Being bendier won't make you a better person

By Indira Das-Gupta

I can touch my toes! Where's my medal then?

Revelations about my own past insecurities in my previous blog certainly seemed to resonate with you so in the same spirit off openess, I’ll let you into another secret: sometimes I feel inadequate in Yoga classes too. Yes I qualified over 14 years ago and teaching Yoga has been my only job for over 8 years, but even now when I participate in public classes as a student rather than a teacher I still occasionally get a bit of imposter syndrome.

Recently I took an online course with a well known Yoga teacher as part of my own self development. Luckily with online classes there is much less chance of comparison-itis, and you can always join without video. But even so there were a few times where I thought: “I’m not bendy/strong enough/fit enough.”

To some people this might seem ridiculous and yes of course I’m probably more flexible than the average person who doesn’t do Yoga, gymnastics or dance (unless you count dancing round my kitchen). But by Yoga teacher standards the fact is that I’m really not that bendy. I can’t do the splits, standing or otherwise, I can’t get my hands flat on the floor or my head on my shins in Uttansana (standing forward fold with feet together) and I can’t get my head on the floor in prasarita padottanasana (standing forward fold with legs wide). Could I achieve these things if I tried really, really, really hard and practised for 4 hours a day every day? I don’t think so. My anatomy does not lend itself towards extreme hip extension poses such as the splits. It’s possible I could make get my head to my shins in Uttanasana if I made it my life’s work but:

  1. I don’t have the time to practice 4 hours a day

  2. I don’t believe that achieving this would add to my quality of life or make me a better teacher.

Pre pandemic there were numerous times where I would attend a class or a teacher training course and realise that I was among the least flexible in attendance or that my repertoire of “impressive” poses was very limited. Of course, I’m only human and nobody enjoys the feeling of being somehow inferior to their peers. But when these feelings of inaedquacy surface, I just give myself a stern talking to and remind myself that being different doesn’t mean being less than.

Would my ego enjoy being able to bust out some amazing arm balancing pose for my Instagram account? Er, yes! Would it get me more followers? Almost certainly. But I actually believe that the fact I can’t do these things makes me much more relatable and enables me to empathise better with my students. I’ve observed Beginners Yoga classes where an inexperienced and naturally flexible teacher has tried to teach sun salutations in the first lesson and then been genuinely flummoxed when people struggled. Being able to do something well and being able to teach something well require completely different skills. If you have never had to really figure out how you can get into a pose because it comes so easily, explaining it to someone else is going to be tough.

The truth is that Yoga attracts a certain kind of person, the kind of person who can do deep back bends and the splits on their first lesson. It’s much easier to stick to something that comes easily and of course it’s lovely to be praised. It takes much more tenacity and commitment to persevere when things are really challenging. Does someone deserve praise for just doing something that requires no effort or for something that they have had to really work hard at? One of my students I admire the most is a young girl who has medical condition which makes many poses really challenging. She never gives up and when she can’t do something, she just laughs, we could all learn from her.

Setting aside the fact that contrary to popular belief, Yoga is not just about becoming more flexible (that’s for my next post), many Yoga teachers are former dancers and/or started out with above average flexibility. In fact many are actually hyper mobile. Despite my inability to do the splits, there are certain poses which come much easier to me because I have an above average range of motion in certain joints such as my ankles and wrists. Downward dog has never been hard for me and I have always be able to get my heels down in this pose. You, dear reader could practice downward dog three times a week for three years and not be able to get your heels down. I don’t say this to gloat and make you feel like, “What’s the point?” But because I would love all my students to develop greater self acceptance.

We have to work with what we’ve got and accept that some things might never be possible for us. Accepting ourselves as we are doesn’t mean we are ruling out progress, but there may come a time where we have to accept that we won’t be able to go any further in a certain pose. My students know that I have a long standing hip injury on my right side. I actually kept this to myself for about 7 years! Why? Because my own baseless insecurities made me worry that I had to portray a certain image and that it would diminish me in my students’ eyes. While I would much rather be pain free, having this injury has forced me to adopt a much more mindful approach to my practice and my teaching, it’s also helped me to work on my my own levels of self acceptance. If anything, my experience has been that opening up about my limitations and past mistakes has made it easier for my students to do the same. Sometimes it’s almost as if we need permission from someone else to just go a bit easier on ourselves because we tend to be our now harshest critic.

So if you can’t get your heels on the floor in downward dog or do the splits or crow pose please know that you are not worth any less than someone who can. You are enough just as you are.


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