Flexibility as a Yoga Benefit

Photo by Michele Venne

Unless we keep active, in a safe way, as we age, our bodies will become less flexible. Less flexibility in our physical bodies leads to injuries. More injuries later in life take longer to heal. The longer it takes, the more we’re unable to continue participating in activities we enjoy. Less enjoyment can begin a downward spiral into depression, which then feeds into inactivity even once an injury is healed, and around we go.

Physicians will often recommend older patients try yoga. It’s seen as “gentle stretching”. If that’s what gets people onto the mat and in a studio, then that’s a fine place to begin. Those who have practiced yoga know that there’s so much more than “stretching”. And if you’ve taken a power yoga class or vinyasa class, you would agree that not all classes are “gentle stretching”! But it’s a place to begin.

On the mat, we’re asked to move body parts around and see how it feels. Being in the body is new for many people. This shift in focus from following the myriad thoughts the mind churns up to paying attention to how the hamstrings feel, what balance is like today, the tightness of the shoulders, or the softness of one’s core requires flexibility. There are some who never return after their first class. Others leave the studio in a daze and wonder when they can make the next class. It becomes like an addiction, this shift from thoughts to body. We realize how exhausted constant thinking makes us, so we crave the chance to stop thinking and to just feel.

A little while longer, and the words the instructor shares at the beginning and during the class encourage students to be flexible in their thinking. First the body—this physical piece we lumber around in—gets the benefit of a regular yoga practice by juicing the joints, lengthening and strengthening muscles, improving balance, engaging the core, sleeping better, and feeling lighter. Then the student learns that the mind will do its thing, but they don’t have to be a slave to every thought. They learn to become flexible in their thinking. This opens the door to approaching unpleasant circumstances in life with an ability to create solutions and handle events with more ease and peace.