I’m standing at the counter of the optometrist, as Sandra adjusts my glasses.
She’s fifty-ish, slim, and elegantly dressed in a gray suit skirt.
“So what do you do?” she asks.
“I own a yoga studio around the block.” I reply.
“Oh wow!” she gushes. “I’ve always wanted to do yoga, but I can’t do it.”
I head back to the studio with my new glasses in place, and ponder what Sandra just said to me. It’s not the first time that I’ve heard it. “I tried yoga, but I can’t do it.” or “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough.”
I once read a blog post where the author claimed that yoga classes did nothing to help our flexibility, but were just a place for people to go and show off how flexible they already are.
Some people think that that they are a fixed way—that there are “people who can do yoga” and “people who can’t do yoga” and that they are the latter.
When one of my students, Fred, comes to yoga class, he doesn’t see the asana practice as transformative, but rather as demonstrative: it doesn’t make him more flexible, it shows how flexible Fred is—which is a fixed, innate quality.
When Fred encounters the “stretch zone”—moving his body to a place that normally would not go, psychologically he experiences being outside of his comfort zone. Fred’s brain is saying at a base level: “Hang on—is this even safe? Am I in danger here?”
As a human being, like all other social creatures, Fred looks around to see what cues he can get from others as to how to interpret his brain’s signaling—“is danger present”? He looks over and sees Mary not only touching her toes, but with the soles of her feet on her head.
He makes a decision: “Yes, danger is present, for me. I can’t do yoga. I’m not flexible enough!”
And finally I get it. Resisting and trying to convince Sandra and Fred that they are wrong, that they can do yoga doesn’t work. Rather than one fixed, inflexible idea meeting another, I give way to it and send it on its way. Yoga for people who can’t do Yoga. Sure, why not?
So we created a Yoga On-Ramp class: “Yoga for People who Can’t do Yoga.”
It sounds ridiculous, if you are a hardcore yogi.
Of course there are no people who “can’t do yoga.”
And if there were, then they couldn’t do yoga, right? Well, Fred and Sandra are in the school of, “I can’t yoga”, and we have a class for them.
It’s about the psychological space of the stretch zone and the social space that they are in as they begin to explore it. We deliberately generate “safety” in the sequence, the dialog and the environment.
I remember receiving an email from one studio, where some teachers left because the temperature was “wrong” (you know who I’m talking about). I remember laughing at the time, and joking: “I thought yoga was supposed to make you flexible?”
I still haven’t gotten Sandra into the studio, but we have class just for her, when she’s ready.
Author: Joshua Wulf
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock