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Yoga and flexibility: busting the ‘bendy is best’ myth

“I’m not flexible enough.”

Isn’t it strange that the most common reason given for not giving yoga a try is also every yogi’s most common source of frustration?

Actually, maybe not so strange… Through the rose-tinted lens of social media, we’ve created an image around yoga – one where flexibility equals being a good yoga practitioner or teacher.

And of course, that’s bullshit. But it’s hard not to buy into the flexibility = being good at yoga idea when your Insta account is teeming with skinny models bending themselves into pretzels.

Still not convinced flexibility isn’t the be all and end all? Let’s look at the facts.

Fact 1: Flexibility is in your bones

Skeletons – the way bones are shaped and how they articulate with other bones – vary from person to person (see yin yoga guru Paul Grilley’s gallery of bone photos here). It stands to reason that if your bones are different, your joints will have different ranges of motion too. This means you will never look the same in a pose as your friend, mat neighbour or teacher does. It also means that you may never get into certain poses or find ease in those poses, no matter how hard you push yourself.

Fact 2: Your fascia affects your flexibility

The proportion of collagen and elastin in your connective tissues directly affects your physical flexibility. Collagen provides tensile strength and elastin provides elasticity. Again, we all have different amounts of each protein. The amount of collagen and elastin in your body also changes due to a number of ‘life’ factors, including use/lack of use/misuse, injury and age.

Fact 3: Mobility is often confused with flexibility

Is increased flexibility what you want? Or is it actually increased mobility? Flexibility is simply the length of a muscle. Mobility is how a joint moves. The more mobile you are, the less your body will suffer from wear and tear as you get older. Flexibility is just part of mobility, which also requires strength and stability. Forcing your body into asanas because you want to be ‘flexible’ can put your body under a great deal of stress and strain, making you less mobile. So keep flexibility in perspective and remember that yoga is a great all-round workout.

Fact 4: A flexible mind is more important than a flexible body

It sounds like a cliché, but hear me out. The true flexibility a committed yogi seeks is in the mind. This isn’t supposed to make you feel bad about wanting to be physically flexible. It’s simply a reminder to tune in to your body and adapt accordingly. Your body is perfect as it is. Yoga is flexible. It will fit you, if you allow it to. So go slow, be present and really listen to your body. With time and regular practice the body will loosen somewhat, but it takes committed effort. Know your boundaries and understand that those boundaries will change from day to day.

A more flexible body can be a wonderful side effect of yoga practice, but try not to make it your end goal. Instead, find an asana practice that works for you, a teacher you connect with, and allow your mind to cut your body a little slack.

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