When I was new to yoga, an instructor asked if I had any injuries during a class—three times. I thought “Wow, this guy really cares!” Afterward, he pulled me aside and said: “Have you ever taken yoga before?” My ego was bruised, as I’d taken various classes for about a year at that point. He said that he’d never seen anyone so inflexible in his career, and wondered what sort of illness or injuries I was working around. I told him that I didn’t have any injuries or limitations other than inflexibility and lack of experience.
I didn’t let that deter me. I continued to practice regularly and increased the frequency from one to three classes a week (with different instructors). Eventually, I could touch my toes and stand on one leg with great ease and didn’t give it much thought. After studying yoga for three years, I completed a teacher training program and became a certified yoga instructor. I vowed to never make anyone feel embarrassed for their inflexibility and to teach classes for students at all levels.
You don’t need to be flexible to practice yoga
I’ve been teaching since 2002, and the most frequent complaint I hear from new students is “I’m not flexible enough for yoga.” Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to start out flexible—yoga will increase your flexibility over time. Trust me, I was never a gymnast or athlete, and now I teach yoga professionally.
These days, social media is loaded with images of sexy models and contortionists in amazing and often intimidating yoga poses. My best advice to anyone about to embark upon a new yoga practice is to avoid looking at these images. Don’t let any outside influence scare you away from starting something that is sure to help improve your circulation, digestion, sleep patterns, and emotional well-being!
Even if you think you’re the least flexible person on earth, you can easily begin practicing yoga and enjoy yourself in the process! Yoga will boost your flexibility which will in turn release muscle tension and soreness, increase physical and mental relaxation, and improve your posture. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.
Look for yoga videos and classes labeled “gentle” “beginner” or “restorative”
I’d suggest starting here, then gradually moving up to other styles and adding to your practice. You may prefer to start by trying a few videos in the privacy of your home before going out and taking a live group class. This will give you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the names of the postures, language that instructors use, and the overall gist of what the physical postures entail.
Don’t be discouraged if the class seems very easy or perhaps too slow and gentle for you at first. The importance of slowing down is one of the best lessons we learn from yoga. By the same token, don’t be discouraged if the videos or classes you attempt are challenging at first.
Experiment with different styles and instructors.
What if I had stayed with that one teacher who seemed perturbed by my inflexibility? I may have missed an opportunity to learn skills that have helped me to reduce anxiety, lower my blood pressure, and increase my suppleness. Instead of giving up, I watched many different DVDs and observed how various instructors taught. It’s okay to try numerous styles of yoga and not commit to just one. For example, I currently practice a blend of Yin, Ashtanga, and Kundalini yoga. Variety keeps things interesting, and the different styles teach variations on poses, which in turn increase your flexibility further.
Practice with a supportive buddy
My aunt has always been interested in holistic wellness. She recently got her husband into yoga by inviting him to practice at home with her, using videos in their living room. Practicing with someone who is curious, but perhaps intimidated by going to a studio, is a great way to inspire them to get bendy! You’ll be far less inclined to cancel if it means disappointing a friend. Practicing yoga with a pal provides the motivation that might not be there when going solo. The buddy system comes in pretty handy when starting a yoga practice.