By Rebekah Conrad

When I was in my 20s, I couldn’t touch my toes.

While sitting uncomfortably on the floor of a meditation class, I concluded that if I wanted peace of mind (at my ripe old age), I better accept inflexibility as a fact of life and move on.

When the teacher questioned my discomfort and suggested I try yoga, I laughed and told him there was no way. How could I possibly attempt that bendy practice? He wisely explained…“Rebekah, that’s exactly why you NEED to do yoga!”

A lightbulb went on. I had mistakenly eyed limber bodies through the glass wall of my gym believing that THAT was the requirement for a yoga practice. My self-limiting beliefs had literally kept me stuck in my body. To top it off, I had had scoliosis since age 13 and really needed to relieve the back pain caused by my misaligned spine and the hours of sitting at a desk all day.

I signed up for a vinyasa yoga class at a small studio where I lived in NJ and nearly fell on my face during my first attempt at a yoga pushup (chaturanga). Surprisingly, within the first three classes I not only felt a heightened sense of peace, calm, and relief from back pain, I could also reach my toes!

As a yoga teacher today, I would never say that flexibility is the “goal” of a yoga practice, but who are we kidding? If you’re tired of suffering in your physical body, you might as well find a way to enjoy living in it more.

Whether you can touch your toes, or you can barely reach above your knee, yoga can work to alleviate pain, stress, and a whole slew of health issues. And you don’t have to be in your 20s to feel the difference. Many of my students are now 55+ and report marked improvements in range of motion, back pain, blood pressure (to the shock of one student’s doctor), and alleviation of unrelenting fibromyalgia or arthritis pain.

My advice to anyone just beginning a yoga practice? Start slowly and have realistic expectations for yourself. Try different classes until you find a teacher and a style that’s right for you. A faster-paced flow may be appropriate for one person, chair yoga perfect for another. One format is not better or worse…it’s about practicing within the integrity of your own body. While you’re at it, you might find you LOVE living in it more!