Often among yoga practitioners here in the West, there is an erroneous belief that becoming extraordinarily flexible in yoga postures is an objective or goal of the practice. First off, I have to point out that there are very few yogis in the West, strictly speaking. A true yogi is one who has forsaken the comforts of home, job, family, and all which brings attachment, comfort, and security. A true yogi is a renunciate who has dedicated their life to the spiritual path, meditation, devotions, and the like. Sound like anyone you know? Me neither. If anything, we are "householders" who integrate some of the best of what yoga has to offer, such as the postures and how they lend towards ones overall health, fitness, and well being. Second, I would also point out that we should hold no expectations on our yoga practice and certainly should not have particular "goals" we are striving towards. That is counter to the whole notion of yoga.
Now, back to my point. Extraordinary flexibility is not and should not be a goal or intention in ones practice. In my view, it's better to work towards ones ideal level of flexibility. In other words, it depends on your lifestyle, the kind of work you perform, the activities in which you engage, and how much flexibility you really need in order to live a healthy, pain-free life.
Let me give you an example, in fact, it's what got me thinking deeper about this topic in the first place. Recently, I was doing a trail run. If you have never done a trail run, and I mean an actual trail, not a nicely groomed path through the woods, then you should know that the terrain is constantly undulating. The footing is often uneven and you find that you have to negotiate tree roots, rocks, holes, and occasionally these obstacles are hidden by leaves or similar debris.
While on my trail run, there were a couple of instances where my footing was rather uneven and a time or two where my foot landed on a small, hidden root. As a result, my ankles would roll, at least slightly. This is where the insight appeared. If I were hyper-flexible, my ankle would have potentially rolled too much causing injury, a fall, and who knows what else. Essentially, a hyper-mobile joint is an unstable joint. An unstable joint is not something you want during a trail run. On the other hand, were my ankle structure too rigid, this could have resulted in serious damage to ligaments, tendon, or other connective tissue; commonly known as a "sprained", or "strained" ankle. So, a joint that lacks appropriate range of motion is not conducive to trail running either. As it were, my ankle rolled just enough, allowing me to navigate the root and continue on my way.
In the back of my mind I kept waiting for pain and swelling to set in or something like that. As it were, I realized that my training has delivered me just the right amount of joint mobility and stability to engage in the activities I love, and to do them at the level I enjoy. To me this was exciting insight. If you have been reading this blog from the onset, you know that a big point of what I'm doing here is testing the Project principles and how they translate into my running endeavors. So, you be the judge.
In my view, it's about finding the right degree of mobility for you, your life, the activities you engage in, and the life you live. If your lack of joint mobility restricts you in some fashion, then you have work to do on your yoga mat. Or, if you have joints that are too slack, you have some work to do in the gym to enhance your stability.
Finally, I'd like you to consider the fact that along with the health benefits of doing yoga postures, yoga poses are also oriented towards getting you to feel something. They are designed to create sensation within your body, to create an experience in which you are learning to relate. How you respond to these sensations and experiences is a major aspect of yoga posture training, and it reflects the conditioning of your mind. Thus, it isn't about becoming super-flexible, it's about feeling.
Thank you for reading. Here's to you finding just the right amount of tightness for yourself.