June 23, 2015

How to “Win” at Yoga.

feet rainbow

“You don’t have to touch your toes.”

The phrase might as well be my new mantra—I find I repeat it more often than anything else when I teach yoga classes lately.

When yoga newbies invariably tell me, “I can’t even touch my toes. Can I still do yoga?”

It honestly doesn’t matter if you can touch your toes. That’s not the point. You can definitely do yoga!

In trikonasana (triangle pose), when students throw alignment out the window to grab hold of that pesky big toe.

It doesn’t matter where your hand is, as long as you are finding alignment and opening!

When people strain their backs and hunch their shoulders to reach their feet in paschimottanasana (forward fold).

You don’t have to touch your toes. Really. Hold on to your legs, or use a strap—the point is to stretch!

As a wonderful teacher was fond of saying (in a delightful Scottish brogue), “The point is not to kiss your own a**hole!”

The point is not to touch your toes.

It’s not about results; it’s about process. After many, many years, I still can’t do the splits, but I get a great stretch every time I practice them, and maybe I make a little bit more progress. I can’t do a free-standing handstand, but every time I try against a wall I build that much more strength.

I don’t need to impress myself, and no one else is watching. (Really, don’t believe what anyone says, no one else is watching or judging us when we go to a yoga class. But if they are, we don’t need to know about it.)

It doesn’t matter if you actually touch your toes—reaching for them is what gives you the stretch, and grabbing on before you are ready is only putting your body more at risk for injury.

We are a results-oriented kind of culture, so it’s hard to convince people not to focus on tangible, highly visible markers of “success,” like touching toes. We go to Pilates to get toned abs, lift weights to get more definition and do yoga to touch our toes.


Wrong! We go to Pilates to be healthy, lift weights to be healthy, and do yoga to be healthy, happier, more mindful, stronger, or anything else. I am a firm believer that there is no wrong reason for wanting to do yoga; however, I believe even more firmly that there is no way to “win” at yoga.

There are no gold medals here; the only prize you can grab is your toes themselves. If that makes you happy, okay, but if you ignore your limits and endanger your body for the sake of an arbitrary measure of “yoga proficiency,” or if not being able to reach those damn toes is making you unhappy, maybe this mantra is for you:

It doesn’t matter if I touch my toes.

As you inhale:

It doesn’t matter.

As you exhale:

If I touch my toes.

Maybe the sentiment behind these words can extend to other areas of our lives, too. How we measure success is (at least partly) up to us. Process, not results. Growth, not achievement. Pushing limits, not breaking edges.

There are countless reasons a person might find their way into a yoga class. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be more flexible; in fact, it’s a good, and healthy, goal to have. But toes are just toes. You don’t have to touch them.

Not right away, maybe not for years, maybe just not today.

I will keep repeating it for as long as I have to: It doesn’t matter if you touch your toes. Be kind to yourself in yoga today, and let your toes come to you!




Relephant Read:

Touching the Toes: It Matters. 

Yoga Doesn’t Care: A Disclaimer that should be Posted in every Studio.



Author: Toby Israel

Editor: Renée P.

Photo: Flickr

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