I have a pretty bad relationship with stretching. It goes back a long way. I remember never being very flexible- in fact, to go further, it was always that I was very inflexible. I have a clear memory of doing ballet as a very young child and being aware that everyone else was able to contort themselves into these crazy positions, and I was nowhere near achieving them, no matter what. And that was just in the warm up. One day I just decided I wasn’t getting out of the car for ballet practice as I was just done with it.
Having never been particularly flexible must have had some implications at some point. Sitting on the floor at school was never a comfortable thing. Crosslegged? Nope, that isn’t comfortable- never has been. I can’t sit with my legs out in front of me- that’s akin to torture- so anything on the floor at school was just spend generally being uncomfortable. Maybe that along with other things that I can’t remember just give me a bad feeling and general feelings of frustration as soon as any kind of stretching is started.
The Iyengar “journey”
Fast forward a number of years. I’ve tried a couple of yoga classes occasionally- and finally, in Wales on a climbing coaching weekend I was introduced to a lady who taught an hour of Iyengar yoga. It seemed like a breakthrough. Amazing. It didn’t matter about how I couldn’t do anything- there were props. Brilliant!
So on return to London I found there was an Iyengar studio very close to me- I went there and had a very different experience. Chanting was the first notable difference…. And it was here that I was told the reason I was so inflexible was because of my troubled spirit.
We parted ways swiftly.
What I perceive as the “problem”
My problem with flexibility, and yoga in general is that flexible people tend to be flexible with no effort whatsoever. They have no idea what it is like to not be flexible and do not understand that some people simply cannot “relax” into a stretch. If I go into a forward bend, or into a downward dog, or whatever it is, my body is essentially becoming like a bow being drawn back. To “relax” into the stretch would be akin to letting the string of a taut bow go. It doesn’t get pulled back any further- it pings back to its original state. And that is exactly how my body feels.
Now there are some who would say “well, you are pushing too far then”… but what if that is the state for every type of pose that isn’t corpse pose? There is simply no movement in which I do not feel tension- that is just the way I am.
As for “beginner” yoga- it seems that all teachers of yoga seem to assume that everyone who starts yoga has at least some level of flexibility. To me, it would be like starting a running club assuming that every single person has the baseline ability to run a 35min 10k. Yes, there are a lot of people out there who can do it- but there are a LOT of people who can’t. And it is those people who you should be looking to help.
Every Yoga class I have ever been to has had the same type of person. The bendy ones who thrive on the fact that they can do pretty much everything the teacher ever tells them to do. Effortlessly.
This has led me to believe that flexibility simply isn’t a marker for fitness- it is a marker of well, flexibility. I get irrationally angry at people that can do yoga poses with the minimum of effort- flopping into a delightful feeling of relaxation as I fight to even get to the beginning of a position.
Again- there will be those who say “fight”? Well then you are certainly doing it wrong.
….Let me bring you to downward dog. A “beginners” pose. In it, my hamstrings are shaking from the effort of keeping me there, my shoulders and arms are shaking from holding me in position- the command comes to “relax your shoulders”…. Hah! If I do that I’m going to break my nose as I collapse headfirst into the mat.
Seriously- I know I have a bad relationship with the whole thing, I’m trying to change it, but the struggle is real.
For the last week or so I have been trying to do a small amount everyday. This is in large part due to the fact I’ve got a new turbo trainer and a free subscription to “sufferfest” (I know, I know… how MAMIL!) which has 15 min yoga sessions I can dip into and out of. 15 mins seems just about the right amount of time for me to cope with right now.
However if anything feels wrong I’m quick to blame the new regime.
If I have a bad day running, a leg that aches, a hip that feels not quite right- I have to wonder- “is it because I’m doing more stretching now?”. Are these pains *because* I’m now doing yoga? Does that mean I should stop? Should I just go back to how I was?
Any excuse to stop is a good excuse- but I’m trying to commit to this, so we shall see where it goes.
The Insta effect
Instagram is being updated on a fairly daily basis (@ttbudd, not @globaltherapies) and the comments on those posts are quite interesting to see the different attitudes to the approach I am taking. There are a lot of people (yes, mainly runners) who are saying that they really don’t get on with stretching or yoga. There are then those who say it is all about the mind/body/breath connection, and as long as there is connection there, and peace then *that* is yoga. (my response then, is when I’m running there is a mind/body/breath connection- so is that then yoga?). And there are those who also say it doesn’t matter what position you end up in, you should just go to where you are comfortable… with yet another cohort who see a post and then tell me how to get into the pose better- arms up/head down/ lengthen this or that etc…. Which is more of an indication that they think that the pose is in fact what is important.
Why is it so hard- and what can we/you/I do about it?
I can kind of see how hard it is to start running, with a million and one people telling you to run like this, or that, or that form doesn’t matter, or that you have to wear a certain type of shoes or shorts, or oh my goodness I can’t believe you’re running in *that* etc. etc. Sometimes, it seems it is best simply to say, “We’re watching your progress with genuine interest and as long as you feel like you are making progress, that is fantastic. There are a myriad ways for this to feel and be, and the right path is the path you are treading right now. Whatever happens, you have our support”.