Confessions of an Inflexible Yogi

I have a confession, and it’s pretty big.  It’s actually pretty embarrassing, and something no yogi in her right mind should admit to in polite company.  Okay, here it goes.

I am not flexible.

Okay, maybe it’s not all that bad.  I can touch my toes or the ground during forward bends, my shoulder are on the whole pretty flexible, and I don’t have a whole lot of range of motion problems.  But as far as yogic standards go, I’m not all that bendy.  I’m nowhere near achieving Hanumanasana, Baddha Konasana is a struggle, and even after nearly 15 years of practice, I still can’t get into full Lotus, although my feet no longer ache when I can manage Half Lotus.

I think most of my inflexibility comes from the fact that on top of practicing yoga, I am a lifelong endurance athlete.  After thousands of miles of repetitive motion, it’s no wonder that my hip flexors, IT bands and feet aren’t interested in trying anything new or different.  It’s like asking someone who has played the banjo his entire life to suddenly pick up the pipe organ.  Sure, they’re both instruments, but they’re on fairly opposite ends of the musical spectrum.

As an inflexible yogi who also happens to teach a couple of yoga classes per week, I do not have the luxury of hiding my shortcomings in the back of the studio.  Nope, they are out there on full display, and honestly, as much as I’d like to be just a bit more bendy, my inflexibility has actually become a boon to my practice and my teaching.  Since I fully understand flexibility difficulties, I don’t expect miracles from my students.  I am able to offer them tried and true modifications, and I can describe exactly where they might be feeling tightness.  I can also show them how to feel a sense of accomplishment and success in their practice despite their weaknesses, as I learned early on that while my flexibility is sub par, I can make up for it with my strength, balance, and coordination.

Finally, being inflexible has done wonders for my ego, which has a tendency of raging out of control from time to time.  Every time I feel a hint of embarrassment because my students are bendier than I am, I take the opportunity to remember that yoga is not a competition, and that I can honor the progress of my own practice, even if that progress doesn’t extend much further than beyond my own toes.

12 thoughts on “Confessions of an Inflexible Yogi

  1. As a student who has varying degrees of flexibility — some due to bone structure, some due to asana practice versus running, some due to chronic nerve damage — I definitely appreciate my teachers who are not universally bendy.

    First, it makes them much more approachable to me and does wonders for my yoga-self-esteem. Hearing an abstract statement of “everybody’s pose might look different” is one thing — fine and good but still removed from my reality. Seeing a real-life example of that is incredibly freeing for me.

    Second, as you mentioned, teachers who share the same inflexibilities as I do will often be able to suggest modifications, preparatory poses, and/or ways to ease into a particular posture.

    Third, my experience is that even when teachers don’t share my particular physical limitations, teachers who are more familiar with said limitations in general are more likely to be mindful of them for all their students. For example, I have a teacher whose hips work like my shoulders: adequately bendy in some directions, notoriously limited in others. Though she doesn’t necessarily know which modifications will work for me, she makes it a point to suggest at least a few options.

  2. Thanks for the feedback on this. Sometimes, I get worried that my inflexibility might be a barrier to teaching, and the meaner side of my ego starts whispering, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” a la Adam Sandler. But then I remember that my ego is just fighting for attention, and I can then let go and enjoy both my practice and teaching knowing that I am NOT perfect (thank goodness).

  3. This is the biggest hurdle I have to get over as a teacher. Not so much inflexibility in myself (though I’m not the most flexible yogini out there), but perceived inflexibility in my students. I don’t know how many people I come across who tell me they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible. I tell them that comes with practice. All they need is flexibility in the mind. Thank you for this post.

  4. I wonder if we shouldn’t have some kind of Inflexible Yoga Teachers’ Support Group…I was teaching regularly for close to a year before I felt brave enough to teach a seated wide-legged forward fold (Upavistha Konasana) because mine is a rather acute-angled sitting-up pose, but I discovered immediately how grateful students are to see someone up there who isn’t effortlessly brushing his or her chin to the floor (which is not to say there’s anything wrong with being flexible, either innately or through consistent practice). My students have given me the confidence to work on my flexibility more, instead of assuming I’ll never be flexible, and I’ve made appreciable progress! Way to broach this important subject and remind us that this is a place where your ego can really get in the way!

  5. Pingback: Asana Saturday: Working Towards Lotus | Confessions from the Mat

  6. Pingback: Dreaming of Hanuman | Confessions from the Mat

  7. Namaste for this! Had my competitive ass kicked at a workshop today where another “Sarah” (literally) was pointe out in demos as the flexible one and i the inflexible. So tough especially as it was heart openers and i’ve been struggling (no more of that) to release jealousy stuff i fester in. So humbling to be among orher teachers and not compare myself. Just feel such judgement when teacher pegs me in a negative way (or so my mind said). Good post and yay for you! Make us better teachers to be inflexible.

  8. I was just doing a Google search for inflexible yogi, because that is something I would call myself also. Today I bought a chair specifically for yoga, and I can’t always touch my toes. But I bend a lot better than I did 4 years ago!

    Thank you for saying you teach a class. I have had a few people say to me, “Do you think someone will take a class with someone who can’t do the poses really well?” It’s irritating, especially since I want to work with people who have limited mobility.

  9. Oh my goodness please sign me up for the support group. I am 56, a massage therapist in private practice and 1/2 way through 200 hr YTT at Kripalu. I am not bendy. I decided on YTT to help my clients who want to feel better in their bodies but due to limitations or choice, don’t want to be in a large yoga class or a gym experience (mostly my overweight and elder clients) and I decided to do my training at K because of its reputation. It is a bittersweet experience right now. I am doing well but a question that is popping up all over for me is can an inflexible person be an effective yoga instructor? My knees will probably never straighten in any type of forward bend and again they are pretty high in bound angle, and I can never get the last curve completed as I try to bring my foot behind my calf in eagle…sigh. But this blog has been so helpful to me and my shaky esteem, and it has reminded me that my full expression will be different than yours – and that I can safely talk anyone through the variations should they wish to experience any posture deeper, and so on…thank you for reminding me that when I arrive at my class whether giving or receiving it the most important thing is me staying with integrity and gratitude for my fullest expression. Thank you, thank you.

    Seriously, a support group for us is a great idea.

    Lilian, almost 200 YTT

  10. Inflexible Yoga Teachers unite! Good article. Short, sweet and to the point. t almmost sounds like a defense against the bendy people out there, but really – yoga is ‘the settling of the mindstuff into silence.’ Thankfully, my practice and teaching strives for that. Although I too would love more consistent flexibility (it comes after about 3 hours of yoga, and disappears again every morning) I am thankful for the freeing feeling that comes each day. Will certainly be interested in more discussion on this topic. Thanks all!

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