There is no such thing as “not flexible enough for yoga”

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 6.30.30 PMIf you can walk, you can do yoga.

And even if you can’t walk, you can do yoga.

I love this time of year because of all the holiday parties. My husband and I make the rounds to see friends and family, and an extended network of neighbors and acquaintances we’ve developed in our many years of living in Memphis.

There are some people that I see only at this time of year. It’s great to catch up and hear what people have been up to, and swap stories about the previous year.

Sometimes people want to talk about yoga.

There are several refrains that I commonly hear when I am out and about.

  • I wish I could do yoga but I’m not flexible at all.
  • I can’t even touch my toes.
  • I could never touch my toes.
  • My hands (or wrists) can’t bear weight so I can’t do yoga.
  • I went to a yoga class once and it was too hard.
  • Yoga is not enough of a workout for me. I like an intense workout where I sweat.
  • My doctor says I’m too flexible (or stiff or old or injured or blah blah blah) for yoga.
  • My mother told me I’d never have good posture.

None of these things have anything to do with your ability to do yoga.

If you want to practice yoga, you will find a way.

You will try teacher after teacher until you find the one who is the right fit for you.

When people talk to me about yoga when we are just hanging out, I take that to mean that they are interested in it.  Even when what they are saying is why they can’t do it.

If you have heard yourself (or a friend) saying any of the above, let’s talk.

Sometimes you have to overcome your “can’ts,” “nots,” and “never haves,” before you can find your “will, your “want to,” and your “must do.”

I’d love to help you find your way.

Email me.

What does it mean to practice?

If the wings of yoga are persistent practice (abhyasa) and letting go (vairagya), we must investigate what it means to really practice.

 

I think there’s a reason why the practice wing is always mentioned first.  We have to create a practice before we can let go of the fruits of our practice.

 

BKS Iyengar often mentions his meaning of abhyasa as persistent practice that involves a methodology and effort. He says that this kind of practice builds confidence and refines a person’s consciousness.

 

He writes that vairagya is the elimination of whatever hinders progress and refinement.

 

My practice is strong sometimes, yet some weeks I rarely get down on my mat.  It depends on what is going on in my life.

 

It is hard to find the time to do an asana (postures) practice when I am overscheduled and busy.  Ironically, it is during these frantic times that I need to practice yoga the most.

 

Several months ago, I visited my biological father and his wife in Florida.  At 80, he has had to slow down quite a bit.

 

I have never spent much time with my father. He divorced my mom when I was 9, and moved to another state.  As a kid, I saw him about a half-dozen times after that.

 

My sister encouraged me to visit him, and she even traveled with me for the visit.

 

I packed my yoga pants, and planned to practice while I was there. I knew doing some yoga poses would help mitigate some of my nervousness and sadness about being there.

 

I never made it to the poses.

 

When the dinner conversation brought up some strong political viewpoints that run counter to my own, my stomach gripped into a knot. How to respond to this?

 

I chose to practice my yoga right there at the table!

 

I practiced the yama of ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming) and satya (truthfulness). These are the 2 principles Gandhi based his whole teaching on.

 

I chose to listen without commenting.  This was my way of practicing the yamas.  To me, being a listener in this situation was about practicing non-harming and truthfulness.

 

By not arguing my point of view, I feel as if I chose peace.  By not speaking out against someone else’s ideas, I practiced being steady within myself and what I think of as truth.

 

It was a moment-by-moment decision to sit in on the politically charged conversation.  In the heat of the moment, I considered leaving the table and heading to the rest room or getting my iphone out to check my messages.

 

But ultimately I stayed present.

 

I practiced no asanas that week. But I definitely practiced my yoga — the yamas (respect of others) and the niyamas (personal restraints).

 

However, I want to be sure you know that I am no yoga saint.  Sometimes I try, and fail.  And then there are those times when I fail to try.

 

Looking back on the trip, I am pleased with my effort.  Not in a pat-myself-on-the-back kind of way, but in a vairagya (letting go, surrendering) sort of way.

 

I choose to practice vairagya by giving up the idea that the visit should have been any different than it was — the meal, the trip, the father, the part it has all played in my becoming who I am.

 

And when I wake up tomorrow I will do my asana practice, and appreciate the sense of contentment of being home with my chosen family – my husband, the kids I helped raise, and the grand-daughter I am blessed to nurture.

 

Abhyasa in your practice can mean working hard in your poses.  It can also mean your continued effort to live an examined life through the methodology of yoga.

 

At the end of the day we are living a big life – not just contorting ourselves in asana.

 

 

Of the yamas and the niyamas, which ones do you gravitate toward?

 

Here’s a list of them to get you started – nonharming, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, greedlessness, purity, contentment, self-study, zeal, surrendering the results of your practice.