The picture above is the result of practicing yoga semi-regularly for over two years. I don’t have photographic evidence from the first time I tried pigeon, so you’ll just have to imagine. Practicing yoga when you’re inflexible is a lesson in patience and small victories. I wasn’t comfortable sitting cross-legged for most of my life; even as a little kid, I remember folding my legs to one side while all the other kids had theirs crossed. So the picture below – which I’ve heard some yoga teachers refer to as “easy sitting pose” – is a vast improvement over, oh, about the first 25 years of my life.
Yep, that’s the pose you often start yoga class in, the one where a lot of people have their knees flat on the ground. So, fellow inflexible people, say it with me: “what do you mean, ‘easy’ sitting pose?” Honestly, this was the main thing that held me back from starting yoga. Not the advanced, super bendy poses; I knew they were far out of reach, and didn’t (still don’t) aspire to them. But the poses that were supposed to be “basic” and “easy”, those didn’t feel so basic and easy to my tight hamstrings and stiff hips.
If you’re in the same place, I’m not going to promise that yoga will make you flexible almost instantly, or that you’ll be able to do the splits within a year, or anything like that. It obviously didn’t happen for me. Actually, I’m not here to give you a pep talk at all. Yoga is still hard for me. Some days it can be relaxing, but some days it just sucks.
So why do I keep doing yoga? I think it’s just because I started. I would have been equally bad at Pilates or dance or plain old stretching if I’d picked any of them to help with flexibility, but I started with yoga so that’s what I kept doing. I think it’s important to do some things because they’re hard – i.e., yoga will be hard because I’m inflexible, but I want to be less inflexible; therefore I should do yoga because it’s the right kind of hard to get me closer to what I want.
But also, there’s freedom in doing something you’re objectively awful at. I have no hope of competing with others (yeah, yoga isn’t a competition, but also I’m not very yogic), and no expectation of quick and/or drastic improvement. This leaves me free to focus on what I’m doing in the immediate moment and get “in the zone”. Usually I find the zone while working on something complex that I’m good at; this is the complete opposite, something simple that I’m bad at. It doesn’t seem like the zone belongs in yoga (and it often doesn’t happen), but it does. I think “the zone” is just the feeling of dedicated work, and that’s something I could always practice more.
This might make it sound like I practice yoga for mental benefits, and to some extent that’s true, but honestly there are other activities that give me the same mental benefits. I’m not going to tell you the reason to do yoga when you’re inflexible is mental rather than physical. I stay with yoga for the same reason I started: I decided my inflexibility was limiting me in some areas, and decided to work on it until that was no longer true. Yoga is the right kind of hard for me, for now, and if I ever decide that’s not true I’ll stop. So, inflexible people, I’m not here to tell you why you need to do yoga. I think you should find the right kind of hard for you.