Since I began teaching yoga just about a year ago, I have heard comments from several students about my level of flexibility.
“How do you do that?”
“I could never do that.”
My response is always the same: to be this flexible is both a blessing and a curse.
My physical flexibility is partly due to a consistent yoga practice, but much of what people have commented on are things that my body can do naturally. Open hips, open shoulders, backbends. This past weekend I even got a comment about how far I can flex my toes back towards my face.
While this level of flexibility may give me the ability to get into impressive or even intimidating – looking yoga poses, I cannot emphasis the downside of this enough: that being this flexible means very often missing the point of building strength.
Because my body can so easily splay out and be open, I can very easily miss the point of a stretch where the challenge lies. I was unaware that I was doing this so unconsciously until I deepened my understanding of my practice in yoga teacher training. After this experience, I finally understood that I was going so deep into poses simply because my body could do it easily. And in doing this, I had missed out on years of building strength.
And the real kicker that I have learned through this is that every point I’ve made about being too flexible physically translates perfectly into what it means to be too flexible emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well.
Yoga, or any other form of mindful movement, can be a gateway to understanding that our physical states often directly mirror what is going on with us internally. Even after years of practice and becoming a yoga teacher myself, I am still susceptible to falling into patterns of taking the easy route in poses. Once I become aware of myself just sinking into a pose because it’s easy, I realize I need to reflect on how I have been handling life otherwise.
I have a personality type that tends towards people-pleasing, not being a burden on others, and perfectionism. This means that I can tend to overextend, overreach, and be downright too flexible in an attempt to accommodate others, or to keep from rocking the boat.
Lately, I have felt weak in every sense of the word. My body has been hurting, my emotions have been drained, my spirit and mind have been tired. Recognizing that I have not felt strong physically was the first indicator that allowed me to really make sense of the weakness that I was feeling in other realms. And, on the bright side, remembering that I know how to build strength physically if I am present and intentional with my movements, I can likewise build strength in other places that it is needed.
Today, I feel physically strong for the first time in weeks, perhaps even months. I had to slow myself way down when exercising over the past few days to get here. Slow, slow, slow movements…intended to engage those basic muscles that we need to breathe well and to hold ourselves upright in a proud and confident posture. A posture that embodies the ability to face challenges from a grounded, sturdy place. A posture that knows how to balance flexibility and strength – a balance that I am constantly learning.
If you have a body that can open up easily, perhaps this is an invitation to reflect on how flexible you are in other areas of life, and if this has meant missing the point of building strength at any point. And if you have a body that doesn’t go quite as deep into squats or backbends, know that such flexibility can be both a blessing and a curse to those who possess it. No matter what kind of body you are in, I wish you the ability to balance between flexibility and strength.