If you’re thinking about starting yoga, but a lack of flexibility is holding you back - don’t let it stop you! The idea that you need to be flexible to do yoga is a huge myth, and flexibility isn’t essential to get on the mat. In fact - yoga practice can actually improve your flexibility, and you can see this improve over time the more yoga you practice.
Every yogi started somewhere, and even the most flexible people didn’t start out being able to bend their bodies into difficult poses. Yoga can improve your flexibility if you’re not very bendy - as well as improve your posture, balance and strength, if being flexible isn’t one of your goals. Even bodybuilders didn’t start off being able to carry the heaviest of weights - they trained and started from the bottom, and the same is true for yoga and flexibility. Progress comes with effort and hard work, and starting from scratch.
The practice of yoga can help to tone and lengthen your muscles, through working on basic poses and stretches - which means you won’t be perfect on day one. It’s the repetition of yoga that helps to increase your flexibility. The more your practice, the more flexible you become, and you can go deeper into each pose, further increasing your flexibility. So, repetition makes for a more flexible body!
Props such as blocks, straps, bolsters can help to support your body if you’re feeling pain or discomfort during yoga practice. You shouldn’t push your body beyond what it can do - instead increased flexibility occurs over time. Props can also add more length to your body to stretch your body further.
This is why it’s important to put in regular time for yoga practice when you’re first starting out. A class here and there may be a nice relief for sore muscles, but it's not going to do anything for your flexibility levels. You might think you need to be immediately flexible, especially if you're looking to more advanced yogis for guidance, but what you don’t see is the time, effort and journey everyone goes through to get to those advanced stages. Just one class a week can lead to increased mobility and flexibility.
You don’t need to be initially flexible to start yoga, and in fact, your body may have its limits when it comes to flexibility. Keep this in mind, and remember your body will set its own limits, so you might not be able to achieve the same poses as other people. It’s important not to fall into the trap of comparing yourself, especially with social media showing images of flexible yogis in complicated poses!
You can set flexibility as a fitness goal, alongside things like strength, endurance and balance. But remember what your body is capable of and remember yoga is about so much more than flexibility. Yoga can also improve strength, make you more connected to your body, reduce stress and helps you quiet your mind and practice mindfulness too. It’s about that mind and body connection, and allowing your body to sink into each pose. You can start with beginner classes that will ease you into your practice, then advance to more challenging classes as your journey continues.
If you’re still worried about not being flexible, remember that yoga is a controlled and disciplined exercise that requires a lot of control and strength. Actually, most injuries come from pushing your body to be too flexible, whether through hyper extension or relaxing too far into a posture.
Flexible people are actually more prone to injury as they can be used to letting their body relax in full range. This can actually be more dangerous! Even if you may be stiff, you can use props and proper guidance from a qualified teacher to help you feel more comfortable and get in the right position to feel the stretch. This can help you to not force your body into positions it can’t achieve.
When you work on your flexibility, you might find that your progress after a while starts to stop. This could be due to just needing more time and patience on a tricky pose - or it could be your bone structure. When we talk about flexibility and range of motion, it’s not just muscular, your bone structure plays a huge part in determining what your body is capable of. Everyone’s bone structure is unique, giving each of us a strong base for our movement. If you’re working on a pose, but you get to a point when you cannot go any deeper, and no longer feel the stretch, this can be down to compression of your bones. This can impact your hips and shoulders the most. Basically, if you can’t go any further with your flexibility, it could be down to your bone structure, which is totally okay! Yoga is about exploring what your body is capable of, and creating space and stretching in a comfortable way.
To summarize, yoga builds not only flexibility, but strength, endurance and balance - as well as mental benefits, so if you’re worried you’re not flexible enough, there’s heaps of other reasons to get on the mat. If you’re still worried, remember that with regular practice, your flexibility will improve, and you’ll find it easier!
By Amy Cavill
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