Flexibility and/or openness…We sometimes confuse these in Yoga, but also in other aspects in life. No, that is not to say that one is good and the other bad in any way. It is about learning and understanding, discovering, listening and reacting to any changes into our habitual patterns. Habitual patterns exist and they become very solid within us (sometimes solid as a brick wall or as a steel rope..) since we are very resistant to change. Yoga is one of the many ways to observe inwards, the needs of our body, soul, heart, cells…and that is how slowly we can move away from bad habitual patterns. Sometimes we even acknowledge bad habits but still resist the change due to fear, uncertainty. Amongst other qualities, openness of body and mind help to develop the inner strength, growth and answer to questions such as… What am I drawn to? what do I push away? Is my heart soft? Or there are walls built around it? what’s my relationship with vulnerability? in which level? By developing inner strength we can then distinguish the difference between being vulnerable and being open. I always come back to that principal: Our foundation needs to be strong..and then to open! Being open (thus potentially vulnerable) without understanding and strength, there is a danger of falling apart and face the ruins. Patanjali through the Yoga Sutras teaches Santosha (contentment) which is the one of the Niyamas (the relationship with ourselves). Cultivating Santosha, something which is interestingly very profound in you, we observe the values and choices in life. We might not always be happy with a result of an action; santosa reminds us to keep being ‘connected’ with life, being at peace with ourselves and be content irrespective of the situation. We can very easily practice santosa in the joyous and happy times of our lives, but we need to be willing to embrace the difficult moments also. It is about accepting a situation/a person/circumstances and its results, welcoming what we get. Travel through positive loops, give positive feedbacks, make sometimes an effort to generate real contentment. Smile! Smile, actually use your facial muscles and smile…It works! Inhale! Inhale to new energy and experience. Inhale to be open and receptive! So that you can comfortably Exhale whatever it doesn’t serve and is a burden to you. Peter Hersnack said that contentment has two aspects: to be content with what is (externally) because it allows me to live what I am….and to be content with what I am because it allows me to be with what is..Exploring this area of what makes you content and what’s not..what you are, what is etc..it makes you happy. It doesn’t make you happy just the fact that you can live with little. It is the life in you that carries you from inside and no matter how you feel, things just happen (strangely enough). If we trust that life energy that support us within, if we have the courage not to think that we have to be elsewhere, then contentment just happens.
In a yoga class setting as a student, I respect where my body is in space….relaxing into where my pose is right now and realising that this is perfect. And as a teacher, I respect my student’s space directing them towards finding santosha in their practice; finding space for it. In a yoga class, as well as in life, when we remain open in the midst of pain, we can understand what true openness is! Solid foundation protect from any kinds of injuries though…thing not to forget. This is the concept of Sthira (strength) and Sukham (comfort) for the postures from Patanjali. Finding the good space (sukham) within our efforts (sthira), the space that we feel at ease…And anything from the YS teachings we can bring these ideas in our relationships and everyday lives also. Finding this balance between what is sthira and what is sukham, between stability and mobility, between having the space that we need with people, but also be able to figure out our boundaries…True openness and expansion requires strength and vice versa. Within the open space that I talked about, there comes flexibility. However, especially in the yoga world, flexibility is just a camouflage for being closed off and contracted. We want to perform all these postures using the full range of motion of our joints, to perform them without sometimes listening to our needs or without drawing the line of when the push stops. It’s better obviously to draw that line intentionally and consciously rather our own body rebels and gets injured.
Leslie Kaminoff said: “The hardest thing for people who do yoga is when they are more on the flexible side and need to stop themselves before their body stops. To not push to your full range of motion, to set a boundary and respect it even though you know you could go further, is very hard to do emotionally and it’s very hard to do muscularly.”
In that case we need to cultivate more Sthira into our practice. Thinking of what we mean when we talk about flexibility, or a lack of it, to describe someone’s personality. In every day life, a lack of flexibility, such as adhering very rigidly to a schedule, or to an idea, or opinion, or even a life path, can narrow your horizons and you can’t enjoy other offering in this life. This tendency creates lots of stability, but little freedom. On the other hand, flowing randomly from one point of view to another, can leave you feeling burned out and confused. With a lack of flexibility, or ease of movement, we have few experiences and therefore a limited amount of information to learn and grow from in our lives. Without sufficient stability to provide the consistent reference point of a solid core, experiences are many, but they often remain at the level of mere stimulation. And again, no true expansion happens. The tapas (effort) with santosa (contentment) are required for svadhyaya (self study) to bear fruit, so effort with contentment. Moving inwards will enable us to observe ourselves, to listen what lies beneath. When we observe we come closer to something and in that sense we come closer to something within us. When we then listen to it then eventually we tune in to it and we become friends with what is. What is the truth for us.