“So, you do yoga? I am not that flexible.” – What is yoga really for?”
Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.
— Yoga Sutra 1.2. Patanjali.(Translation by Georg Feuerstein)
The topic of yoga comes up in my daily conversations with people, sometimes with total strangers. When I share my passion for yoga practice and my vocation as a yoga teacher, I often get this comment, “So, you do yoga? I can never do that. I am not that flexible.” Does one need to be flexible to do yoga? What is yoga really for? Only people who can bend and twist? Or those who needs to develop flexibility and bodily balance? How about the mind? Especially when the body is injured?
When I met yoga in the mid 90s, I was definitely a lot more flexible and the Bikram style I was practicing encouraged me to exhibit my flexibility. Less than six months later, I pulled my right hamstring muscles but did not think to heal with yoga. I went on practicing with pain. In a sense, my early yoga practice was exhibitionist and it felt good because my ego was flattered. At the time, it did not occur to me that yoga could be or should be for people with limited mobility or compromised physical conditions…until I took my first Iyengar Yoga class.
In an Iyengar Yoga Class at the Houston Iyengar Yoga Studio, my body, not my ego, had a glimpse of what yoga could offer. I was in a standing forward-bending pose called Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose). My injured right leg, strangely not my left leg, was enamored with the following instruction: “Broaden and lengthen from the calf muscles to the heel, and also from the back of the knees to the sitz bones.” My injured hamstrings felt soothed, steady and even. My ego-mind was re-directed to work with the body analytically, trying to learn how to navigate the map of my body. My ego-mind was guided “inwards,” closer to my core, rather than toward the outer world.
A few years ago, when I sustained an ACL injury to my right knee due to a woman’s vanity (high heels that was), the wiser and more mature practitioner in me immediately recruited my learning and knowledge in Iyengar Yoga from the moment my orthopedic surgeon ordered physical therapy. Iyengar Yoga rescued my mind from fear when I first loosened my knee brace just to elevate my legs up on the wall. It has taught me to be compassionate to my body and how to facilitate a new relationship between my mind and my body. As a result, I regained my flexibility in my right knee within a couple of weeks to the surprise of my surgeon and physical therapist. In healing from an injury or a surgery, it is the body that has the first-hand intelligence. Such first-hand intelligence steadies the fluctuations of the mind and ego, allowing healing to take place. As B.K.S. Iyengar said, a beginner’s body is more intelligent because it feels everything! I was like a beginner again, happily.