“I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough”. I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard this phrase in the last 15 years as a physiotherapist and Yoga Teacher.

I hear two inner voices respond. My inner physiotherapist declares “If you feel stiff and non-flexible, that is exactly why you need to do yoga!” My inner yoga teacher smiles and says “it is not possible to be bad at yoga!”

So this blog is inspired by the common myth “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible”. I hope I can share with you a couple background insights (i.e. bust some myths) and maybe inspire you to find the courage to take that first step into the yoga studio.

 

Myth 1: Yoga is just a stretch class

While it’s true that there are many fitness based yoga classes (in fact, the desire to be more flexible and agile on the netball court is what drew me to yoga almost twenty years ago), this statement is very self-limiting. When our understanding of yoga is limited to simple stretching (as powerful as that is), there are two main problems:

  1. We instantly judge our ability to “do yoga” as good or bad based on our level of flexibility
  2. We miss out on the myriad of other benefits that come from practicing other aspects of yoga

Yoga is more than just stretching. It is a practice that helps us to live a better life. We learn to interact with the world around us a little better. Yoga provides us a set of tools to cultivate a healthy body and mind. Yoga is a philosophy, not a religion, and can be practiced alongside any other religion.

 

Myth 2: Yoga is only for people who feel stiff

While practicing yoga is immensely helpful if you are stiff, sore or needing to improve your flexibility, yoga is increasingly being accepted as part of the mental health and wellness space thanks to more research (like this presented here by Australian Yoga teacher and researcher Michael de Manincor) that has been done on the positive impact yoga has on anxiety and depression.

Benefits of Yoga have been demonstrated in multiple research studies for musculoskeletal injuries (especially from sedentary lives and hours sitting at computers or devices), mental health, pain, breathing disorders, stress and chronic diseases. With so many different styles and types of yoga out there, it’s impossible to say which particular benefit you will receive from attending any random yoga class. Some classes are slower and more meditative, while others move faster. Some are gentle and others are intense. So it makes sense that different yoga styles will have a different impact on your body and mind.

I started yoga because of the physical benefits. I have stayed because of the sense of peace and calm it creates for my mind. It allows me to explore and enjoy more easeful movements. It is the salve my body needs to balance my busy life, physical job and desire to run longer distances.

In a nutshell, if you are stiff you will get more flexible from yoga. But you also have the opportunity to access a myriad of other benefits you weren’t even looking for. These benefits will be dependent on:

  • The style of yoga
  • Your frequency of practice (you need to do it regularly – at least once per week)
  • Your yoga teacher (and their level of training)
  • Your personal injury and health profile
  • Goal is to decrease our suffering

 

The take home message: Yoga is for every body. With so many styles out there, if you haven’t found one that fits – try another.

 

Myth 3: I don’t look good in Lycra. So I can’t go to a yoga studio.

Let’s go back a step.

The first scholar to systematize Yoga a couple thousand years ago, described Yoga as “control of thought-waves of the mind” (Prabhavananda & Isherwood 2012). So how did we go from yoga being a practice that helps one gain control over their own mind, to a multi-billion dollar global industry? One focussed on perfect, lycra-clad, Instagram-ready bodies?

(That is a story for another time.)

But my point is this: the purpose of Yoga postures are to make our body stronger and healthier so we can use it as a tool to live our best life and do the things we love. Whether that is gardening, lifting our kids, doing our jobs or sitting down comfortably to read a good book. All of these challenge our bodies in different ways. Yoga gives us the capacity to enjoy our bodies.

Granted – some yoga studios are intimidating. My advice is to find a yoga studio that isn’t covered in mirrors. Where the teachers focus on how you feel and how well you move.

 

Bust Your Yoga Myths

There is one extra myth – the myth we tell ourselves as to why we are not currently looking after ourselves or being more active. It goes something like…

“I’m too busy/I don’t have time”
“I’ve just got to get motivated first.”
Try replacing time/motivation with “it’s just not a priority” and see how that sits.

Forget the myth that more  motivation and time will solve your problem to exercise more. There is never the right time or the perfect time to start something. If we wait to feel motivated or wait for the perfect time before we do what we need, it’s highly unlikely we will never start. The ancient proverb goes:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Remember, the in-flight safety demonstration teaches us that in emergencies we always need to put our own oxygen masks on before we help those around us? Well, moving and feeling well could just be your daily oxygen mask. Looking after yourself is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

So what is holding you back?

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