Looking at a fellow yoga student who is remarkably bendy, a woman asked me a fascinating question. “Is there a correlation between physical flexibility and having a flexible personality?” Hoping for a moment to gather my thoughts, I asked her to expand on her question. “Well, she seems so mellow and easy-going. I just wondered if that was part of the reason her muscles are so loose compared to mine.”
I smiled, partly because I understood at a deeply personal level what she was asking me. “Is my “Type A” personality one of the reasons I am still challenged in something as simple as a forward fold?” is a question I’ve asked myself a hundred times if I’ve asked it once. I was also smiling because I know the bendy woman very well and I know the journey of transformation on which life has taken her. Let’s just say, her lovely, mellow, easy-going persona is the product of a great deal of soul-searching and dedicated inner work.
Let’s start with personalities. The label “Type A” is a bit of a dumping ground for adjectives. Among them many are negative – controlling, driven and impatient. Often forgotten are some positive traits – orderly, organized, efficient, prompt. I often joke that, as a result of my yoga practice, I’m a “recovering” Type A. This is not wholly true. Yoga has not changed (and will not) who I am. It has simply helped to draw me back to center when the more extreme aspects of my personality make my life uncomfortable.
For instance, I have released much of my need to control. I have managed to develop an admirable degree of patience. Yet I still consider myself an orderly, organized, efficient and prompt person. While still “Type A,” since I began practicing yoga, I am learning not to allow for my need for order or to be on time to make me panicky or stressed. When I tease that I’m in recovery, I’m saying that my priorities have shifted. I now seek centeredness, balance and comfort rather than control. All of us – “Type A,” “Type B,” or types I haven’t heard even of – can benefit from harmonizing transformation such as this.
On to physical flexibility. In my fifteen years of practicing, observing and teaching yoga, I have come to believe that genetics plays a tremendous role in flexibility. In my own case, my mom is bendy and my dad is decidedly not. My sister takes after my mom in this regard, while my brother and I take after my dad. To take it a step further, genetic flexibility seems to be pretty precise. My sister is flexible in exactly the same ways that my mother is – loose hamstrings and hips – while my brother and I struggle with the same tight areas that are hallmarks of my dad’s body. This theory has been validated nearly every time I have the opportunity to teach mothers and their children.
That said, given time and practice, yoga will change your body – specifically your flexibility. While I will probably never feel “bendy,” I can now (at least when I’m warmed up) palm the floor with straight legs in a forward fold. My brother, who chooses to run and bike rather than jump around on a yoga mat, is still challenged to touch his knees in the same position (which is about where I started). I know runners with such tight hips that they never thought they’d sit in lotus do so. I’ve taught people with vertigo, who never thought they’d be able to balance on one foot, do so. With slow and steady practice, patience and persistence, I’ve watched this practice help people with serious back issues, replaced joints and other debilitating injuries return to wholeness.
And there’s the key. With slow and steady practice, we change. With patience and persistence, we change. When we set aside our drive for specific goals and simply head out into the unknown that is our own possibility, we change. As a creek can create a canyon given enough time, this practice can change us quietly and yet dramatically. We will feel its changes inside and out. Not only that, but, given enough time, the changes we experience will quietly change the world around us.