Most of us assume that lean, flexible bodies are ideal for yoga. Many yoga magazines and websites are filled with images of lovely yogis and yoginis bending and twisting into challenging yoga postures. Though flexible people may have an easier time getting into many yoga poses, flexibility is only one part of the physical side of yoga. As much as some may envy flexible yogis, flexibility comes with its own set of challenges.
Flexibility is only one of several physical traits that we strive to develop and improve through yoga. Strength, stamina and balance are all equally important. If someone has the flexibility to get into a yoga asana, but not the strength or stamina to stay there, or if they fall over from lack of balance, then their flexibility has not served them very well.
Yoga students that are flexible at the expense of these other traits need to work less on flexibility and more on the other basics. The allure of being able to get into poses easily makes it easy to ignore the other physical aspects, but doing so does nothing to improve one’s yoga practice. Ultimately, it will lead to other problems.
Flexible yogis are often said to be at greater risk of injury, both short and long term. Hypermobile joints can easily overextend associated ligaments and tendons. Moving too far into a pose too quickly can cause strains or tears. Perhaps, more serious is the danger of chronic overstretching. When ligaments are stretched too far on a regular basis, they can become loose, causing instability in the adjacent joint. Knee problems or hip problems, for example, may develop further down the road.
Less flexible yogis are less likely to suffer these kinds of injuries. While they may strain a muscle from overstretching, they are not so likely to develop chronic joint problems from hyper flexibility. If they do, they are ignoring feedback that their stiff bodies provide.
Aparigraha is the concept of non-possessiveness or non-attachment. We should not allow ourselves to become attached to the ideal of the glamorous, flexible yoga bodies we see in the media. Doing so takes us further away from the goals of yoga and from what our own bodies need to be healthy and able. Focusing on our needs from within, observing and adjusting our efforts in all aspects of yoga, will bring better results.
While those who are not naturally flexible may feel less well suited for yoga, the opposite is often the case. As they work toward becoming more flexible, they will have to work on all the physical aspects of their yoga practice. They may be better balanced as yogis in the long run. Flexibility without the strength to support it makes for a shaky yoga foundation.