I can't do yoga because I'm not flexible
Busting one of the biggest yoga myths. By Georgia St John-Smith
There’s often a huge misconception around yoga. You’ve probably heard it before or maybe you’ve even said it yourself…“I’m not flexible enough!” If I’m totally honest, the reason I started yoga seven years ago was because I was looking for exactly that: physical flexibility! However, the more I immersed myself into yoga, the more I realised it is far more about the flexibility of your mind than it is your body.
Yoga has led me to living a life far beyond my wildest dreams…and it started by attending a single yoga class! Yes, there’s often a belief around yoga that you have to be flexible to do it — I’m here to show you why that belief might be holding you back from living a life of your dreams too. Although it’s easy to see why you might feel that you have to look a certain way or be physically ‘fit enough’ to do yoga. After all, in the world of yoga, how often do you see perfectly curated photos that flood your Instagram feed with a seemingly ‘perfect’ perception of what a yoga pose should look like?
The photos we see online are simply a highlight reel of what yoga has to offer. Plus, who is going to show you the photo of them as a beginner, struggling and falling out of poses? Nobody. Yet everyone starts out as a beginner at some point. Guess what, Instagram isn’t always a true reflection of reality!
Why you started yoga is probably very different to why you keep coming back.
Your reason for starting yoga may be very different to your reasons for carrying on. For me, I started yoga because I wanted to become more flexible; little did I know, seven years later I’d be running a successful yoga retreat business. Not to focus on purely yoga poses, but to bring an immersive retreat experience that allows you to experience and expand the flexibility of your mind too! The truth is, yoga really is a deep ocean to explore, far beyond the surface of the water that we see.
So, what even is yoga?
If you research what yoga is, you get a variety of different answers and opinions. A widely accepted definition comes from India, the home of yoga. This originates from the word yoga in Sanskrit, from the ancient language of India. When you translate yoga into Sanskrit, it means ‘yoke.’ To yoke (not the dippy part of an egg!) actually means to unite, join, or link together. This is the reason why many people, from all over the world, will define yoga as a union. A great way that yoga is described that really resonates with me is, ‘it is the union of the mind, body and spirit.’
So if yoga means union, and the aim of the practice is to unite your mind, body and spirit, then why are perfect yoga poses the focal point? Why does flexibility even matter? The answer is… it doesn’t! What a relief! This is what is so beautiful about yoga. In reality, yoga is exactly what you want it to be.
Flexibility is by no means the goal of yoga. But it can be helpful in some ways. It’s more to do with the flexibility that you can create in your mind and in your life. When you turn up to your mat, not just with the intention of exercise but to feel more connected with yourself, miracles can happen.
Three years ago I was at the peak of my corporate career, earning a six-figure salary, progressing up the career ladder and seemingly ‘living the dream’. But underneath the surface of all of that I was burnt out, stressed and not following my true purpose in life. I wasn’t fulfilled. Then I started yoga. You know how people in films always have that moment that changes everything? This was that moment for me. Yoga gave me the space and time to realise that I had the ability to change my own life — to create my dream life.
I didn’t have to ask for anyone’s permission. I didn’t have to follow a certain path. I didn’t have to live in a certain place. Just 12 months after, I had gone from living my life blindly in the matrix to living my dream life in Ibiza. But the best bit is that you can too. Step 1 is to stop focusing on what you’re doing and start asking yourself why?
Embrace your uniqueness
If you dive into the anatomy of the physical makeup of your body, every single person is different. Science shows us that every body structure is totally unique. As tempting as it is to look at a skeleton structure and think that we should all look like that, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Often the reason you’re giving yourself a hard time about not being able to get a certain yoga pose will have nothing to do with your flexibility, and everything to do with your bone structure. Yes, our bones are structured differently. Even down to the fact that everyone has a different amount of bones in their body!
So, your bones could be the thing stopping you from getting in specific poses. Therefore expecting to be able to execute every pose perfectly, is just not feasible and actually harmful to portray this belief in the yoga community as it deters people from wanting to be a part of it.
So instead of forcing yourself into a pose that doesn’t align with you, find an alternative, easier movement that you can do! You can do this by simply asking your teacher for an adaptation or looking online; there are always options.
Remember every time you take to the mat, it is your yoga practice, so you should be doing what feels right for you. Being consistent with your craft will pay off but it’s vital that you don’t over-exert your body. Find the balance between small, consistent improvements and listening to your body.
Yoga teachers are here to guide you through various poses in a yoga session, but that is by no means obligatory. Remember to see your yoga teacher as a guide to be followed in a way that feels good for you. You never have to do anything.
Often in a yoga class I’ll make my students aware that I’m here to guide them through each movement, and remind them that they know their bodies more than I ever will, so listen to that! The more you remember this, the more you will feel comfortable and in a safe environment to express and move your body, without fear of judgement.
So, the conclusion to all this is, yoga is meant to be fun and meaningful to you. There is no right or wrong way because it’s your practice and your journey.
If you want to hold more advanced poses and test your own strength and flexibility, that’s amazing! If you want to use yoga to relax and de-stress from a long, hard day at work, that’s just as cool too! But, the one thing that you do have in common with everyone else? You keep turning up to the mat, you keep wanting to develop and you keep progressing whichever stage you are at.
There is something about yoga that once people start, they just want to keep coming back over and over. Maybe it’s the benefits we feel in our bodies, our minds or a mix of both - whatever it is, it’s amazing.
Georgia St John-Smith is the founder of Sancti Retreats in Ibiza, which creates a method of success without the stress, and has helped countless people to find balance and true fulfilment in a pressurised modern world. Find out more at: sancti.co.uk/retreats or connect via Instagram @yogabygeorgia and @sanctiretreats