Sometimes when I am teaching, I feel a bit like a stand-up comedian. Depending on the mood and tone of the class, I might crack a lot of jokes, and add silly sound effects. Like a stand-up comedian, I try to poke fun at assumptions in our culture, usually those particular to the context of a yoga class.
With a sense of irony, I say things like:
“And if you can’t do crow pose, just know that you’re not as good of a person as everyone else.”
“Come out of this pose whenever you want. But you might not. Because peer pressure is real.”
When people laugh, I know I have struck a chord. The laughter denotes recognition of some sliver of truth. The truth that we still might be holding ideas about our physical abilities being equated to our moral character. Or how we have been conditioned to go along with a group, instead of listening to our individual needs.
The idea that our flexibility or strength says something about our personal character is the most interesting one for me to reflect on. When people find out I am a yoga teacher, the #1 thing I hear is “Wow, you must be really flexible. I’m not flexible at all, I can’t do yoga.” And often it is said in a self-deprecating way. As if a lack of flexibility is somehow a lack of virtue.
I am on a mission to convince them otherwise. To show people that anyone can do yoga, that flexibility has nothing to do with how much worth or integrity you have as a person, and that yoga has so much more to offer than the ability to touch your toes.
When flexibility is seen as a requirement or goal of yoga, we are setting ourselves up for failure. And, we are missing all the other gifts that yoga can bring. Yoga (as we practice and define it at Queen Street Yoga) is an opportunity to be with yourself and experience the joy of movement. You can move however you move. Your movement doesn’t have to pass any kind of test or bar. Your movement doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Your movement doesn’t have to be graceful or beautiful (though it might!). Your movement is an opportunity for you to discover, inhabit and animate the unique space of your body.
When we consciously move our attention away from goals or standards (like flexibility or strength) our experience of the world gets bigger. There is so much more to notice in Warrior 2 than how low your hip goes. There is your breath, there is the movement of your mind and heart, there is the wide expanse of skin, the spiralling muscles that enwrap you. There is the potential of your spine, your curious feet and hands, the openness of your eyes, the exploration of gravity and buoyancy. We might experience changes in flexibility or strength, but these are just small pieces among many to notice.
If you have said to yourself “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga”, we respectfully disagree. Yoga is about mind-body coordination and awareness. Our classes are moving in a direction that help people gain the strength and knowledge they need for yoga poses to be more doable and more sustainable. Hopefully the strength, balance and coordination gained on the yoga mat will also help you carry your groceries, go on a hike, or play with your kids or grandkids in the park. This is why we teach courses like Yoga for Dynamic Aging, Intro to Yoga, and classes like Strength & Flow, Slow Flow and Yoga Playground for Grown-ups.
Furthermore, you don’t need $100 pants to practice yoga. You don’t need to be skinny, young or female. You don’t need to have good balance, or be strong or flexible. You can just be you, with the body you have, and experience the joy of movement with us!
Hope to see you on the mat,
Emma Dines is the creative director of Queen Street Yoga. She loves writing, visiting thrift stores and going for walks in the woods. She also loves cartwheeling, sewing and making her own kimchi.