I can't touch my toes!
Are you sure? How did you get your socks on this morning?
Can I come to yoga because I can’t touch my toes? It’s a question I hear from (potential) new yoga beginners all the time. I really do know what you mean. You’re thinking of that instagram-perfect image of a slim, usually white, woman under 30 folded in two with legs locked straight and palms spread on the floor. She’s usually wearing teeny shorts and a tiny cropped top. I have to battle through these images to find something that represents the real people who come to my yoga classes. All ages. All shapes. All backgrounds.
Back to the touching your toes thing
There’s a quote.
Yoga isn’t about touching your toes, it’s what you learn on the way down that’s important.
We’re beginning to get closer to the heart of yoga practice. Or, at least closer to the way that I teach at Shanti Spirit Yoga.
I’m interested in a practice that’s useful to us as human beings. Sometimes I call it functional movement, but in reality, it’s bigger than just movement. What skills and habits will help you and me cope with stress? To help you sleep better? To relate better to those you love? What will help you move with strength and ease and grace – not just now, but long into your later years? This interests me. This is useful.
Let’s circle back to touching your toes. I like to take all my yoga practice back to ‘why?’ What’s the purpose of doing this? Is touching your toes a useful, functional activity? Yes. You need to wash and dry your feet. You need to look after your toe nails. You need to put on (and take off) socks and shoes. Reaching your feet is also a proxy measure. It means that you have the right amount of strength, balance and flexibility to get there and return to standing up again. The chain of tissues at the back of your body (including your hamstrings and spine) need be able to lengthen enough so tension or stiffness isn’t pulling you out of shape. That’s useful too. Getting shoes that slip on and off is actually cheating your body out of a regular functional movement practice. Now you know.
Do you need to touch your toes with legs locked straight? No. Your proportions or daily movement habits may mean that’s not the best place for your body. You might have just finished five hours weeding the garden and your body has had enough forward bending to last you for the whole week. And that’s ok with me.
The beauty of yoga is that it’s a lifelong practice. You don’t need to arrive at your first yoga class with a repertoire of instagram-perfect postures (or wearing shorts and cropped top – unless you really want to). You can build functional movement and useful skills from your very first yoga class so you’re still putting your own socks on when you’re 95.
These are skills that I still practice every single day. Sounds interesting? Come along to class and join me!