One of the most popular yoga myths is the belief that you need to be flexible before ever setting foot on a mat. The truth is, flexibility isn’t a prerequisite. In fact, a regular yoga practice will actually help you become more flexible over time. So, ignore the crazy pretzel poses on your social media feed and learn how yoga can benefit your physical and emotional health.
You have to start somewhere.
Studies indicate yoga can improve flexibility, as well as posture, balance, and strength. To better your posture, you have to practice sitting up straight. To get stronger, you must do strength training. The same is true for flexibility in yoga. It requires effort, and progress comes over time.
“After attending my first yoga class, I realized there were many individuals who weren’t as flexible as I thought they might be,” said Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. “As I continue my practice with yoga, I find myself becoming more flexible, and stronger in my body and mind.”
The physical practice of yoga works to lengthen and tone muscles through basic poses and stretching, according to Yo Yoga! Founder Rebecca Weible. Basically, you don’t become an expert on day one. “Yoga uses repetition to create flexibility,” Weible explains. “As your body becomes more supple, the poses build on each other and become deeper and more complex so you can continue to increase flexibility.”
Depending on your initial level of flexibility, use props, such as blocks, bolsters, or straps. These function as tools to support your body. They help you find more length in each posture to stretch your muscles.
It’s called a “practice” for good reason.
Yes, yoga can help you become more flexible—but you have to put in the time, says registered yoga teacher Amy Stephens. An occasional class may result in achy muscles and a good night’s sleep, but you won’t necessarily gain any long-term flexibility.
“People assume they need to be flexible because they see the end result of years of practice when they watch the teacher moving easily through the class or look at social media yogis doing intricate, deeply advanced poses,” notes Weible. “They don’t see the struggle and journey those yogis had from their first time on the mat to what they are seeing.”
Of course, flexibility is different for everyone, but yoga will absolutely help over time. Katy Brandt of Lotus Blooming Yoga suggests practice and patience. This will lead to “increased strength, balance, and flexibility for the student.” One study found that even doing one class a week can lead to better spine mobility and hamstring flexibility. A steady practice might also help you ward off injury, too.
Embrace your body build.
You might see other people doing a particular yoga pose and think, “I want to do that.” That’s a great goal. While regular yoga can certainly increase flexibility over time, your body structure will set your limits, to some degree.
“Many people believe you have to be flexible because they have been inundated with images of people in complicated yoga poses,” cautions Brandt. “Some people are naturally flexible and their limbs are proportioned to make those poses possible. Others are less flexible and may not be able to achieve the most complicated of poses.”
More flexibility can still be one of your fitness goals, as long as you pair it with strength and stability. For example, if you have tight muscles, then aim for more range of motion. If you’re naturally flexible, prioritize building endurance as well.
Remember yoga is more than touching your toes.
It’s normal to immediately picture someone doing a posture that requires insane flexibility, like putting your feet behind your head. But there’s much more to it. Yoga helps you practice mindfulness, learn how to listen to your body, and reduce stress, just to name a few.
“Each pose allows your body to sink, deeply stretching muscle fibers and loosening you up,” says Chase. “It takes time, but not as long as you may assume. Your body and mind simply have to make the connection. Start with a beginner class and then as you become stronger, transition to a more challenging class. There are all types of yoga, though. Try all different forms at a few studios to see which one ‘speaks’ to you most.”