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July 1, 2019

A Note to anyone who thinks Yoga is Off-Limits for their Body Type.

 

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“I’d love to do yoga, but I’m not flexible!”

I’m a yoga teacher, so half of me cringes when I hear this common assumption—and the other half chuckles to myself.

The truth is, I believed the same thing 15 years ago before I discovered my own yoga practice.

“Saying you can’t practice yoga because you aren’t flexible is like saying you’re too thirsty to drink.” ~ Unknown

The cliché American image of yoga consists of thin, bendy white women in overpriced leggings doing the splits at a boutique yoga studio.

But really, the only requirement for the physical practice of yoga is our body, mind, and ability to breathe. Yoga welcomes everyone regardless of age, body type, or fitness level.

If you don’t think of yourself as flexible, great! Yoga is exactly what you need.

Yoga can increase our flexibility as well as help build strength, increase body awareness, and tap into our mind-body-spirit connection. Yoga is a form of functional fitness that moves our bodies in the ways they were designed to move, so it helps them continue to function as they should.

We’ve all heard the saying “use it or lose it.” Yoga will help us use it now so we can keep using it as we age.

Yoga & Flexibility

When it comes to flexibility and yoga, there are two things you need to know. First, you don’t need to be flexible to begin a yoga practice. Second, a regular yoga practice will help you cultivate flexibility. One study in 2014 found a significant increase in flexibility after just six weeks of yoga. Increased flexibility will translate to a greater feeling of ease within your body—moving throughout your day will become more effortless.

My body felt like a block of wood when I first started practicing yoga. Ironically, it wasn’t until I’d gone through several years of practicing and had finally accepted this about my body that my flexibility slowly started to improve.

To this day, I’m usually one of the least flexible people in the room regardless of whether I’m taking the class or teaching it. Does this make me less of a yogi? Not at all!

Different bodies are capable of different things, but we are all capable of practicing yoga. If there are 20 yogis in Half Moon pose, none of them are going to look exactly the same, but this doesn’t make any given expression less valid than another.

Yoga & Strength

Yoga not only improves our flexibility, but it can build strength as well. It’s surprising how much strength is required to hold a pose such as Plank, which requires the whole body to be engaged to support itself. Standing postures, balancing poses, and arm balances are all options within yoga for building and maintaining strength. Not to mention, this is where those of us who feel less flexible can shine!

Although different from traditional strength training that utilizes weights, bodyweight exercises are highly beneficial for musculoskeletal health. Yoga won’t necessarily offer a cardiovascular challenge, but the active, dynamic styles of yoga help us cultivate strength as we work to support our own body weight. Holding poses will help build muscle endurance. Repetitions that rely on eccentric contractions where the muscle must stretch and contract helps build long, lean muscle.

Yoga & Grace

There are many different styles of yoga. Hot yoga, Vinyasa, Yin, Ashtanga, and Kundalini, just to name a handful.

Try them all, and find what lights you up. Discover what feels good in your body.

For me, that’s Vinyasa, which is characterized by a creative flow of poses coordinated with the breath. It’s dynamic movement that doesn’t necessarily require you to be flexible; it just requires you to pair breath with movement. Once you get a feel for it, Vinyasa marries strength, grace, breath, and presence.

What I love about Vinyasa is the grace I find within my body as I transition from one pose to the next. The coordination of breath and movement anchors me into the present moment and keeps my mind from straying. I’ve never been a dancer, but Vinyasa can feel like a beautiful dance on my mat and within my body. Vinyasa is endlessly creative, so there are limitless possibilities for sequencing poses and creating dynamic movement.

My Path as a Not-So-Flexible Yogi

When I first started going to yoga classes in my late 20s, I didn’t expect it to be easy. As a runner, I was in decent shape, but I had never been flexible. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I struggled—epically. Despite feeling self-conscious and slightly bewildered, I kept going to class. I tried lots of different styles and teachers.

Slowly, I started to feel more successful as my practice progressed and began to feel more natural. I liked the challenge and how I felt after class. Even better, my body started to feel better as I carried less tension throughout the day and my body awareness heightened. I noticed improvements in my running, as well.

Fast forward to today. I laugh when I think of the young woman I once was, mistakenly thinking yoga was off limits to my body. My yoga practice today grounds me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. While it isn’t the only exercise I engage in, it provides the foundation for all my physical endeavors.

As a teacher, it’s a joy to share my love of a practice that has given me so much. My yoga practice, like everyone’s, is a journey that continues to evolve as my life and body continue to change.

Yoga is for Everyone

The biggest thing I want to impart to anyone interested in trying yoga is this: yoga is for everyone. Yoga is for you. If you have a body and a mind, there is a form of yoga that is right for you.

If going to a class intimidates you, try a video at home before seeking out a class at a yoga studio or a gym. If practicing with a group of people doesn’t work for you, schedule a private session with a yoga teacher. If getting on a yoga mat isn’t an option, chair yoga is a great option (and great for anyone who works at a desk all day). And if chair yoga doesn’t work, simply google yoga poses you can do in bed.

The worst thing that happens is you try something new. The best thing that happens is you find a way to live more easily and effortlessly in your body. At the very least, establishing a regular yoga practice can be a part of your self-care regime, or it can be the start of a beautiful lifelong journey.

 

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author: Jessica Ruff

Image: @Walkthetalkshow

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Editor: Catherine Monkman