Finding Flexibility (And Not Just the Bendy Kind)

Extend that free-flowing, easy-going yoga mindset into all areas of your life.

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Sometimes things don’t quite go our way. Our train may be delayed when we’re trying to get to class; we may not get that job we’ve been pining for; we may not be cast as the lead of the show. Whatever it is, big or small, finding these moments of discomfort are an integral part of being human. They're also a reminder to pause, step back, and apply what we learn on the mat. A wise teacher of mine and I were chatting recently about living in New York City during the holiday season. She expressed how it seems like every time she’s walking, someone is walking incredibly slowly in front of her, to the point where it can feels like this person is deliberately trying to keep her from getting to work on time. Now obviously we know that this isn’t true, but I think we can all can relate to this feeling. There’s something in the way of us getting what we want, and this moment can be the greatest teacher of all. What are our reactions to these instances that bring up discomfort and anger? Do we clench up, get mad, and plow through? Or do we notice our body’s natural reactions, and breathe through it? In these moments, we are working with our flexibility; and I don’t mean the ability to touch your toes in Paschimottanasana. Flexibility is, on the contrary, not being able to touch our toes, and being at peace with it. It is noticing our emotional patterns towards anger, frustration; along with the physical patterns of tensing and drawing inward; and approaching these responses with compassion. It is seeing roadblocks that we may perceive as standing in our way, and realizing that the world isn’t actually out to get us. Think of an asana that might not be your favorite. What happens when you’re in this posture? Maybe your shoulders tighten and rise up towards your ears, or your jaw clenches. What happens if you mindfully soften? Finding flexibility is often a whole lot easier when we let go of our ego. The moment you stop trying so hard to control things, things tend to go a bit smoother. So how can we apply this to our daily lives? How can we mindfully go with the flow? Here are few things to get you started:  

Practice slowing down.

Many of us are addicted to productivity. When we aren't moving quickly, we feel as though we aren't doing enough. These feelings of inadequacy lead to impatience, making it more stressful when things don't go our way. Instead, find rituals that encourage silence and steadiness. Try a Yin yoga practice, even if it initially makes you crazy. Eat a meal without a screen. Add an extra 20 minutes to your morning routine for meditation or reading. Making a slower lifestyle part of your routine makes those bumps along the way a bit more bearable.

Find a visual reminder.

When things don't go your way, it's nice to have something visual to remind you that it's okay. Find a bracelet, ring, or stone that you can connect with when you start to feel out of control. Having this littler reminder offers the opportunity to check in with your thoughts—is this hiccup really such a big deal? And if it is, how can you move forward?

Practice gratitude.

Yup, we're talking about gratitude again! It's not a joke, gratitude is one of the surefire ways to feeling good. Gratitude and flexibility go hand-in-hand; when something doesn't end up the way you imagined, can you find it in yourself to be grateful for how things did turn out? Even if it feels like it sucks in the moment, perhaps there is a lesson. We never know the longterm effects of our decisions. Simply make your peace with what is.

Spend time with flexible people. 

Positive energy is contagious—and so is flexibility. When you're feeling stressed and anxious, it can be so helpful to have someone more laid-back to remind me that it's all good. Be sure that your close relationships are with people who make you feel at ease rather than stressed. You might pick up on their practices.

Find reasons to laugh. 

Have you ever had so many bad things happen that it's borderline hilarious? Maybe when mercury goes into retrograde? Yup, us too. Whether it's spilling water in your lap, getting stuck in traffic, or burning dinner, try to look at life's speed bumps as moments of hilarity. Learning to laugh at yourself (and the nature of the universe) helps to prevent sweating the small stuff.

Stop worrying about what other people think. 

How often do we stress because we're worried about the opinions of others? Being self-conscious about who you are will surely prevent you from feeling flexible. Remind yourself that you don't need the validation of others to feel good. If they don't mean anything to you, why do you care what they link? Keep walking a path that's true to you in order to welcome in self-love and compassion. In those moments when things seem to be going all wrong, a simple shift in mindset can make all the difference. It’s like a siren going off while you’re meditating. Approach these challenges with gratitude, for they can be incredibly informative. So maybe you’re late for work, but what can you be thankful for? Be gentle with yourself and take a moment to breathe. You'll be more flexible in no time. Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga