I gotta be honest.
This is a post I’ve been wanting to do for a LONG time...before my website was built and before I ever published my first book. In fact this post is a reflection of why I wrote Inflexible Me.
Scrolling through Instagram, I love to see the positivity, beauty, and humor being put out there in the social media world by our yoga community, but there’s one meme in particular that really gets my juices going. And not in the I’m-the-Om-to-your-Namaste kind of way.
Let me preface this first by saying that I absolutely see the humor in this meme and can laugh about it myself being a teacher and previously-inflexible student of the yoga practice. But what irks me is the reality of the underlying issue it presents...and the lack of awareness surrounding it in a community that boasts self-awareness and inclusivity.
Yep. I’m calling out our yoga community. I love all of the positive vibes and inspiration we've been spreading. But, there's one group that's kinda left out of the mix: the truly inflexible people.
Yes, yoga community, we say we’re inclusive and offer 'simple' yoga poses guaranteed to ease an inflexible body into the yoga practice but the problem lies within that. There are NO 'simple' yoga poses for the truly inflexible person. And although the problem may present as physical...its roots run deeper into the mental and emotional bodies. And I don’t believe it’s inclusive to poke fun at a group of people already so fearful to walk into a yoga studio and put their inflexible bodies on display. If there was more awareness of how much self-judgment they’re already carrying with them, we may approach them differently. The reason why I know this is because I used to be one of those people.
So what is this meme that has my yoga hot pants all tied up in a bunch?
On the surface this may seem silly, but I want to share why those of us in the yoga community who are unaware of this may want to take a deeper look into the truth behind inflexibility.
Okay. So first things first. Yes, it’s a joke. Yes, I can see it’s meant to encourage inflexible people to take a damn yoga class if they want to be more flexible. But it doesn’t really work that way.
If you didn’t already know, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret.
Aside from inflexible people truly believing their bodies are incapable of getting into most yoga poses, if someone says to you 'I’m too inflexible for yoga' what the translation usually means is 'I’m not good enough for yoga.'
Let’s pause on that for one moment.
If someone instead said to you 'I’m not good enough for yoga' would you still want to make light of their inflexibility excuses? Or would your heart melt a little, wanting to approach them with compassion?
But who’s really going to come out and say that to us? C’mon. No one wants to admit to their insufficiency. Saying ‘I’m too inflexible for yoga’ is A LOT easier.
Insufficiency plagues us all in one area or another in our lives. All of us know what it's like to not feel good enough. It’s a feeling of self-exclusion that takes us to our very core as humans.
An inflexible person doesn’t feel good enough to walk into your yoga studio. An inflexible person doesn’t feel good enough to take your yoga class. You can’t tell an inflexible person they won’t be judged. They’re already drowning in their own self-judgment.
Before I took my first yoga class, I was paralyzed by my fears and self-judgments surrounding my inflexibility. Never being able to bend over and reach past my shins was a lifetime reality of mine. A reality I was hyper-aware of by the age of 8. Before I took my first yoga class, I had endured 20 years of self-judgment and shame of my inflexible body. 20 years of a hateful dialogue with my body. What came so easily to others was not only difficult but painful for me to endure. Any event that made me physically aware again of my insufficiency was avoided. So the thought of enduring an entire yoga class in a room full of people who could do everything I couldn’t seemed like hell on earth to me. I judged my body so harshly I assumed everyone else would do the same. I believed their thoughts would be along the lines of 'Look at her. She can’t even do some of the simplest poses. This girl doesn’t belong in yoga. She doesn’t belong here with us.'
And there you have it. Insufficiency and exclusivity.
As teachers of the practice, owners of yoga studios, editors of yoga magazines, and well practiced yogis and yoginis, it’s our duty to extend a compassionate arm to this hidden market. I say ‘hidden’ because inflexible people indeed try to hide themselves from the reminder of what they’re not a part of and unable to do, and ‘hidden’ because I believe our yoga community in general have no idea how to effectively speak to this audience.
I hated my first yoga class. I mean really hated it. I felt so out of place, I left the class early. From my experience there was way more ego in the yoga class than I expected (including my own). People were approaching their yoga practice with a very serious attitude. In fact one person shh’d me before the class ever began (I would like to note here that I was respectfully keeping my voice low and had no idea it was considered inappropriate to whisper to my neighbour before class.) It set the tone immediately. I didn’t belong. I wasn’t accepted.
Throughout my first practice, I struggled physically to hold a variety of poses and to transition with any amount of grace, but the real struggle was in my mind. I hated every moment I was on that mat. In my mind, my body let me down pose after pose. The conversation my mind was having with my body was filled with so much judgment and hate. All I could think about was how much of an eyesore I was to the teacher and anyone looking my way. It was enough pain to make me leave early and never attempt another yoga class for 3 years.
The only reason I attempted a yoga class again was because of an internal shift in my perception that came through meditating in silence for 10 days. This shift gently nudged me into a yoga class while I was traveling through Costa Rica. This experience was completely different from my first.
Well aware of the fact that my internal shift was largely responsible for my different yoga experience there were other factors that accompanied it. I somehow found myself practicing in a light-spirited yoga class where people giggled and the teacher was compassionate. People actually smiled at me when I glanced their way. The not-so-serious environment encouraged me to not take myself so seriously. It allowed me to explore the practice with less judgment. For the first time in my life I felt like I was nourishing my body. Giving to my body instead of demanding from it. The result? I fell in love with yoga.
It was my first introduction to self-love.
Knowing how many others struggle with their inflexibility and fears of making themselves vulnerable enough to stand on a yoga mat (in potentially your yoga studio or class), I felt a need to let our yoga community in on the darker side of inflexibility. An inflexible person needs our light to coax them out of their inflexible darkness. The only way anyone can allow themselves to be vulnerable, especially with strangers, is to do so in the environment of compassion. Without compassion, the opportunity to explore those fears is lost. The instant reaction is to retreat.
If we want to be an inclusive community then we need to understand our role and responsibility to those seeking this exploration through yoga. We need to be compassionate to their fears and shames so that they feel safe enough to be willing to try.
Inflexibility has nothing to do with the body and everything to do with the mind. We as a self-proclaimed awakened community should know this and yet I have yet to really see inflexibility approached from the matters of the heart. At least not on a noticeable scale.
First we must speak to the inflexible person with a compassionate heart. Guide them to switch from self-judgment to self-love through acceptance. Teach them how to become flexible in their minds so that they have the tools to not only gain flexibility in their bodies but enjoy the beautiful process that yoga bestows on the connected body and mind.
If someone tells you they’re too inflexible for yoga, don’t bitch slap them like Batman does. Don’t listen to their words. Listen to their heart. Offer them compassion and invite them to join this beautiful journey instead of sitting on the sidelines alone. Know how vulnerable their journey through inflexibility requires them to be so that you can ensure a safe and fun environment that promotes body and mind exploration.
If you’re part of the yoga community I hope this sheds some light on perhaps the unknown darkness behind inflexibility. And I hope that together we can encourage more inflexible people to feel included in the yoga world.
If you’re an inflexible person then I hope you know you’re not alone and you’re not sentenced to an inflexible body for the rest of your life. The only judge who placed that sentence on you is your mind. Using my Four Fundamentals of Flexibility, I have helped clients bend their bodies past lifelong inflexible barriers in just 30 minutes. Anything is possible if you want it to be. Find a compassionate teacher to guide you through your practice. Once your mind speaks to your body with compassion you will be astounded at how quickly your body will bend.
I encourage all of my yogi and yogini friends to share this message so that our inclusive community is just that...inclusive. We’re all here to support one another and lift each other up. My hope is that this awareness can be spread to all of our current yoga friends and the new ones we invite forward.
Love and expansion always,
Author of Inflexible Me