Yoga seems attractive, but seeing super-bendy yogis balancing on their fingertips might put you off. The truth is, you never get to see the beginnings – the clumsy first attempts everyone has to go through. Moreover, the goal of yoga isn’t to tie yourself in a pretzel, so there’s no reason to let a lack of flexibility stop you from doing yoga!
Who is yoga for?
In short, yoga is for everyone! If only flexible people did yoga, it wouldn’t be so popular and widespread. Yoga is a complex body and mind training, developing many skills at once, making you calmer and more focused. Flexibility is just a tiny part of that.
Whether you are stiff as a board, recovering from an injury, or just curious about yoga, you can and should try it. In fact, the stiffer you are, the more you might need yoga in your life. The beauty of yoga is that while you may not be able to do one pose at all, you may be a natural in another one, or you may find yourself in the mindfulness aspect of it.
Why flexibility isn’t everything
Flexibility means the capacity of your muscles to stretch – ideally your muscles should allow your joints to move through their full range of motion. However, hardly anyone has the perfect flexibility. What’s more important is to be flexible enough to move pain-free and prevent injuries.
When your muscles are shortened and too tight, it limits how you move and can cause bad posture, joint pain and overuse injuries. Working on your flexibility and stretching is a good thing but it shouldn’t be the main goal of yoga.
Hand in hand with flexibility goes mobility – the ability to actively move your body and body parts through a wide range of motion.Confused? Let’s break it down. Flexibility is passive – you stretch muscles and see how far you can get in a certain position. Mobility is active – you actively move your body parts and it requires flexibility but also strength.
Some people are naturally very flexible but it doesn’t mean they can move well – being able to do a split doesn’t make you a yogi! Training your mobility, as well as flexibility and strength, is key to efficient and safe practice. Yoga makes you develop all three! When it comes to strength, yoga is great at increasing your functional strength, in particular, so you are able to carry your own body weight in all sorts of positions and transitions.
At the same time, yoga teaches you to synchronize movement with breath and be more present in the moment. More mindful. That in itself has immense benefits, and has nothing to do with flexibility!
Where and how to start
If you’re a complete beginner, don’t aim for the stars from the get-go. Realistic goals are the best ones. If you set off to do an hour-long yoga practice daily without any prior experience, you might fail and end up discouraged.
Go slow and increase as you feel ready for more. Try a 20-30 minute practice three times a week, and stick with it for a month. Then re-evaluate how it’s going and if that’s enough or you want to do more.
In one month, you should start seeing noticeable improvements in your flexibility, mobility and strength. Try our Beginner program to get started. All you need is a mat and a smartphone!
What to expect
To be honest, if you cannot touch your toes when bending forward now, you probably won’t be able to do a full split in a month. That’s normal. However, at the end of that month, you will probably be able to touch your toes.
Manage your expectations because you know your body best and you also know what you were good at as a child. That will help you estimate how far you can get in a few weeks or months. Of course, you can get further but it will take time – one month for moderate improvements, six months for greater improvement, a year for truly transformational changes.
You may also be surprised by how much you progress in one way, and a lack of progress in something else. That’s also normal! Each body is different and while you may get ‘stuck’ on something, you’ll easily do a pose or transition that seemed impossible at first.
Common beginner issues
We all make mistakes. Learn from your own and also from mistakes made by others before you. That way, you’ll progress in a safe and steady way.
Letting your ego take over
One of the most common beginner issues is going too far too fast – if you can’t reach your toes, rest your hands as far on your legs as they go, but don’t force anything. If you feel a sharp, stabbing pain, you’ve gone too far and you can tear something. It’s far better to accept your limitations and work with them while keeping the right alignment and breathing.
Holding your breath
When we focus or strain to do something, we often hold our breath. This is one of the worst things you can do in yoga. It deprives your body of oxygen, affects your movement and creates stress in your body. When you breathe deeply and with the movement, you’re reducing stress – what a difference a breath makes!
Focusing on one body part and forgetting the rest
It’s easy to develop tunnel vision when trying to make the right shape with your body. You are so focused on what you’re doing with one arm and leg that you completely forget the other two, your posture, how you hold your head and that you shouldn’t be tensing muscles that you’re trying to stretch. All that is typical when you’re a beginner – over time, you develop better body awareness and control.
When you catch yourself making a mistake, use it to improve your practice. Don’t interrupt your yoga session or talk down to yourself. It may be a cliché but it’s true – mistakes give us an opportunity to grow.
How fast should you progress?
That’s a million-dollar question! As you start your regular yoga practice, you’ll notice that your strength progress may be faster than your flexibility progress and vice versa. Or you’ll have trouble staying mindful one day and be completely present the next one.
It’s tricky to say how fast you SHOULD progress but there are ways to keep track of your personal progress over time. After all, your own progress is all that matters, don’t compare yourself to others. When it comes to strength, you can measure the time you can hold a certain yoga pose or how many repetitions you can do.
With mobility and flexibility, you can easily see your progress by how far you can get in a pose or whether you can do a difficult transition. And when it comes to mindfulness, you’ll notice how much your mind wanders or how easily (or not) you get angry for example.
With the SkillYoga app, you can use the Athlete Assessment feature that allows you to monitor your own progress in multiple ways.
See also: An amazing six-month yoga transformation
If you’re hesitant about yoga because of your body’s limitations, forget that apprehension! Try it in the privacy and comfort of your home, take it slowly and don’t forget to breathe. Once you start, you may be surprised by what you can do and how great it feels!