“I could never do yoga. I’m just not that flexible.”
That’s a common response I get when I tell people I teach yoga. They’re often surprised when I respond that yoga is actually easier to learn if you’re tight.
The reason is because the point of yoga — contrary to how it might appear — isn’t to “do” the poses perfectly.
The point is to use the poses as a tool to strengthen the focus muscle in your mind.
More specifically, you’re using the sensations those poses bring about as the tools to strengthen the connection between your body and your mind — a connection which, in our modern world, is notoriously tenuous.
We have remote controls, video games and smartphones keeping us well entertained and even connected… but not to our own bodies. Nope. These pervasive gadgets undermine our connections to our bodies.
So. We get into a pose in order to feel a sensation, and then we ask the mind to focus on it. And then to focus on it exclusively.
This is much harder than it sounds. If you watch, it often takes little more than a second for the mind to lose focus on that sensation and wander away to what’s for lunch after yoga class or what shameful thing Don Draper did on Mad Men last night.
So we make a practice of redirecting our focus back to that sensation.
Here’s where the good news comes in if your body is tight.
It’s even harder to practice this focus business if the sensation is hard to find in the first place.
If you’re naturally flexible, you can just fold right over into a perfect-looking triangle pose, daydream about your evening plans and never actually practice yoga. You may do this for years and not even realize you’re not practicing yoga.
But if you’re inflexible, you won’t have to work so hard in a forward fold to find a nice, frustrating sensation in your hamstrings to pay attention to. Lucky you!
Of course, as a happy byproduct of this practice — of using your body to train the focus muscle in your mind — your body will change for the better.
You’ll become more flexible and stronger (and the better your focus, the faster that will happen). You’ll feel lighter and healthier.
But the reason you’ll feel happier isn’t because of new-found washboard abs or an utkatasana butt.
The reason you’ll feel happier is because of this focus.
Now that you’ve strengthened it using your body as a tool, you can apply that superman concentration to anything you like and actually enjoy it more and execute it better, because you’re more committed to it and more present within it. Maybe it’s a yoga pose, or maybe it’s golf, watching a beautiful sunset or spending time with your partner.
And it gets even better!
Because practicing the yoga poses is actually just the beginning of this whole practice known as Yoga. (Usually when we say “yoga” in the West, we mean the poses. But really, it’s a much, much bigger enchilada.)
The poses get you to start training the focus muscle of your mind using your body — which is gross — but it also prepares you in a Mr. Miyagi kind of way to be able to sit comfortably for long periods of time.
That’s when you really get to take that focus muscle out for a spin. Instead of just directing it on gross, physical sensations, you graduate to focusing on more subtle aspects of your being — like breath, energy, thoughts and even the mind itself.
But that kind of deep meditation is a longterm goal of yoga.
In the short term, strengthening that focus muscle in your mind will help you to reconnect to and re-friend your body.
Meaning anything you do with it (and really, don’t you do everything with it?) will become more efficient and more FUN.
That means your mile gets faster, your food tastes better, your golf swing gets more accurate, and your tree pose gets stronger.
It’s a pretty remarkable road, this yoga. No matter how far you decide to travel down it, there are immediate benefits. Each inflexibility in your body is an on-ramp.