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Why "I can't do yoga I'm not bendy" makes me sad

The most common thing people say to me when they find out I have a yoga business is some variation of the above, usually accompanied by a nervous giggle - and honestly, it is one of the most upsetting things I hear.

Why? Because it is totally wrong. You absolutely do not need to be bendy to do yoga. Full stop.

The reason for this misconception comes down to a couple of things...

1) The media image of yoga - everything you see yoga related on TV or social media frequently is very complex poses (asana practice)

2) The glamorisation of excessive flexibility in some studios & by teachers which actively excludes people with normal levels of flexibility.

You might not even be aware that excessive flexibility is even a thing - it really is. Hypermobility syndrome is a genetic spectrum disorder ranging from very mild to super severe.

Basically it affects collagen structures in the body, meaning ligaments, tendons and connective tissue isn't as rigid as it should be ultimately. It can be things like "double jointed", clumsiness (caused by not being sure of where your body is in space), easy bruising, digestive issues, joint dislocations and more. Is this something you want? No, probably not.

Sadly, in the yoga world it is reported that in any given class 80% of students have hypermobility to some degree or another. It is super common in the yoga world. Why? Well... see my two earlier points.

Praise for flexibility from teachers or being in a class environment where you're told to push and go further and harder and/or being adjusted into even deeper shapes creates and feeds the narrative that yoga is solely about flexibility.

If you are someone who is in that class, isn't getting this praise because you aren't hypermobile whilst seeing pretzel stuff being lauded - then actually you are probably going to feel pretty horrible.

If you take a different variation, you might even get called out for it and ridiculed (it happens. I’ve had it happen to me before now - I was recovering from whiplash and didn’t want to headstand. Totally wrong and awful to do this.) It might impact your self worth, push you into doing things that your body isn't ready for and hurt yourself never mind leaving you feeling awful. This 100% isn't yoga.

People then post pictures doing pretzel like shapes all over Instagram for external approval and without context often (which the algorithm loves)... And you can see why we have a problem - and why people assume they can't do yoga, when it would be amazing for them. The shapes on show and their experiences in class are far from “yoga is for people like me.”

It's a case of finding a teacher who stands for individuals and going against the norm and is able to offer levels and encourage exploration rather than perpetuating the cycle.

All of this might not sound too bad - but actually, it's super dangerous. Just today I hopped onto Instagram and a teacher I know who is hypermobile popped on stories to say she'd had to stop practicing completely because she had torn her labrum in her hip pushing too far.

You might think as teachers we are aware of this stuff, but it just isn't covered in Teacher Trainings. The requirement for anatomy and body training is lacking in many cases. To be fair - a lot of teachers also don't want to hear that their quest and focus on flexibility is damaging. Its triggering, and often, we don’t want to be critical about the lens others see our own practice through when we choose to share it on Instagram.

In the general population 10-20% roughly have hypermobility. So if you are someone who has to bend their knees to get your hands on the floor. I've got news for you - you are totally NORMAL. Someone like me who can do that cold with straight legs is abnormal*.

What really needs to happen is embodied, intelligent teaching. By offering lots of variation and ways of doing poses and the maximum not being the default option that creates a space for all bodies, flexible or not to experience yoga and get all of the wonderful benefits - mental resilience, enjoyment, physiological stress reduction to name a few.

Actually, as someone without hypermobility and normal healthy connective tissue, you have a real advantage. You'll be able to feel where your limbs are, your joints will be supported well, your strength will be a bit higher naturally.

So, don't let the fact you aren't flexible stop you. Please.


*Caveat here... anatomical normal is a defined range of movement in any joint. If you are outside of this (in excess or less than) you are classed as having an abnormal range. Even if it is your normal, its medically abnormal. Equally I'm not saying you are abnormal.

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