Yoga for flexibility
Are you flexible enough to do yoga?
If you answered yes, you probably know that yoga is more than simple postures done on a mat to look and feel good in this temple that we inhabit for a short while.
The most common excuse a yoga teacher hears is that ‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.’ There are some great responses by teachers that I’ve heard over the years.
‘Neither was I when I started.’
‘You don’t go to Spanish class because you’re fluent in Spanish already.’
‘You’re right, stay at home.’
Often times what the student (or potential student) is referring to is tight hamstrings. The inability to touch their toes.
If you were to look at a yoga class, inside students are twisting, extending forward and touching their toes, placing their leg behind their head, bending over backwards, balancing on their arms or on one leg.
For these people the excuse, ‘I’m not flexible enough’ is as foreign to them as the mindset they left behind once they started practicing.
Inside that world is a whole other conversation.
My guess is that you would probably like to be having that conversation. You would like to be like them.
That’s not an impossibility. You can be like them. You can be your own version of flexibility and it’s not as far off as you think.
The Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series is about moving forward. Moving forward into your best possible self; healthy, flexible in mind and body, and strong.
The muscle groups that primary series targets are the hamstrings, abs, chest & shoulders. The muscle group that most people use as an excuse and hold themselves back from trying a yoga class, tight hamstrings.
The standing sequence and standing asana’s of primary series lengthen the hamstrings, among other things. By activating the quadriceps and drawing the kneecap back towards the hip and away from the foot this action allows the hamstrings to stretch and over time toes can be touched. OVER TIME.
When I started practicing chow chow flow classes* I liked Warrior 2 because it reminded me of surfing, and it didn’t require me to touch my toes. In forward folds, I rounded my back and bent my knees. I looked and felt like a hunchback. I didn’t think my legs were supposed to hurt that much from stretching. Stretching was supposed to make me feel good, right?
That little bit of hurt felt good, like I was doing something beneficial for my body. But after weeks( a couple months) of practice I was no where closer to touching my toes.
All too often we are impatient with ourselves and try to rush things, or rush into things. This is usually where we get hurt and learn a completely different lesson which I will talk about at another time, HEALING.
But what do you do if you are starting practice and hung up like I was with tight hamstrings and feel like you aren’t making any progress. Or not progressing as fast as you would like?
Practice with more intensity? Pay someone to be flexible for you? Let it take care of itself? Watch videos online? Read about it?
Practice . . . Practice . . . Practice. . .
Sometimes you need homework. Sometimes there can be a compliment to your asana practice. 90min of asana practice is not simply stretching. There is learning how to breathe, how to be soft, strong, gentle, firm, holding, letting go, twisting, opening, forgetting and remembering. 22.5 hours still remain in the day. 8 of those are usually spent at work, sitting or standing, making those hamstrings work and tighten up.
That not being fair to yourself if you think that 1.5 hours is enough to offset 8 hours and how many years of inflexibility + whatever workout activity you do/did before.
So what’s a guy/girl to do?
Fitness magazines are littered with the same re-work of the stretches in primary series only with different names, usually not Sanskrit. ‘Modified Hurdler Stretch’ “Reclining Hamstring Stretch’ etc. And there is zero guidance about how long to hold the posture, how far to pull yourself into it, and what if you get tired?
VAPARITA KARANI - (legs-up-the-wall-pose) sig. 10-20min QD
No blankets. No bolsters, sandbags, straps, only you and the wall . . . and the floor. 10-20 minutes a day. While laying back you can check Facebook, follow me on IG and like a picture or two. Read a book! Chances are you lay around for more than 20 minutes checking FB on your phone, why not put the time to good use. Lengthen your hamstrings.
At first you may not be able to bring your hips to the wall while keeping your low back off the ground. At first you legs may shake or feel like they are losing blood and you may want to get out of it. DON’T! Stick it out.
After a week you may see some results. Your hips may be closer to the wall, the shaking is less or takes longer until you feel the shaking. After 4 weeks improvement is there. After 6 months. Toes possible. Maybe more!
Reach out to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org