Flexibility is not a prerequisite for yoga, but it’s no wonder why many think so.
In honor of International Day of Yoga, celebrated today, and well, because yoga is a big part of my life, I decided to ask people what holds them back from taking part in the ancient practice. Over and over again I hear friends and family comment that they “aren’t flexible enough” to do it or have trouble concentrating. Everyone has their own preconceptions of what an activity may be, but I always try to tell people that yoga increases flexibility, but being flexible already is not by any means a requirement to do it. I wondered if most people had this idea or other common misconceptions.
Like most things I write about, I have my own opinion, and this one is super close to home because I also teach yoga. I feel that yoga can be accessible to anyone, and like most things, the longer you practice, the more it makes sense for you. So you may not be flexible to begin with, or ever even, but practicing will help that. Everyone’s practice is, and should be, personal. Yoga isn’t just people doing handstands on the beach or touching your knee to your nose (though Instagram may have you believe that). Yoga can be the simple practice of sitting for 5 minutes, trying to slow down your racing mind. Yoga is about responding, not reacting.
In mid-June, I asked 2,744 people What prevents you from practicing yoga? (Select all that apply)
The most common answer besides “Other” was I’m not flexible enough – 25% of people selected this. That was my hypothesis, so to speak, because I’ve heard it so often; I imagined a slew of people having this notion hold them back, and this confirms it could be a barrier for some. It’s really no wonder why. If you look at images depicting yoga or a studio, they can be intimidating. Not to mention yoga-driven social media accounts, in efforts to be inspirational and posting difficult advanced poses that are not accessible to the everyday person, can sometimes isolate those who are new to yoga. I’ve heard both men and women mention the “flexibility” thing to me, and our results show this answer choice was split for gender.
So, let’s break down the other answer choices:
I don’t have good enough balance – 15% of people. Sure, this one makes sense. But again, it’s one of the things that improves with time. These people are more likely to be women. That surprised me. Maybe it’s an intimidation thing? Group “sports” or activities such as yoga, or even going to the gym, can come with fear of what others may think. Also to note, 26% of those who were concerned about their balance are 65 or older.
I’m bad at meditating / shutting off my thoughts – 17% of people. Men are slightly more likely to say this prevents them from trying yoga. Coming in at the #2 spot for reasons people don’t practice, this one resonates with me. I’m not “good” at it either. In fact, I’d venture to say that most humans aren’t particularly stellar at this task. That’s why I do yoga. In fact, it’s probably the biggest reason. The biggest thing I try to remember daily is that yoga is a practice. It’s not perfection. I’m constantly thinking about the next thing on my to-do list, and I’m truly bad at not being busy. Taking a moment to breathe during a busy workday or a stressful situation is calming. Everyone could use a method to counter that flight or fight state our bodies go into as a response to stress. Yoga isn’t about being good at meditating – it’s about what you personally can do with it in your own life.
I’m not thin enough – 14% of people. These respondents are more likely to be women, and 18% of them spend 1-2 hours a day on social media. Again, it’s no wonder some may think body size has something to do with yoga, given those who are top “yogalebrities” on social media are often thin, flexible, and go upside down like it’s nobody’s business. But they are probably the 1% here, and they also get paid to do yoga. It seems to me that when some of them become the image or the spokesperson for yoga, so to speak, it might all get lost in translation.
I’m not a spiritual person – 10% of people. Men were more likely to say they weren’t spiritual, and it prevented them from trying yoga. The majority of these respondents do not have children. Spirituality is a big part of yoga, sure, but it doesn’t have to be part of an individual’s practice. Maybe it’s cultivating more patience in your life, more downtime, or just a new way to exercise. If you don’t want the spiritual side, you don’t have to have it.
I sweat too much – Only 6% of people selected this. With the hot yoga craze this is fair. I’m becoming less and less of a fan of heated yoga studios myself. The heat comes from within as you get going, why add more? However, a little sweat never hurt anyone. But I could see if you are a heavy sweater, this may be a deal breaker. Some exercise for a chance to sweat though, so I wasn’t surprised that this answer was the least selected.
Other – 43% of people. Maybe these respondents just don’t want to do yoga and aren’t interested in the practice. That’s fine. Unsurprisingly, these respondents are more likely to be men. Though yoga’s origins come from many men in its beginning, fast forward hundreds of years and it has become a hugely female-driven industry. And I’m sure it especially appears that way to an outsider. But, of course, I believe yoga can be for anyone.
And the 10% who do yoga? They are much more likely to be women, live in the suburbs, and half of the people who do yoga don’t have children.
I am in no way saying that yoga and social media should stay separate or that there’s anything wrong with doing a handstand and sharing it with your followers. I guess I’m just saying that perhaps yoga-related accounts – be it for teachers or studios – should think about how a certain post could welcome or intimidate those who are new to the practice. Sometimes the unknown is the scariest in life. And the results show that what holds many back from practicing yoga could be directly worsened or caused by said social media posts.
So maybe you’re one who thinks you aren’t flexible in your body, but what about in your mind? If you ever wanted to try yoga, or ever even wondered about it, go try! Practice. Don’t take my word for it alone, see for yourself. Oh, also, I can’t do a handstand. And for now, I’m okay with that.