As a yoga teacher, it becomes obvious that one of the primary reasons someone commences yoga classes is because they want to become “more flexible”. There are often “oo’s and ah’s” or envious sideways glances when a fellow student is easily able to place their face on their legs in a forward bend or tie their legs up in a sailors knot in a seated position.
In my experience I have been a witness to, and sufferer of, the myriad of injuries that can occur when either people are too flexible (hypermobility) or too eager to get their bodies to do what their bodies are just not ready to do.
The good news is that flexibility is not the be all and end all in yoga. In fact, you are at an advantage if you are not too flexible...particularly as a beginner. Many people have said to me “I can’t do yoga...I’m not flexible enough”. The truth is that yoga really attracts people who are naturally more flexible as they think it will be easier for them. However, hypermobility will often come at the expense of strength, and flexibility without strength is dangerous. My husband, Tony, has hypermobile joints. He began his yoga career being able to perform most of the yoga tricks in the book. I used to call him “the India rubber man”. But poor old Tony has “popped out” his elbow and his knee, and suffered numerous back issues because of his hypermobility. Now due to ligaments being over-stretched, he is prone to further injury, and must work hard to improve strength.
Increased body awareness is a more realistic goal of yoga. The increased body awareness we cultivate on the mat will ripple out into the rest of our lives making us more focused, calmer in a crisis, and feeling an improved sense of well being. Strength plays a more important part than flexibility in the physical aspect of the art of yoga. The postures we practice should be well aligned and practised “intelligently” so as to improve strength and focus. A good teacher will be able to assist you to get the most out of each pose according to where you are, ensuring you are safe and well aligned. Improved flexibility comes as a side-effect...it isn’t the goal.