The flexibility question comes up time and time again. Perhaps it is because social media, blogs and adverts for yoga always seem to depict someone in a very advanced pose. The sight of these experienced yogis can feel intimidating if you have never stepped onto a yoga mat. For some people, the idea that they are inflexible is a barrier to beginning a yoga practice. But should it be?
Do you need to be flexible to practice yoga?
The short answer is no. You do not have to be flexible to have a highly beneficial and fulfilling yoga practice. Yoga is about balancing the mind and body, it’s not about being able to fold yourself in half.
The word yoga originates from the Sanskrit root Yuj, which means 'to yoke' or 'to unite'. The focus and aims of the practice are to achieve a union between the body, mind and spirit. Flexibility is more of a by-product of this unification.
Yoga can be an incredibly valuable practice for people of all ages, weights and mobilities. You can even practice yoga from a chair.
Let’s explore some of how yoga might improve your health, even if you are inflexible.
Will yoga make you more flexible?
With consistent practice, yoga can certainly improve flexibility. But that is only one of many benefits.
- Yoga improves balance, flexibility and strength. The combination of slow movements and deep breathing increases blood flow to your muscles. This warms them, allowing them to stretch, release and build flexibility. Holding postures will improve your strength.
- Yoga relaxes you, promoting better sleep. Research suggests that even if you aren’t flexible, having a bedtime yoga routine can better prepare your body for sleep. The practice calms your mind, putting you in the right headspace to fall asleep easier and stay asleep.
- Yoga can be an effective stress management tool. We live in a busy world with lots of stimuli that can feel overwhelming and stressful to some of us. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have shown regular yoga practice helps some people mitigate the effects of stress on their lives.
It’s called a practice for a good reason
There is an old saying, "practice makes perfect", and it is true with yoga too. You have to be willing to show up on the mat consistently. Eventually, you master one posture, then another and another. Most of us are stiff and inflexible when we first start to practice yoga.
In general, it’s recommended that you practice 3-5 times per week for at least 30 minutes. This will enable your body to build strength and flexibility in the postures.
Over time, you will find yourself getting more comfortable with the asanas (postures). As you build confidence and familiarity in different poses, the more meditative aspects of yoga will begin to emerge.
Whenever we learn something new, we need to approach it with the open mind of a beginner. This means observing ourselves with non-judgement.
Every person who has ever stepped onto a yoga mat had their first lesson too. Most of us started from a place of knowing that our bodies had become less flexible and wanted to do something about it.
It can be beneficial to call some local yoga studios or private instructors and ask if they have beginners classes. Being in a room with others starting their yoga journey will help you build confidence. It’s also a great way to meet a community of like-minded individuals interested in keeping the body and mind healthy.
Flexible body, flexible mind
When you begin a yoga practice, you’ll be acutely aware of your physical body moving into unfamiliar shapes. If you don't have natural flexibility, some postures might feel a little uncomfortable. However, no asana should ever feel painful. If you feel pain, ease out of the posture gently and speak to your instructor about possible modifications.
The longer you show up on the mat, willing to learn, the more you’ll notice that it becomes easier to quieten the mind. At first, you can focus your attention on connecting movement and breath. It will take up quite a lot of concentration. Move slowly and be compassionate towards yourself. Remember that everyone is a beginner in the beginning!
Gradually, as your body becomes used to the flow of movement and breath, you’ll observe that your mind begins to settle. There won’t be quite so many thoughts rushing around in your head.
Often, with regular practice, the mind becomes more flexible as well as the body. This can improve your ability to problem solve and deal with stressful situations. Some practitioners note that it can also heighten your creative thinking abilities.
Tools for a successful yoga practice
- Time - at least 30 minutes 3 x per week
- Self-compassion - observe yourself without judgment
- Consistency - keep going!
- Willingness - just keep showing up on your mat
So what’s stopping you?
Sometimes, preconceived notions stop us from stepping into a yoga practice that we know will be beneficial. We might believe that inflexibility means that we aren’t able to do yoga. We might think we will never be flexible enough to look like all the yoga pros. But remember, every person's body is different. There is no right way to look when doing yoga. Flexibility is a reward that comes with time and consistent practice.
- Being flexible is not a prerequisite to being able to practice yoga. Flexibility is a benefit of consistent practice.
- Yoga is more about balancing the body and mind than being able to get into complicated poses (asanas).
- Focus on the breath during your asanas. This sends signals to your muscles that it is safe to relax and release.
- All bodies are different. Yoga postures can be modified to suit all abilities. Choose a teacher who is experienced and aware of your needs.
- You need to have a consistent yoga practice of at least 3 x per week to see results in your flexibility and strength.