Why we work on our physical flexibility in Yoga and the 3 ways we do it
Updated: Jul 29, 2020
Last post I wrote about the 2 main reasons we work on physical strength in Yoga. See below link if you haven't read:
Now onto flexibility.
Firstly, what is flexibility?
Flexibility is the range of motion in a joint or group of joints or the ability to move joints effectively through a complete range of motion.
So if we don't keep our body flexible, then our joints become less able to move freely and we start to feel stiff and less able to move our body and we can develope injuries.
We hear ourselves saying it don't we..."I feel really stiff today" or "my ....has started hurting, I don't know why".
Most of us lose flexibility as we go through life if we don't work at it, especially so as we get older.
Yoga targets 3 main areas that can help with our flexibility.
What is fascia?
Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds all our muscles, bones, blood vessels, nerve fibres and organs.
Over time mainly due to lack of movement or injury, fascia can become thickened and shortened causing muscle fibres for example to become inhibited.
Practising Yoga asanas (poses) improves the quality of this tissue and helps to keep it flexible allowing things to move freely and completely.
2. Stretch Reflex
What is the stretch reflex?
The stretch reflex is the automatic mechanism our body has to make sure we don't over stretch our muscles. It initiates muscle contraction on the opposing muscles to stop the stretch on the initial muscle.
In Yoga if you move carefully into a pose and hold for a prolonged period the stretch reflex will reduce its signalling and allow a release, thus allowing the muscle to stretch a little further. We always do this very mindfully.
3. Reciprocal inhibition
What is reciprocal inhibition?
Contracting 1 set of muscles which will cause the opposing muscles to relax.
All our joints have two opposing sets of muscles that work together.
When we practice our asanas in Yoga, when we are trying to stretch out one side of a limb, we contract the other side.
For example in a Standing Forward Bend, we contract the quads to help release the hamstrings.
Again a great way to encourage greater flexibility.
A little note:
Some students however are what we call hypermobile. This means that that their joints have more movement than normal.
In this case it is important to work particularly on strength to get that balance that our bodies crave and to avoid injuries.
Yoga is always about creating that balance, and in this case balance between strength and flexibility.
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