Did you hear the one about the woman who longed for the perfect manicure and yet could not stop biting her nails? Her friend recommended yoga. A short while later this friend congratulated her on her beautiful manicure, pleased that yoga had helped. “It certainly did!” the woman replied; “Now I am biting my toe nails instead!”
Okay, so that joke is not so funny and a tad bit gross. But it does serve to illustrate my point – yoga makes you physically flexible (big toe to mouth is no small feat) and mentally flexible or in other words adaptable (she might have cheated a bit, but she did get the perfect manicure and ladies, we know how important that is!)
We are all born flexible. Pull out an old photo album and you will probably find an adorable baby photo of yourself lying on your back with your legs stuck up in the air. Maybe you are even sucking a toe. This pose is actually an asana (minus the toe sucking) referred to as ananda balasana or happy baby pose. How cute is that!
This is no coincidence as many asanas are inspired by the movements of young children and animals. The reason being that through the practice of Yoga, we wish to return our bodies to a more youthful and healthier state.
Those dreaded wrinkles
As we age our bodies loose moisture and our muscles become tighter and shorter. In fact, by the time we are adults our bodies have lost almost 15 per cent of its moisture. Disturbingly, this process is much like the process involved in turning animal skin into leather! This how we get those dreaded wrinkles! Stretching slows this process by elongating the muscles and stimulating the production of tissue lubricants.
Ageing is however only responsible for a part of the loss of elasticity in our muscles; much of it is caused by our lifestyles. Back when we were hunter-gatherers (thank God those days are over) we got enough daily exercise to keep our muscles flexible; but as our lives get more sedentary and we continue our love affair with the couch, our muscles begin to shorten from lack of use. Like a sulking child being dragged to school, they resist movement.
Now, perhaps some of you are saying, what’s the problem? I can still walk; I can still reach the cookie jar on the shelf. Flexibility is a little like car insurance - you don’t think about it until you bang your bumper and suddenly everything is twisted and broken.
First, flexibility affects our posture. Our muscles are attached to our bones and not only help us move, but also hold our skeletal structure in place. As the muscles shorten the bones begin to be pulled out of alignment. This can lead to postural imbalances – scoliosis, pain, and even deformities. Ouch, that sounds excruciating even as I write it.
Second, these tight, resisting, whiney-child muscles are now more prone to injuries, which a more flexible body would be able to avoid. Much like the bamboo in Zen teachings, a flexible body is strong and resilient.
“Then bend, do not break, such is the way with bamboo. It endures the stress and finds a way to bounce back!” The Zen Master stated. “This is called resilience.”
The third point we have already touched on above – lubrication. This is important not only for the tissues and skin (think leather!) but also for the joints. A lack of lubrication in our joints leads to pain, arthritis and osteoarthritis joint.
Flexy is sexy
Finally, let’s cut to the chase – Flexy is sexy. Whether you are rocking on the dance floor, strutting down the street in your new jeans, playing cricket with your children or fooling around between the sheets – the more flexible you are, the sexier you look. But most importantly the sexier you feel!
Guruji to all Ashtanga Yogis, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, was quoted as saying “Body is not stiff, mind is stiff.” As I dove deeper into the practice of Yoga, I realised that along with the physical flexibility that I gained, there was also a mental flexibility. Perhaps it was the uniqueness of yoga and the fact that I had to trust and accept the teachings of my guru or maybe doing a headstand literally softened my hard headedness!
I have never questioned this process, but I know that one day a small miracle happened and I found this ‘flexibility’ manifesting itself off the mat – I would allow the angry auto driver to overtake me, I wouldn’t throw a fit when my partner was delayed in traffic, I would go with my friend to watch Himesh Reshammiya indulge in his Nth on-screen kiss instead of insisting on the Brad Pitt movie. The latter is a miracle indeed!
(The writer is a former Miss India who traded a glamorous life in front of the camera for an adventure behind the camera, before finally finding her home on the Yoga mat. She has been practicing Yoga for over 10 years and teaching for the past 3 years. She still considers herself a student)