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Really, Yoga's Not About Touching Your Toes

Angelica Olstad
Written by Angelica Olstad

When most people learn that I teach yoga, the most common response I hear is, “I can’t do yoga, I can’t even touch my toes, I’m just not made for it.” With the growing popularity of Instagram accounts and yoga blogs that showcase really advanced poses which resemble human pretzels, it's no surprise that people think of yoga as a mystical activity for demigods. People generally think of yoga as an elitist sport that “normal folk” cannot enjoy.

This couldn't be further from the truth!

The word yoga means “union” or “joining” and refers to a discipline of exercises aimed at training the mind and body to work together for emotional, spiritual, and physical balance. Furthermore, the Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, and other yoga texts reveal a system of practices for self acceptance, how we interact with others in our environment, how to heal sickness (both in the mind and the body), and practical tips for finding success and happiness. The physical element of yoga actually makes up a very small portion of this all-encompassing life practice.

Living a life of yoga is like acquiring a lifehacking tool kit—yoga teaches us how to live, breathe, and work in a way that is efficient, with ease, and with grace. It’s a practice that is meant for everyone regardless of race, social class, or religious background.

When I first started practicing, I, too was someone who couldn’t touch my toes and it took years of practice before I could. As a result of my genetics, plus years spent running, hiking, and playing piano, I have some of the tightest hamstrings and it’s something I still have to work at everyday.

Does this mean that yoga is not “meant” for me?

Absolutely not.

I first got into yoga to help with performance anxiety and the stress of being a performance music major in college. Since then, I’ve learned better ways to handle stress, find happiness and success in my work, and cultivate meaningful and inspiring relationships with wonderful people. In the bigger picture, learning to touch my toes was just a very small stepping stone in this path called yoga.

The purpose of yoga is to find the inner self—or, in other words, the purest and most honest version of oneself. In yoga, this ideal is not defined by how much money we make, how we were raised, what we do for a living, whether we had divorced parents or parents that stayed together, or an argument that happened yesterday.

The practice of yoga is to actually detach from these impressions (samskaras) and to work on bettering ourselves so that we are stronger, healthier, and have a positive effect both in our own lives and in our surrounding environments. The purpose of engaging in physical practice (asanas) is to create a healthier vessel for the inner self.

There is a growing amount of research proving that the practice of the asanas of yoga alone can help with stress, anxiety, depression and a myriad of other ailments. Even if you practice only the physical part of yoga it is still a great tool to handle the stresses of living in today’s fast pace and competitive world.

So if you’re one of those people who thinks yoga is not meant for you, it may be good to reconsider. Can’t touch your toes? Great! It’s an even better reason to do yoga because ultimately it’s the journey that matters more than the outcome.

Yoga is not just for the select few or the athletically gifted, it was created for everyone. And besides, when you do get to the point where you can touch your toes you’ll feel pretty awesome about it.

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