If you look for examples of yoga poses online, you’ll often find tall, lanky people contorting themselves into all kinds of artistic positions. It can be discouraging if you’re just starting out in yoga or consider starting it due to some physical issues. It can look like yoga is only for the very flexible, very strong, or very lean and not for someone who has tightness, pain, and soreness that prevents them from getting a full range of motion in poses.
The truth is that most of these people are presenting an image of yoga that isn’t really realistic for a number of reasons and that’s important to keep in mind if you feel tempted to measure yourself by them.
For one, most of these people are athletes coming from disciplines other than yoga, like gymnastics and dance. A great deal of their strength and flexibility comes with them from those disciplines. Another factor which likely led them to those disciplines and yoga is that they are gifted with an anatomy that is NOT average. Some of the positions they show require not just years of practice, but also specific anatomical measurements that they were gifted at birth with. Other people may never be able to reach certain poses because their very bones won’t allow that much mobility in joints. There is a lot of variation in anatomy and these folks often wound up with a specific combination that allows them to do what others may not no matter how much they practice.
In addition, some of what they show, while it may be beautiful art, aren’t yoga poses at all, but rather poses used in gymnastics or dance. Where they do show yoga poses, they are often the most extreme variations that might not even be safe for others to practice or can only be held for brief periods of time safely. I still like these pictures as art, but I don’t look at them as a goal or anything I want to do.
As I learn and grow in my own yoga practice, I realize more and more that the measure of a pose is not really what it looks like or how “far” I get into a pose, but the effect the pose has on my body and mind. Sometimes, easing back in a pose actually brings me closer to my goals, even if it looks like I’m not going as far as I could another time. It’s not about what my pose looks like compared to anyone else’s, but about how my pose feels in my own body and how my practice feels in my own mind.
It’s ironic that a practice that is all about going inward and tuning in to our own unique bodies is marketed so much about outward appearances, about the right yoga pants or the perfect pose. Really, it doesn’t matter what you look like when you do yoga as long as it is benefitting you and helping you feel more free in your body and mind.