Can’t Touch Your Toes Either? ~ Manon Newberry

Will I be the only yoga teacher who can’t touch her toes?

If you’re a yogi, you’ve had someone tell you, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” I hear this a lot, and people don’t know what to say when I tell them I’m not flexible either.

Just the other day, a co-worker said “Really? You still can’t touch your toes after all the yoga you’ve been doing?”

I smiled and said something about everybody being different.

Yoga is not a magic pill. Do yoga and be happy. Do yoga and find inner peace. Do yoga and be flexible.

It doesn’t work that way.

I am not flexible and that is okay.

It took me a long time to get here, but now I have made it, and I quite like it. Last year during a hatha class, I was struggling to get close to the floor in dragonfly pose when it occurred to me that it didn’t matter. I realized having my nose touch the ground would not make me happier, smarter or a better person. It would just make me a person who could touch the floor with her face.

That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with my tight muscles and sometimes wish I could raise my leg higher in standing splits, instead of hanging out in what I like to call “standing right angle”.

I enjoy hot yoga because it loosens me up and makes me feel freer.

Yoga is a very personal practice, so how deep I get in my dragonfly pose really doesn’t affect other people. However, I’m starting my yoga teacher training in a couple of days and it’s bringing up some of my old insecurities about my un-flexible self. Insecurities that I thought had gone away.

Will I be the only yoga teacher who can’t touch her toes?

What if someone asks me to demonstrate a pose and I can’t do it? Will people take me seriously as a teacher if I can’t do the poses to their full extent? I have no problems falling out of side crow or fallen angel. In fact, I enjoy poses which challenge my strength and balance. One of the reasons I wanted to become a yoga teacher was to help people realize that it’s okay to fall down.

Falling down can actually be a lot of fun. I am, as my teacher Ichih Wang says, blessed with stiffness. A lot of people struggle with flexibility, and maybe they could use a teacher who understands what they are going through. I need to remind myself of the girl who decided there were more important things in life than getting her nose to the ground.

I’ve made friends with several of my yoga teachers, and when I told them I was going to do my teacher training, each one of them had lovely things to say. Not a single person mentioned I am not flexible because it is not important. I don’t expect my yoga teachers to be perfect; therefore, I can’t hold myself to a perfection standard either.

I am happy being me, even if my toes are out of reach.



Manon Newberry is a teacher, yogi and writer living in Québec, Canada. She likes to read, dance and travel. She loves trying new things and then sharing them on her blog.



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Assistant Ed: Dana Pauzauskie/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Diana Oct 10, 2013 2:03pm

I'm also a yoga instructor (planning for my teacher training in 2014 – the year I also turn 50) who can't touch her toes. In addition, I have a bum shoulder, arthritis in my hip, a blown knee from ice hockey, and according to my chiropractor no curve in my cervical spine. I love yoga, and my chosen specialty is a gentle, modified yoga class full of props and chairs for beginners, for older adults, for those who also have medical conditions or are recovering from injuries. I'm afraid of what teacher training will entail, but I want to do it. With your admission of being nervous and not being flexible, you're inspiring me to continue. Thank you!

Joe Sparks Jul 17, 2013 2:35pm

So glad touching your toes is not a sign of flexibility. It is a relief especially if you are a guy, because most men would love to take yoga classes, where you do not have to look like Gumby! It seems like modern yoga is about performing poses, not about natural alignment and breath. It is starting to remind me of Billy Crystal from Saturday Night live from the 70's. he played this character called Fernando. He had a saying" it is not how you feel, it is how you look! I love teaching yoga and love reminding my students, it is how you feel in a pose, not how it looks.

Michaelle Edwards Jul 16, 2013 12:34pm

Manon, Flexibility is over-rated and glamorized in the pursuit of yoga asana. Check out my recent article in EJ called When Flexibility becomes a liability. Touching your toes as a measure of flexibility or a way to be become flexible is a myth. Did you ever think that the reason why you cannot touch your toes without bending your knees is because humans are not designed to do that? Try to walk without bending your knees. Feel like driving with a brake on? What is it that we are stretching when we do uttanasana or paschiomottasana without bending our knees? Its the ligaments in our sacral/lumbar region and important knee stabilizers. The fact that you cannot touch your toes without bending your knees shows that you have a healthy balance of strength and range of motion. When we try to touch our toes without bending our knees, we are stressing the forces that stabilize our joints. The flexy bendy people can fall into these poses and it may even feel 'good' to them but down the road, the years of hanging in the joints to perform poses that over-ride natural anatomical function can lead to a host of joint issues and a potentially disastrous state of looseness, instability and hypermobility.

When we feel tight or stiff, most people think that they can do poses that stretch parts of the body and that somehow this is going to change tension dynamics in the body. No animal has to lay around and stretch for an hour to find balance. Humans have rearranged their natural biomechanics by sitting in a right angle chair that compresses the diaphragm movements, and the entire trunk area of the body uses the chair back for support. Our deep forces of posture linked to breathing become dormant and atrophied. Most people feel tight and stiff in their body because the deep posture muscles are not engaged and the muscles of the extremities designed to contract to move our arms and legs, are now also trying to keep the body upright and stable. Engaging the body in more right angles like staff and plow pose and pulling on the seams ( the joints) , is not going to fix the tension imbalance from our modern lifestyle. It just makes no anatomical sense. All yoga poses and stretches should simulate how the body is designed to move in real life anatomical function. When we do not feel tension, we feel flexible however this just means that our muscle balance is set at natural, optimal muscles’ resting length. When muscles are at a less than optimal length, it means decreased mobility, altered movement patterns and potential for injury. These issues with tension imbalances can better be fixed using self guided PNF techniques and resistance stretching in positions that simulate how we move. No need to touch your toes. When we become hypermobile, there is also tension deep in the body. Ligaments have been stretched that have undermined joint functions and now there is tension in muscles trying to make up for the lack of stability in the joints. I see this all the time with yoga clients who have stretched themselves way past anatomically neutral and now feel pain and tension caused by a lack of joint stability forces. Michaelle at yogalign

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