I had a really interesting conversation today in class with one of my lovely regular ladies. Whilst we were all sitting wide-legged in Upavista Konasana she asked me if she would ever be able to go deeper into the posture. She asked if all postures were open to everyone or just some people, and she asked whether she would always feel limited because she felt her practice was not advancing. This particular lady has been practicing yoga for about 4 years and has been coming to my classes once a week for 2 months. My response to her was yes, your practice will advance and yes you can do any posture you set your mind to. The key to reaching new heights in yoga is practice. That's it. Very simple. Practice. Everyday if you can, every other day if every day is too much, every three days if every other day is too much, but just keep practicing.
I know it's easy to say this but I genuinely believe this to be the case. Yoga has been in my life since my teens but has truly taken centre stage in more recent years and my practice has improved by leaps and bounds simply by practicing. The more you practice, the better you get. I liken it to the tenacity of a child. I see my son, in particular, when he wants to achieve something new, whether it's handstands, making loom bands, whistling or winning at a DS game, he will keep at it and at it until he reaches where he wants to be. As adults we want things to come quickly. We forget we have to work for things and that things take time. Think back to school and learning languages for example. You spent 5 years just covering the basics in order to lay a really solid foundation for progressing with the language, same for any subject. Everything took time. As a child the time stretching out in front of us seems endless, as an adult perhaps we count the years too much and so we think we don't have time. In the fast-paced world we live in, everything happens now and so we want instant gratification.
We are not all going to be world-class gymnasts, of course some people come to yoga with a distinct advantage, many yoga teachers, for example, were once professional dancers or competitive gymnasts, so of course we can't compete with that. We start where we are, with what we have and work from there. Some people are naturally more 'able' in backbends, some more 'able' in forward bends. Some have more open shoulders to start with or more open hips. Wherever you are, start from there and layer on. Even if you can't touch your toes yet, you are still doing yoga if you need to rest your hands on your legs. It's not just yoga when your hands are on the floor. Your practice, however it comes, is already yoga.
Rethink your internal dialogue. Tell yourself you can achieve anything, don't tell yourself "I can't". Replace "I can't" with "I can and I will". This is the approach I take. For myself I think I came to yoga with a degree of natural flexibility (although perhaps this was from having practiced yoga in my teens), particularly through the hips but I have seen my practice deepen considerably more through regular classes, home practice and now teaching. My hamstrings were quite flexible to start with but I have felt them open up much further through yoga and I know they will open much more. I have little goals I work on constantly. Hanumanasana (or the splits) is one such posture I have been working on constantly. I remembered being able to do them as a child and figured my body must remember it used to do them, so I worked at it constantly until I achieved it. There is still a long way to go because there are always ways to deepen postures still further, but I am down and it's a wonderful sense of achievement. I have also been plugging away at Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand) for months now, again remembering that I spent half my childhood upside down, and while the progress is slow there is progress. I am up, my arms are stronger, I can float up a little slower than when I started and can even balance away from the wall for a couple of seconds. A vast improvement on where I was initially and every time I practice I feel myself getting stronger and closer to where I want to be. I'm not 100% there yet, but I know I will get there eventually.
Set yourself a goal, a posture you really want to achieve and work on it as much as you can! Make sure you warm up properly, Surya Namaskara, sun salutations, are always a great way to warm up, add in side bends and a twist for a full practice and work on whatever posture you feel is defeating you. Tell yourself you will achieve it, work with your body, not against it. Use your breath to help you, release into postures with the exhale, allow gravity to help you where need be, but know in your mind it is only time and practice that separates you from your goal.