Must we be so flexible to do yoga? The damaging effects of conflating yoga with gymnastics.
By Sarah Highfield
If you were to put the word 'yoga' into a word association game, for many, the next word would be flexibility.
The link between yoga and flexibility is commonly more dominant than the one with mindfulness, or awareness, or peacefulness, or whatever you think makes more sense.
In fact, whenever people find out they I am a yoga teacher, the first thing they often say is: "You must be really flexible."
Yet, any seasoned yogi knows that flexibility is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what yoga is and offers.
It is a widespread misconception that yoga is just about improving flexibility, and this is backed up by never-ending yoga media and content that is centred and fixated around how to stretch deeper or excessively contort your body.
The narrative being built is one questioning whether you are flexible enough to do it, and if not, here are some tips on how to improve your flexibility.
Understandably, this is not always the case, but I feel that it increasingly is, especially where image-heavy, fast, and popular media is involved.
Moreover, conflating yoga with what is literally gymnastics is damaging, ableist, and further propagates the notion that yoga is exclusive and only for a certain type of person or lifestyle.
I wonder if a lot of people will miss out on all the wonderful benefits of yoga because they have been led to believe that only 'the flexible' can do yoga or they are simply put off and alienated by photos of people in hyper-extended poses.
Sure, increasing flexibility is an element of yoga, but if what we see around us is to be believed, it appears that yoga is only worth doing (and impressive) when the yogi performing could also pass for a circus acrobat.
Furthermore, why is there such strong push to be extremely flexible anyway? Is it even healthy after a certain point? No. And, is anyone really any closer to enlightenment or inner peace because they are more flexible. Again, no.
Personally, I would like to see greater attention placed on the more important reasons to do yoga, especially the internal ones and the ones that really matter in the long-term.
Emphasis should also be on more written and visual reminders that yoga is accessible for people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities, because representation is important and is what will get more people involved.