When people say they’ve avoided yoga because they’re not flexible, I believe they’re really saying they’ve avoided yoga because they’re pretty sure they won’t be successful at it. They’ll look stupid or won’t be able to keep up with the class. Ah ha, OK. Now here’s where I break it to you. Yoga is a non-competitive practice. There is no success and there is no failure. Show up and be present and you’ve done all that yoga asks you to do.
Yoga’s non-competitiveness is puzzling for many of us because competition is so prevalent in our lives. We work hard and try to be the best at our jobs, we play or follow sports, we get heated about politics. We may not delight in actually vanquishing others, but we take pride in doing our “personal best.” Shouldn’t we also set a standard of achievement for our yoga practice? No, because yoga has completely different lessons to teach us. What it offers to us is a safe environment to try out approaching each moment without judgment. It’s unique in that way, and I believe yoga’s non-competitiveness is what makes is so essential to our lives. For once we’re not pitted against anyone else, not even ourselves. We’re not labeling things as good or bad. We’re just practicing for the sake of practicing, each moment individually, like floating down a river on a boat without paddles (ever gone tubing, anyone?). This takes some getting used to, and it’s lovely once you get it.
See, “doing yoga” doesn’t mean balancing on your hands like a Yoga Journal model, or bending backwards into an impossible shape, or even doing poses as all. It can mean that, but a person whose practice includes those things is not “better at yoga” than someone whose practice does not. Consider that one day you might feel strong and perky and want to do a headstand, but another day all you want is to take a nap. Have you become bad at yoga, overnight? Have you practiced badly that day? No! I argue that knowing what elements of yoga benefit you at any given time is the most skillful practice of yoga you can cultivate. This is the true meaning of flexibility in a yoga practice. Can you be aware enough to flex your activities to suit your current needs, or do you cram yourself into a one-size-fits-all sequence? Do you set an expectation for your practice that uses rigid or external standards? If so perhaps, my trite response to you still is the best and truest one.