Friday, June 8, 2012

Willow and Oak

Students of Yoga generally fall into one of two body types: willow trees and oak trees.  The willow trees are either naturally flexible or have become exceptionally bendy as a result of dedicated training.  Oak trees are your very inflexible folk, who were born with a short, tight muscle structure, or have dedicated themselves to years of strength training without concern for flexibility training along the way.

There are some factors which influence your innate flexibility.  Some of them are out of your control, such as genetic factors, age, and how you have handled strength training and muscle building in the past.  Some factors you do have control over, such as how you handle strength training in the future.  It is true that some people are blessed with a naturally more flexible physical structure.  It is also true that muscles lose their elasticity as a person ages.  However, this does not mean that just because you were born with the genetic code of an oak tree that has already grown into an inflexible adult that you should give up or expect to become stiffer, tighter, and more gnarled as your life goes on.  You always have the choice to train your body for greater flexibility.  You can begin at any age or any fitness level and expect to experience success.

Oak trees should not compare themselves to willow trees.  They are not made of the same stuff.  Regardless of which you are, you should compare yourself only to yourself, and over time, you will be able to reach further and further.  One day you are looking in the mirror thinking, “I am an oak tree.  I was not made to bend,” and the next thing you know, you are looking in the mirror thinking, “Look at that beautiful willow tree! OH!  That’s me!” If you commit yourself to the practice and allow yourself the time you need, you can reach any goal.  Yoga is about the journey not the end result.  If you reach one goal, there will always be another beyond it, and that is a good thing.  Let a little pressure off yourself so that you can be part of your journey rather always distracted by wishing only for the goal.

Concerns about flexibility are some of the ones most commonly voiced among my students.  I will certainly touch on this subject frequently since my willows are always yearning for new ways to challenge their bendy nature, and my oaks are constantly bemoaning their inability to look like willows.  My continuing words of advice are first, Yoga is not a competition, and second, anyone can become more flexible without having to compromise strength or skeletal integrity.  It just takes practice.  Practice takes time.  Enjoy your time.


  1. So, can I be a willow with an oak core?

  2. Most of us did not choose to be a willow or an oak. We are what we are thanks to our physical structure, but it can be changed over time. Naturally you can choose to be anything at all that you like at the core of your being--rock, or even solid gold. I wasn't using the willow and oak tree metaphor to extend to any aspect of personal character, only to tightness and looseness of muscle fibers. I think everyone should be able to celebrate whatever they are, and that is the message I hope others will take away from this article. Be proud of who you are whether you are able to touch the floor in a forward bend or only touch your knees. :)