The topic which has been at the forefront of my mind this week is how our body shapes and personal limitations can affect our yoga practice. Yoga is regularly given the reputation of being suitable for all people and body types and whilst this is wholeheartedly true (you can definitely find a form of yoga that will suit people from 0 – 100 years old) people can often take this too literally.
Many people expect their bodies to create the exact same shapes as the yogis plastered all over social media, yet this is often not possible. That is not to say that if you cannot do a handstand now, you will never do a handstand. Far from it. With dedication and practice, you can definitely achieve the impressive asana you see on the internet. But should we aim for the exact imitation of a pose? A perfect example of this is my relationship with Lotus Pose. Lotus pose is a posture I always associated with being a ‘proper’ yogi. Since my yoga journey started, it is an asana I always tried to achieve. I initially began yoga as a way to strengthen a chronic knee injury and whilst yoga has strengthened my knee beyond belief, the angle I have to draw it into for lotus pose, aggravates it and puts it under strain. Whilst I can ‘technically’ get myself into this asana now, it puts unwarranted strain on my knee. Rather than pushing myself to keep trying, I have learnt to listen to my body instead. Lotus pose, whilst easy for some, is not made for my body and that is ok. It does not make me any less of a yogi.
Every body is different and therefore every shape will be different. Hyper and Hypo mobility are one of the most common issues for yoga students and teachers. For those with hyper-mobility (where you have excess movement in the joints), you can often feel thrilled by how flexible you look when doing certain poses. Yet, if not approached with caution, people with hyper-mobility can start to put unwanted strain on their joints which, in turn, can lead to issues later in life. If you are someone who suffers from hyper-mobility therefore (I am one of those people!), it is important to draw yourself back in when in a pose which exacerbates these symptoms. For example, I am hyper-mobile in my elbows and shoulders, so when in downward dog, I micro bend my elbows to avoid putting unnecessary strain on my joints and activate more through the muscles within my shoulders and arms to keep me lifted. Hypo-mobility (reduced movement in a joint) is the opposite end of the spectrum and it is often harder to self-diagnose, especially if it is in the hips or the shoulders – areas of the body which most people suffer from tight muscles. Are you unable to move further because your muscles are stiff? Or is it your bones preventing you from progressing? Again, this is where it becomes incredibly important to really tune in and listen to your body. If you have compression within a joint, then there is little you can do about this. However, this should not been seen as a negative, but rather a positive. You now understand you body better and will be able to work around those areas, strengthening them and supporting them where needed. If you have been desperately trying to get yourself into box splits but can’t understand why you don’t seem to be moving past a certain point, perhaps it is because your hips simply won’t allow you to move any further because your bone is in the way!
Injuries, ailments, hyper and hypo – mobility are just some of the things which can ‘hinder’ a person’s quest for the perfect pose. The important thing is to not get lost in these Instagram worthy postures but to seek joy in the simple things. It is the journey and not the end goal which is important. Whilst yoga has made me stronger and has helped me recover from an injury that held me back from a lot of sports, it has also made me a happier and healthier person on the inside. Will getting into lotus pose help me reach enlightenment, or bring me more success?! Definitely not. If one day I find I can slip into this pose gracefully and with no discomfort, then yoga will have, yet again, helped me reach another stage. But even if I never reach that point, yoga has brought me so much more.
Yoga is fantastic because it gives you the tools to learn about parts of your body you may never have realised were there! Listening is the tricky part. So, let this be a gentle reminder. Your body is incredible. Take the time to listen to it and learn from it. Remind yourself that it can do numerous miraculous things but it may not be able to do all of them. And that’s OK.
To quote Bruno Mars; You are amazing, just the way you are…
N.B. If you are at all uncertain as to whether you do have hyper or hypo-mobility, go and see a physio or a doctor to find out for sure. It is always better to have a full understanding of you body’s capabilities as you move through life – or through yoga!