No More Stretching in Yoga

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

A recent interaction via email between Helen and Bruce, organising a time to meet:

Helen: What time on Thursday?

Bruce: I'm flexible

Helen: Well that's handy, that you're flexible

Bruce: Indeed!

It got me thinking about our use of certain words. I must confess to an irritation when people describe yoga as "doing some stretches". I hear it often, and it grates on me. If we think of how these words are used in everyday parlance, if we describe ourselves as being a bit stretched at the moment we mean that we are overdoing things, that we're perhaps struggling to cope. I would hate to think that we're "a bit stretched" in our yoga classes.

Terms that we use in class might be "open", "extend", "lengthen", "broaden". None of these has that connotation of overdoing, of going beyond a limit. Instead, these words are inviting, they hold a promise of something not yet attained. Our aim in yoga is to measure what we do, and yes, to find something new, something spacious within us, but is it stretching? To extend oneself would be a good thing, to be open would be a good thing. To be stretched, not.

Part of what we're doing in yoga is noticing that small things make a difference. The choice of one word over another, while the two words might be synonymous, can set the tone for our understanding of yoga. So for me, I aspire to extending myself, not stretching myself in my yoga practice.