Have you ever seen this scene in The Princess Bride?
It is hilarious and exactly how I feel every time I hear someone tell me that they would love to practice yoga but they can’t because they “aren’t flexible”!
What they most likely mean is that it is difficult to match their postures to the postures they see on other mats; difficult to compare their weakness to another person’s strengths.
My husband uses this as his #1 reason to avoid yoga. He KNOWS he needs the stress release benefits of yoga, he KNOWS he needs the strength in both his body and his mind- BUT he swears his body is simply not intended to be flexible. I try and try and TRY to explain that “flexible” is not something you ARE or ARE NOT, it is something you WORK TOWARDS and BECOME! Flexibility is more about who will/will not than it is about who is/is not! Flexibility does not own me, I own flexibility!! PHEW… glad we got that out of the way
The word flexible has three meanings:
1. The ability to bend easily without breaking
2. The ability to be easily modified
3. The willingness to change or compromise
Considering these three definitions, it actually takes as much flexibility for me to stop my Bird of Paradise practice
as it does for me to continue working on my King Pigeon practice-
Flexibility determines whether I am willing to change and be modified without emotionally, mentally, or physically breaking when my desires do not match my abilities. Flexibility makes NO claim on my abilities, simply on my tolerance with the abilities and circumstances that are currently mine. Flexibility also understands that what is true today, may not be true tomorrow- with this perspective, flexibility breeds patience and malleability!
We all start out life with flexibility in our bodies. Consider all the funny positions you can put a baby in. My babies always slept in child’s pose, often played in bhadrasana, and LOVED to be folded in wheelbarrow pose. Their little bodies required no warm up and preparation, they were just really bendable!
It is the journey of life that eventually creates this place of inflexibility, both on and off the mat. As infants, we are fairly adaptable. As long as basic needs are being met, babies can ‘go with the flow’ of life dictated by their caregiver.
As we grow and face the experiences of life, we get a little more protective of our hearts and our minds. Maybe we decide we don’t like to be told what to do- so we determine to consistently take some rocky roads rather than heeding the advice of those with more experience.
Maybe we’ve been emotionally wounded by some significant losses in life, so we guard and protect our hearts from the pain of loss rather than remain open to the possibility of love.
And maybe we’ve made a lot of ‘mistakes’, so we guard ourselves from further disappointment by choosing consistency and stagnancy.
Whatever emotion it is that has a person bottled up, it is most likely rooted in fear. Fear does not promote safety, does not encourage growth and does not encourage courage! Fear does NOT like uncertainty, possibly even dreads uncertainty; “but if you never allow uncertainty into your life, you will become inflexible”.* On and off the mat, fear has the ability to stop us in our tracks and bind us like a straight jacket.
* Quoted from Frederike Dekkers, Dutch life coach, counselor, and photographer
In a yoga practice, especially in any of the balance postures, it is important to be ROOTED. This is most commonly done through the hands or feet, with mindful attention securing through and activating the appendage in preparation of a next step in the posture. I guide students to root into their shoulders and spine for any supine postures, especially ones that will activate and challenge the core muscles.
The purpose of rooting, however, is not about safety or success! It is the practice of establishing a foundation on which to build and progress. When we allow ourselves to root into our feet, our hands or our shoulders- we are simply setting the stage to take the next step. Rooting is not about the commitment to be perfect nor is it a commitment to take ALL the steps- it is simply the decision to be stable enough to move on if the body allows.
I can assure you that even the most experienced and seasoned yogi does not instantly jump from down dog to tree in one quick motion. There is a series of small, but valuable steps from one place to another. Somewhere along the way, one of these steps might take you out of your comfort zone, but that’s okay. In yoga, and in life, we should not practice to the point of pain. BUT, in yoga, and in life, we should practice a little discomfort once in awhile. Discomfort is our cue that we have accessed both courage and vulnerability- courage to move beyond comfort and vulnerability that we might fall short of our mark.
I love this quote from Marianne Elliot in her bookZen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War
“Every courageous choice I’ve ever made has been about being afraid. I don’t feel impermeable and fearless and untouchable. It always involves feeling vulnerable. We need to remember that vulnerability is the only true measure of courage. If we’re not feeling vulnerable, it’s guaranteed that we’re not feeling courageous.”
Take this moment, one simple moment and realize that the key to moving further and deeper is not about ability but about desire and willingness to give it a try.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear”
Daily Journal Challenge:
Think of one area that flexibility might change the outcome. From where you are now, to where you would like to be, list each and every possible step that could be taken to get you where you want to be. Like eating an elephant, the best way to complete the task is to take one bite at a time.