LifeApps® Digital Media

Not Flexible?

Jan 5th, 2012

As a yoga teacher and practitioner, it is not a surprise that I am constantly trying to get my friends and family to join me and come to a yoga class. Some people are excited, others put it down altogether, but I can't tell you how many times I have heard the excuse, “I would love to do yoga but I just can't, I'm SOO inflexible!” Well guess what my response to that one is? “It doesn't matter!”

Untitled“I would love to do yoga but I just can't, I'm SOO inflexible!

It is a common misconception that you have to be "flexible" to participate in a yoga class or become a practicing yogi. The reason for this is the generalized stereotype of someone who does yoga: she is usually a woman, young to middle aged, toned, thin, and can tie herself into a pretzel. Sound familiar? This is the image that western culture has given to the general yoga practitioner. This may be because of popular movies that depict yoga (ie Spanglish), or the cover shots on yoga magazines such as the Yoga Journal, but the truth is the general populations who practice yoga are NOT like this.

So now that you've accepted the fact that even though you may not be flexible you can do yoga, what next? You may be thinking, "that still doesn't change the fact that I can't touch my toes.." Well, I have some good news! Most people who have just begun taking yoga classes can't either unless their dancers, acrobats, or extremely young and limber. The great thing about yoga is it works with your body (tall, short, thin, chubby, limber, tight, etc,) to develop your flexibility and strength together. The trick is knowing how to modify postures to work with what you have and being ok with doing a pose a little differently then the level 3 girl at the front of the room. Here are a couple of suggestions for modifications to general poses:

1) Forward bends, i.e. paschimottanasana: The full pose may be reaching your toes, but you don't have to force yourself to go somewhere that hurts. Instead, reach for the thigh, calf, or ankle, or you can even take a strap and wrap it around your feet, pulling on each side with your hands.

2) Seated postures, i.e. baddha konasana: Any pose that feels tight in the hamstrings (back of the upper thighs) usually means you have a tight pelvis and lower back. Take a folded up blanket and lift your hips off the ground, decreasing the intensity of the stretch in the back of the legs and allowing your pelvis to tilt forward.

3) Side bends, i.e. trikonasana: When reaching down and to the side in a standing posture, you may not be able to reach the floor, which is totally normal and 100% ok. Instead, bring your hand to the thigh or shin (if leg straight) or elbow to the bent knee (if leg bent). You can also use a block, placing it by your foot and using it for support.

4) Back bends, i.e. urdvha danurasana: Can't do a full backbend? Most people can't either. There is a prep position for this called bridge. You lay on your back and pull your feet into your hips, knees bent. Pushing into your feet lift the hips off the ground and roll your shoulders under your body, perhaps interlacing your hands underneath. You can also place a block under your low back for extra support.

5) Twists, i.e. ardha matsyendrasana: The full pose in a seated twist usually involves a bind of some kind, but this takes extreme back and shoulder openness which is very difficult. Instead, either hook the elbow on the leg/knee, hug the knee/leg, or usually you can twist the opposite direction from standard, which is a little easier.

6) Balance poses, i.e. uttitha hasta padangustasana: Balancing poses not only require balance, but usually flexibility as well. Instead of trying to extend your leg all the way out and grab your foot (extended big-toe pose), or bring your foot all the way into your upper thigh (tree pose), go for an easier option. Either bend the knee and hold that, use a strap to extend your reach, or place the foot lower on the leg for ease.

Those are some easy recommendations for modifying difficult postures. Don't worry; you don't have to remember them all, as most teachers will offer these modifications to you in a class. What you do need to remember is the most important part of yoga which is the ability to show up. Just by coming to class and bring present on your mat, you are already ten steps ahead of most people and deserve applause. When you feel frustrated, keep trying, your body will change and improve with time. Always listen to your body and do what feels good for you, because what someone said was “right” 300 years ago might not apply to you today! Now you can stop making those excuses about your flexibility and attend a yoga class with the ease of knowing you CAN do it.

-Heidi Schubert, RYT-200

Untitled

Heidi Schubert

Heidi is a yogaworkout.com contributor.
Heidi received her yoga teaching certification in Ubud, Bali. She teaches Ashtanga Vinyasa and Vinyasa Flow classes in San Diego, CA. Learn more about Heidi at heidischubert.com andprivateyogasd.com.