Mindful awareness

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Many Meanings of Flexibility

People frequently comment on my flexibility. Often they refer to the way that my body can move and bend. Other times they refer to my attitude in accommodating unexpected obstacles and requests. I’ve found that life teaches each of us to be flexible. Often there is nothing else we can do but accommodate. Sometimes it is the weather, other times it is a business (especially an airline), and other times it is a significant other or colleague but each day we are required to veer off our planned course of action and be flexible and open to something else.

How willing I am to be flexible depends a lot on how committed I am to my original plan. But willing or not, I’ve got to budge. I believe that my yoga practice has helped me to be flexible – in both senses of the term. As I get on my mat and bend my body, opening hips, shoulders and hamstrings, I explore my flexibility both physically and mentally. I try to be open minded to what the asana (pose) will feel like during that particular practice. The same asana looks different from one day to the next. Even within the same day, my morning hanumanasana (monkey pose, or splits) and titibhasana (firefly) poses are never as deep as they are in the evening. But yoga practice teaches me to stay with the practice and accept the pose as it is at the time, regardless of the outcome.

Deciding to use yoga props is an example of using a flexible attitude to improve a flexible body. I might use a block one day although I didn’t use one the day before. Although the block itself accommodates physical flexibility, it takes flexibility of attitude to use a prop to experience the asana without ego interfering. For instance, it is easy to lapse into full-blown ego protection during a practice by telling myself “I can get into a full split without using a block so I won’t use one today”. But yoga has taught me that the practice of staying in the moment, using my breath to transition between and to stay in poses is what is important. Coming into an expression of any pose beyond what my body is willing to provide at that time has potential of straining a muscle or ligament, causing an injury. Repeatedly coming into an asana incorrectly or holding it with poor alignment because I haven’t prepared my body for the pose might make me prone to a painful and limiting tendonitis. None of these injuries is worth forcing a deeper expression of a pose than is available at the time. So it serves me well to be flexible in accepting the pose as it is available during that practice without expecting a certain expression of that pose.

Yoga practice requires that I stay with the process, without attachment to the outcome. This practice is important for proper alignment, awareness, and injury prevention on the mat and it also serves me well when life requires me to be flexible in attitude when I’m off the mat.

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