Your body firstly needs to have some element of strength, in your legs, arms, wrists, shoulders and back. In fact, everywhere! Once you start building your strength, then you can widen your arms, turn your torso further in a twist and straighten your legs more, which in turn enables you to work on becoming flexible and also stronger. Yoga isn't exercise as such. Exercise is a form of movement that mainly focusses on the muscular system as well as the respiratory system, so you sweat and get out of breath as well as strengthen and tone your muscles. Yoga is different.
The word 'yoga' has varied definitions but I like the one that says yoga is 'union', yoga is 'physical harmony, health, balance and peace'. It's not only the muscular body that is involved during yoga practice but every system within the body; the nervous system, digestive, endocrine, respiratory, lymphatic systems. With each asana, the internal organs of the body are massaged which helps improve their function. The nervous system is soothed and the mind becomes more calm.
As part of the 'union' in yoga, to me it means body, mind and spirit, or consciousness. In every class I teach, we focus on the breath during the asanas, as this helps train our busy minds to focus on what we have right now, the present. One of my teachers says that we focus on the breath because we can only breathe in the present, we cannot breathe in the past, or in the future. By training our mind, we can be more in control of it, and it starts to quieten. Your body is different to everyone else. It changes, often from one day to the next. You might be able to reach your ankles one day in a forward bend, then the next day you might feel stiff and only get to your knees. In my classes, I offer you suggestions, and you listen to your body and find your way into an asana. It’s about exploration, curiosity, noticing which side is more supple or stronger than the other. And it’s important not to overdo it. You need to find the Goldilocks position, neither too hard or soft but just right.
Props are great to use in a class to help support you when you need it. Many people find it hard to sit in a cross-legged position as their knees are high. This could be due to the hip joint, mine doesn‘t fit properly so my knees don’t reach the floor. It could also be down to flexibility too. As you keep up your practice, you will notice you can do more. So you really don’t need to be flexible or strong when you join a yoga class. You will be exactly how you are and then feel stronger and more supple by the end. And you will be more relaxed mentally. Why not give it a try?