Beyond Touching Your Toes: Flexibility for the Mind
”I can’t do yoga. I can’t even touch my toes!” I have heard it a million times! Many people assume that if you are not naturally flexible you should not be doing yoga. Who said you had to touch your toes in order to gain enlightenment? Yoga can not only help you gain a little physical flexibility, but possibly some flexibility in the way you think, act, and react as well. I am a true believer of the mind-body connection, and as we cultivate qualities such as flexibility, strength, and endurance on a physical level, our internal world takes on those qualities as well. Developing flexibility in our thoughts and beliefs can bring us to a whole new level of contentment.
Think about the most easy going person you know—The friend that is totally cool when plans change. The work colleague who is open to learning about a new approach to the business. The person who is sincerely interested in hearing someone’s religious or political beliefs without getting irritated -- These people have a fluidity about them, and when things unfold in a way that is unexpected they don’t totally freak out! They are not ridged in their expectations of others or of themselves, and they go with the flow even when they are pushed outside the comfort zone.
This is the flexibility of the mind that I hope to cultivate through my yoga practice. But how? The body is a great tool for accessing deeper understanding of my mind. As you move and breathe through your physical yoga practice on the mat, trust that it flows deeper than what you see on the surface.
Here are some things to think about when working on flexibility...
It’s not about forcing your body into a particular shape. Your pose does not need to look exactly like your teacher's pose (or anyone's pose for that matter!). It all about relaxing into the asana while being mindful of your body’s limitations. Take deep breaths and work a comfortable edge without strain.
Let go of the things that are holding you back. Notice where you feel physical tension or resistance and try to consciously soften those trouble spots. Same goes with tension in the mind. Let go of any thoughts, beliefs, or opinions that are doing you a disservice. Let them go, even if it’s just for the moment. Using your exhale is a great tool in letting go. As you release the out breath, release anything that is not serving you in the moment.
Give it time
The beauty of the yoga practice is that the work and discovery is never finished. Don’t be in a rush to see results. The goal oriented mindset like “I want to touch my toes,” can lead to injuries, set backs, and frustration. Try to stay in the moment and experience one sensation at a time. If you keep practicing, flexibility is inevitable.
I hope this helps bring you into a place where you feel less ridged both in your body and in your internal world. Remember: Don't force, let go, and give it time. No one ever said you had to touch your toes in order to gain enlightenment!
(Mind Body Fitness is offering a Buy 2 get 1 Free deal this month on private yoga sessions. Email us to learn more.)