Stiff As a Board V. Bendy Like a Pretzel

My friend remembered a conversation we had recently and tagged me in a clip yesterday (attached and… it got me thinking… 🙂

Walk down the street and look closely. There’s an epidemic. (No. Not Pretzelitis.) Everywhere stiff, tense people. It’s hard to recognize as being different; it even seems normal because let us face it; Life just keeps adding tension on a daily basis; all adding to this epidemic of rigidness. We stiffen to protect ourselves both physically and mentally. Perhaps to avoid collapsing in a heap of emotions. If we don’t attend to it, say with Yoga, we add on more ‘rigid’. Over time there will be a price to pay for this rigid protection.

The No.1 myth about Yoga and the reason many stiff people don’t give it a go is the belief that ‘flexibility is King’ and must be present first in order to try Yoga. The refusal to budge from this ‘belief’ when I try to reassure them that ‘flexibility is just one of many side effects of practicing Yoga’, is just a variation on the theme of stiffness, i.e. mental stiffness.

I am a naturally physically inflexible person. Limitations in place are a combination of genetic and lifestyle habits. Some of the limits cannot be changed (e.g. see my older post about ‘Bone Matters’ ) and will definitely govern a body’s response to its Yoga efforts.

My recent trip to Andiappan College in India was a beautiful reminder of my own current physical limits. There is something mysterious, beautiful even hypnotic about watching a body move into exotic positions with such ease. The many young strong and super flexible Yoga masters skilled demonstrations of advanced postures frequently made me think; yeah I can’t wait to have a go at that one! … And then all would grind to a halt as my super tight hips made the beautiful advanced pose vanish about half a second, half an inch in 🙂 ; my poor hips wanted nothing more than to sit in a western chair like they have done for nearly 45 years.

India provided daily (hourly!) reminders that took me back to days when I couldn’t touch my toes or when I gazed in complete awe at Bev (1st teacher) holding her standing splits and talking at the same time. In truth I have never forgotten those days and I revisit them frequently when I have the most inspiring new people giving this Yoga lark a go and looking at me with panic after doing their best to get the grip I just asked of them but not quite getting it in that moment.

I admire most that inflexible person for whom their first attempts at forward bending is not the gentle stretch that makes them feel the beautiful release, but feels more like “helpmyhipsdon’tmovemyhamstringsgonnasnapomgomgomg” and their pose looks more akin to a squat than a forward bend. That stretch forward is not ‘Yogabliss’ for them and more like ‘putanendtothistorturenoooow’. The seemingly simple act of bending over is a mountainous obstacle both physically and mentally. I am PARTICULARLY pleased and full of admiration when I see them turn up for their SECOND class. I am always rooting for them to come again and again. As much as they get to take home ALL the wonderful benefits of repeat practice, I get to indulge my keen desire to observe a person’s inevitable expansion and opening up physically (as instructor I have the best seat in the house :)). They may not believe it will happen yet but I know if I can just get them to come again to next class. And the next. And the next, the world and their body will open up to them. (It is hard to explain these feelings to someone who is naturally flexible; they will have their own set of benefits to claim, particularly getting stronger).

So this IS the Good News: in your Yoga effort your right mobility will come to you. I am definitely much more flexible than I was when I started, but at a ‘Master’ or ‘champion’ level I am the equivalent of the person who cannot touch their toes in their first class. I am same same. Just in a different time, space having come to class again. And again. Even now if I don’t repeat practice at frequent intervals things start to stiffen/tighten up alarmingly quickly (so you’ll always know if I haven’t maintained 🙂 ).

So. Some WILL come to class with the aim of becoming more physically flexible. I have no great ambition to be ‘pretzel-like’ myself. My main reason today for attending upon my own mat is to open myself up mentally. To prepare my mind for deeper inspection of the Self. I move my body to expand my mind.

A mobility practice like Yoga is ESSENTIAL for the human body and you need to start moving it from whatever your beginning point. Even if the efforts at mobility don’t translate into contortionist tricks (which personally, make me shudder, see attached

You & I may never be pretzel Yogis. We must NEVER let that stop us going to class 🙂 .