Patanjali Never Said Anything About Limitless Flexibility

To outsiders yoga appears to be all about flexibility, but teacher Alexandria Crow says it’s so much more. (And yes, there is such a thing as too flexible.)

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Alexandria Crow Lizard Pose

To outsiders yoga appears to be all about flexibility, but teacher Alexandria Crow says it’s so much more. (And yes, there is such a thing as too flexible.)

It’s one of the first excuses I run across out in the world of people who don’t practice yoga. The conversation usually starts with someone asking what I do for a living. When I tell them I teach yoga, almost invariably the response is “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” I usually tell them it’s not about flexibility and that they should try it.

On the flip side: Many beginning yogis come to class because they are flexible be it from dance, gymnastics, or just a natural proclivity. And it’s no wonder. Western yoga’s focus on asana, the media’s representation of the practice, and even practitioners’ wow-worthy pose posts on social media sure do make it appear to be about flexibility—and oftentimes of to unbridled limitless extreme. But Patanjali never said yoga was about flexibility and he certainly didn’t define asana as limitless flexibility.

See also Patanjali Never Said Anything About Yoga Selfies

There Is No Flexibility Without Stability

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali calls asana a pairing of effort and ease, or effort and release (there are many translations). He’s trying to point out is that life is full of seemingly opposing experiences. Besides effort and ease, there is pleasure and pain, day and night, loss and gain, like and dislike, the list is endless.

Next, he mentions that when those seemingly opposing experiences are paired together in the moment in asana, the practitioner learns that they are actually one in the same. That is, both experiences are impermanent and both will pass.

For any experience to exist, though, there must be an opposite or contrast to it for our minds to hold on to. Think about that. There would be no black without white, no day without night. There wouldn’t be flexibility without contrasting stability.

See also Patanjali Never Said Practice Is Optional

There Is Such a Thing As Too Flexible

Limitless flexibility without balanced strength and stability ignores the need for the duality to exist. Just as the tighter, more stable yoga student must learn to become more flexible, the already-flexible student must work to increase strength and stability. Yoga teachers would never encourage a student to become so strong that they eliminated all range of motion in their joints. And likewise, I believe teachers must wisely teach students that there is a limit to beneficial flexibility.

Take a rubber band for example. A new one is stretchy and can extend a lot, but still strong enough to hold whatever it’s wrapped around. But the more you stretch and use a rubber band, the less strong it gets. Over time it’s stretched out so much that it’s rendered useless. Same goes for muscles. While most people could stand to lengthen their hamstrings and glutes, there is a limit to how far is wise. At a certain point, your muscles stop being strong enough to hold your skeleton in proper alignment. The result: injuries galore.

Yoga is not all about flexibility. It’s about about balancing it with stability. Can’t touch your toes? You can become the person with your face on your shins one day if you put the effort into it. But if you don’t maintain your strength, you end up leaning too far to one extreme without the contrast necessary in life for it to be an experience at all.

See also What Science Can Teach Us About Flexibility


Alexandria Crow

Alexandria Crow yoga teacher

The practice of yoga has taught Alexandria Crow how to approach life with open eyes and a fearless attitude–a discovery she hopes to pass onto her students. She guides them step by step through creative sequences providing all of the components needed for individual success. By teaching not only alignment but also how to pay attention to what is going on in the body and mind in each moment, Alex teaches her students how to bring greater awareness to everything they do.

Catch up with her on:
Twitter: @AlexandriaCrow
Instagram: @alexandriacrowyoga
Facebook: @alexandria.crow

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