The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as saying, “The only constant in life is change,” putting the onus on you to either adapt or get left behind. In a time when it might feel like things are changing faster than you can keep up with (whether it’s relationships, technology, or politics), it’s vital that you learn how to remain open, curious, and flexible in all facets of life. Just like how a tree is likely to snap if it resists the wind rather than swaying with it, you can reduce your suffering and live a more enriched life if you invite more grace and less rigidity.
What Does “Flexibility” Mean to You?
You’re likely to think of a “flexible person” as someone who can put his/her leg behind his/her head, or who can easily touch his/her toes. After all, Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition of flexibility is “capable of being flexed.” However, flexibility is not limited to the physical body.
It also means to flow, yield, or to be “characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements.” Flexibility is a virtue.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you handle conflict or chaos?
- What do you do when things don’t go your way?
- Do you consider yourself easy to work with?
- Are you open to other people’s opinions and ideas?
Consider the following four ways you can look at flexibility, so that you can practice embracing it on every level of your being.
Emotional flexibility is the ability to recognize, release, and regulate your emotions in changing situations. Here’s how you can increase your emotional flexibility:
- Feel your feelings. John Bradshaw said, “We cannot heal what we cannot feel.” If you deny yourself the experience of feeling the full range of emotions, you are resisting part of your humanity. You know you’ve been emotionally inflexible if you refuse to feel unpleasant feelings, or if you find yourself pushing down deeper or more confusing emotions. When you feel your emotions, they pass. When you suppress them, they linger.
- Express your feelings. Sometimes therapy is necessary to express your emotions, and sometimes writing in a journal or allowing yourself to have a good cry can do a lot to free up emotional blockages. Let the feelings flow and you’ll feel the benefits in your personal and interpersonal lives.
Flexibility and emotions correlate to the second chakra (svadisthana), which resides in your hips and pelvis. A balanced chakra leads to better energetic flexibility. Here’s how you can increase your energetic flexibility.
- Connect to the water element. The second chakra is associated with the water element. By connecting to the water element, you can draw upon nature for inspiration by inviting more fluidity into your life. Try moving like the water, with softer edges. Practice breathing like water, noticing the ebb and flow of your in-breath and out-breath. Water is flexible, but it’s powerful. Sit beside or in a body of water, listen to water sounds, or do a water meditation to feel its energetic effects.
- Do something fun. The second chakra is also our pleasure center, so ask yourself, “What do I do for pleasure?” Do you allow yourself time to feel flow—a positive psychology term describing the feeling of being so completely immersed in an enjoyable activity, that time passes quickly? Getting creative about how you spend your free time is also a good sign of flexibility. In other words, try something new!
Mental flexibility is the ability to quickly adjust your thinking from one situation to the next. Here’s how you can increase your mental flexibility.
- Be open-minded. Flexibility in your convictions or thoughts isn’t the same as being a pushover. It is actually a sign of maturity when you’re able to consider other people’s ideas as well as your own. The world needs new ways of thinking, new ways of problem-solving, and new ways of living and working together. The positive evolution of the planet will only come about if you keep your roots firmly grounded, but open yourself up to consider inspiration from everyone and everything.
- Have faith. Letting go of logic in some cases can also help you to take action from a more evolved standpoint. When you trust that something bigger may be at work, you avoid devastation when things don’t go exactly as planned. Logic can only get you so far. Faith in divine interplay can open you up to greater and more meaningful life experiences.
- Add flexibility to your schedule. Are you stuck in your routine? While routine and ritual have wonderful benefits, be sure to have flexibility with your schedule, try new experiences, and consider the potential when you go without a plan. You might admit that some of the greatest blessings in your life so far were actually the result of an unexpected event or surprise.
While physical flexibility is just one component of your overall ability to adapt, it is a crucial one—hence the importance of the physical practice of yoga. Here’s how you can increase your physical flexibility.
- Practice free flow of movement. How do you move? What is the quality of your physical expression, regardless of the activity? Try to allow for free flow of movement—whether you are walking, running, swimming, biking, or doing yoga. Breathe more consciously while you move, and become more mindful of your tendencies.
- Practice yoga. Blocked emotions usually manifest in the body, resulting in stiffness, tightness, and physical rigidity. Mental stiffness undoubtedly causes stress, so the deep breathing practices and mental stillness you strive for on the mat can help you to unwind. Try these 5 yoga practices for increased flexibility:
1. Sun Salutations
Sun Salutations is usually a sequence of 12 poses. For a summary of each pose and accompanying images, read here. Pay attention to how you move from one pose to the next, and then allow your body to linger where it feels good.
2. Strengthen Your Core
Developing and maintaining core strength helps with postural alignment and greater ease with movement and flexibility. Here is a series of poses to help you strengthen your core .
3. Tight Hamstrings
Opening up the backs of your legs helps you to find greater physical flexibility, while testing your ability to surrender to strong sensations. Check out this sequence to help release tightness in your hamstrings.
4. Hip Openers
If you sit at a desk all day for work, you may experience tight hip muscles. Here is a collection of poses to release the tension in your hips.
5. Healthy Back
Stretching and strengthening your back can provide a greater range of movement and prevent injury and pain. Try this sequence of poses for developing a strong, healthier back.