Hilary Drake addresses the common misconceptions & resistant thoughts that prevent some people from starting a Yoga practice.
“I’m not flexible enough to do Yoga.”
“I’m just not relaxed enough to meditate.”
As a Yoga Teacher & Therapist, I hear these resistant phrases so often. I immediately envision Scooby- Doo cocking his head to the side, making his “Errr??” sound.
Can you imagine a patient sent to Physical Therapy by an Orthopedist recoiling with: “I just don’t move well enough to do these functional movement exercises?” Or a client working with a Personal Trainer excusing themselves with “I’m not fit enough to build my strength with weight-lifting.” No? Me neither.
Logic falling short, the words just don’t line up. So what’s the deal with Yoga? Or rather, what has happened in the public perception to skew the truth of Yoga?
I totally understand how the popularized images of high-fashion, pretzel-bendy yogis signal the brain to compare and to separate self vs. other. For most of us, deficit mentality is no stranger. Our inner-critic, strong, sits upon the shoulder, waiting for that vulnerable moment to chime in with another “I’m not enough” message.
Unfortunately, this has created a wide gap between the healing practice itself & the people who could truly benefit from Yoga: those faced with body/mind challenges in need of a diverse set of tools to deal with life’s complexities (read: each and every one of us).
I’m at once 1) disappointed that our image of what Yoga is has strayed so far from its unique potency as a healing practice for EVERY BODY and 2) determined to play a role in dismantling the unrealistic image that’s alienating so many individuals from Yoga’s true wonders.
I’m going to say something, and at first, you might not believe these words.
Yoga, in its true form, is for everybody. Yoga is for EVERY BODY.
And you are, in every, single, way “enough” to do this thing we call Yoga. We are missing the Yoga Boat if we buy into an over- simplified, long-legged & stretchy, calorie-burning, image-centered concept that Yoga is about achieving specific shapes with the body, or that there is one way to express Asana (posture). Ancient Vedic Sage Patanjali guided “Yoga is the practice of stilling the mind.”
And he outlined a belief system on how to cultivate that bliss: through “right” social conduct, self-discipline/spiritual observances, physical practice that prepared the mind for meditation, breath practices, withdrawal of the senses, single-pointed concentration, meditation, and finally – union, or interconnection with all living things / the divine.
His age-old description of the yoga path is what, deep down, every human being wants today: PEACE and connection.
And the physical flexibility piece? Not so much a focus.
“It doesn’t matter how deep into a posture you go, what matters is who you are when you get there.” – Max Strom.
In the Yoga tradition, the “Kosha Model” outlines the dimensions inherent in every human being. In Western terms, these dimensions correspond to our physical, physiological, intellectual, emotional and spiritual “bodies” or selves.
Yoga is a holistic health care system because it offers us tools to look at and explore who we are from all of these different angles. True Yoga has no fixed agenda for your physical body. The awareness of our thoughts, physical sensations and the intersections between the layers that make us human is what makes yoga a practice. NOT a task, goal, or posture to be completed or achieved.
The good news is, when practiced safely with the individual’s needs in mind, Yoga is actually pretty great for those who are less physically flexible.
It can also bring balance to the physical body for strengthening and stabilizing. Yoga’s gentle movements, paired with the breath, support healthy joint function and ease muscles toward enhanced mobility.
Yoga can dampen the body’s pain response, and it (should) feel good to the body to move in this way.
But let us not assume that Yoga is a practice physical in nature for all practitioners or that it has to be to be called Yoga.
Quadriplegics practice Yoga through breathing and imagined movement.
Yoga Nidra, translated as “Yogic Sleep,” is a deep relaxation practice requiring NO movement, just presence of mind.
If you are breathing, you can practice Yoga.
Yogic breathing eases stress and regulates the nervous system, countering the effects of agitation/imbalance. Focused breathing leads to enhanced mental flexibility, releasing negative thought patterns and making room for expansion in our self-awareness & the world around us. The ultimate flexibility!
In the end, yoga is so much less about self-improvement or achievement of flexibility or any other end than it is about self-acceptance. You ARE enough. Already! You don’t have to change anything. At your essence, right here, right now, in this moment, just as you are, you are enough.
If you are alive – if breath is moving in and out of your body – and you walk, limp, or roll into my therapeutic class or private session, know that you are enough.
Access to that transformative truth is one of Yoga’s most profound gifts.
So, come. Join us.! And feel – maybe for the first time in a long time – just how truly enough you are for this practice we call Yoga.
Hilary Drake is a Yoga Therapist on staff at Asheville Family Fitness & Physical Therapy. She also teaches at the Asheville Yoga Center and is the Owner of Thrive Yoga Therapy, a private Yoga Therapy practice.