We all begin any new practice in inflexibility. That is the nature of our path, but it is not our innate nature. People tell me all the time that they would take yoga, but that they're too inflexible. Flexibility is not a prerequisite of yoga; it is the result (a result that can come years and years after that first yoga class, by the way). Physical flexibility is not the destination of a yoga practice.
Where you do need flexibility, however, is in your mind (and this is much, much harder than getting your heels down in downward-facing dog…). Physical flexibility, at this point in my practice, is pretty easy. Mental flexibility though? Every time I overreact or panic over something minor, I think to myself, 'this is not Zen; this is not the behavior of a yoga teacher.' Right there I'm inflexibly chastising myself on my inflexibility.
What yoga teaches us, and what we must reinforce every day, is that in every moment we are perfect. Can't touch your toes? You are perfect. Can't even touch your knees? Well, that's fine. You are perfect. Did you hit the edge and flip out on that guy who cut you off on your way to yoga class? Hate to break it to you, but you are perfect. In every moment, we need to forgive ourselves. We need to realize that we are not preparing ourselves to live our lives; we are living them, moment to moment, right now, most of the time without realizing it.
Yoga can change you, your body, your life and your mind, but you first have to accept yourself. All of you. Your limitations, your weaknesses, your terrible habits, your insecurities, your individual beauty, your footprint, your face, your singular view of life; it's all perfect.
Still wary? Here are five every-day things that take way more (mental) flexibility than yoga:
1. Walking down a dark street at night. Alone.
We all do this. All the time. Think about the kind of bravery you need to accomplish this—even in “safe” neighborhoods. Hey, it’s dark out there, okay?
2. Getting into your car (or onto a plane/train/bus).
We know the fatality statistics of driving, never mind the carbon footprint. We’re used to it now, but if you were to really think about how treacherous driving is, how much you have to trust other people with your safety, well, it would take a lot of faith to get you in that vehicle every day, wouldn’t it?
3. Telling someone you love them.
We probably will all do this, at least once in our lives. And I’m not talking the sibling/parent/best friend love. I’m talking out-and-out-passionate-I-can’t-live-without-you love (even if the last time you felt this way was your sixth grade crush, you’ve almost certainly still felt it). This is probably the scariest thing any of us does—opening our heart and putting it all out there. You’ll take the chance and it may work out or it may not. But I’m telling you—yoga takes way less flexibility than this.
4. Changing your mind (and/or admitting you were wrong).
Yeah, it sucks to be the one who was wrong. It can be even harder to apologize. So you made a mistake. It happens. But admitting to it? Flexibility, baby.
5. Making decisions. Any decisions.
If we really thought about making daily decisions, really boiled down that choice between toast and oatmeal, we’d probably lock ourselves into a stagnant, endless loop. But, usually, we don’t. We intuit what we want in the morning and we trust that intuition. This is the process for most of our small decisions (the bigger ones, well, sometimes they’re a bit trickier). To trust that mental process, that intuition? You got it. Flexibility.
Just remember, when you’re stymied by insecurity and inflexibility, in this moment, you are perfect. In those few words is all the flexibility you ever really need to find. So drop in to a yoga class. Take the chance. You're already more flexible than you think.
image via D Sharon Pruitt/Flickr