Here’s a big problem with yoga: so many people think it’s all about doing the splits or twisting yourself into Gumby-like pretzels. A lot of what’s posted on social media (um, Instagram) support this intimidating misconception. In the short video and article below, I’ve set out to change your mind if you think yoga’s only for ex-dancers and gymnasts—or girls. Don’t miss out on what could be transformational for you because of widespread misperception.
1. Flexibility is only 50 percent of what the physical asana practice is about
News Flash: as I state above in the video, you have to be strong to do yoga! Have you tried doing a Chaturanga pushup recently? Or any arm balance like Scorpion or Crow? These and so many other poses require insane core strength, highly developed back and shoulder muscles, and no need for flexibility.
What makes yoga such an incredible physical workout is the aim to achieve the perfect balance of flexibility, strength, and patience. Flexible people need to work on strength so they don’t overextend and injure themselves. Strong people need to work on flexibility so they don’t muscle into poses and pull something.
Everyone has to work on the most vital ingredient: patience. The physical “point” of yoga isn’t to achieve flexibility. It’s to appropriately balance flexibility and strength in each of the poses, all while staying patient enough to let your practice develop over years (yes, years). So don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re not “good” at yoga right away. Yoga unfolds in the way that is right for you.
2. The physical asana practice is only an eighth of what Yoga is about
The Yoga Sutras, the “Bible” of yoga written by Patanjali in 400 CE, outlines the eight foundational principles of the yoga practice. Guess what? Flexibility is never mentioned, and the physical practice of yoga itself is only one of the principles. The other seven definitive principles of yoga focus on energy maintenance, mind discipline, and meditation.
So if you’re thinking to yourself that you’re not flexible or strong, there’s still an entire world of yogic principles to explore. You can “do” many of them by just noticing your thoughts, sitting in a chair, and yes, even relaxing in bed.
3. There are as many kinds of yoga as there are people
Poses of super flexible women doing handstand splits tend to get the most attention online, but there are so many types of yoga that have nothing to do with touching your toes or even going upside down. There’s Chair Yoga for people with physical limitations, Restorative Yoga, which is just like a giant nap, and Yoga Nidra, which is an actual nap. You could also incorporate yoga into your life by chanting, practicing gratitude, or just mindfully walking outside.
Bottom line: You may be doing yoga already and not even knowing it. So get curious. Find the style of yoga that can meet that can meet you and your body where you are right now. Have patience. And forget about needing a flexible body in order to start. All you need is a flexible mind.
Brett teaches vinyasa flow yoga at top San Francisco studios, companies like Google and Pinterest, and on her YouTube channel, where thousands of students have studied with her for over 6 million minutes. Get her free yoga playlists, yoga teacher training tips, and free dance, yoga and meditation classes at BrettLarkin.com. Beginner or intermediate yogis can enjoy her online course on deepening your yoga practice.
This piece was originally published on wanderlust.com on April 2, 2015.