Yoga Nanna’s aspiration: building flexibility of body, mind and attitude – always
Not flexible enough for yoga?
“I’m not flexible enough to do yoga” people say, as if flexibility is fixed, like blue eyes.
But saying you are not flexible enough for yoga is like saying you are not thin enough to go on a diet.
Making flexibility a pre-requisite comes from labeling yoga as a kind of sport. The competitive nature of sport assumes you have to be “good” at something if you’re going to get anything out of it. No point taking up basketball if you’re 5-foot-tall. And whatever sport you choose, you have to push and strive and train to improve. But yoga is not a sport. As a much older and more flexible woman told me some decades ago, when I suggested that if I kept pushing myself I might one day become as flexible as her, “don’t push, my dear, just let the breath pull you”.
Yoga is not about striving and training to be good at something. It’s a series of practices that over millennia have proved their value in helping people live more happily inside the body and mind they are schlepping around with them this lifetime. It’s not about getting somewhere, but being interested in exactly where you are, and curious about the potential that being right here might hold for change.
Remove pain & suffering? Yes we can!
The sage Patajalis, who gets the credit for codifying yoga practices about three thousand years ago in his Yoga Sutras, starts out by saying the purpose of yoga is to remove the root cause of pain and suffering. And that’s not a bad place to start.
Removing the root causes of pain and suffering requires flexibility. After all, if we’re suffering, and we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got. We need flexibility to be able to do something different. And flexibility – whether it’s physical, mental or attitudinal – is aspirational, it’s something to keep working towards.
If you haven’t touched your toes in 20 years and getting up off the floor is a struggle, you may not believe it, but flexibility of the body is easiest of all. Flexibility in the body can be improved with a bit of movement and a bit of practice. Flexibility of mind is harder to tackle, but we know it can be done. We often hear that the brain is plastic and if we keep doing crosswords and Sudoko we’ll continue to build happy synapses long into our dotage. Flexibility of attitude, however? That’s the tough one.
The ancient yogis knew that, so they started with the easy stuff: the body and breath. Yoga uses the simple vehicle of our physical body and works from the outside in. Spending a little time focused on controlling small, precise movements, focusing on breathing, focusing inward, detaching from all the madness of life is the first step towards removing the root cause of pain and suffering.
What is the root cause of pain and suffering? Yours is in your mind, mine in my mind. The root causes are in our habits and in the habit patterns of thought and attitude that we have developed over a long, long time. Not imposed from the outside, but nurtured from the inside.
Enlightenment? It’s a stretch goal
Yoga practice starts out as a bit of a holiday from all that baggage. Eventually, with constant practice, some yogis reach enlightenment but, if you’ll forgive me, I’d call that a stretch goal. Just having better balance or good range of motion in your shoulders is not a bad place to start.
Yoga Nanna’s goal is to encourage people to become interested in maintaining knees that work, hips and shoulders that do what we need them to do for us late into our life span and to develop some skills for slowing down, being present and finding balance.
And, if you become one of those evolved souls who make the leap to enlightenment along the way, would you keep it to yourself? It might make the rest of us feel inadequate and start thinking that we’re just not flexible enough for this yoga stuff.
Yoga Nanna is written by Wendy Guest, an aspiring yogi, enthusiastic nanna and regular working stiff who finds her practice the antidote to aging on the inside. The wrinkles she can live with. The biases and imbalances she continues to work on.