The Question: I've been practicing for years now, but flexibility seems to be the only thing I'm not gaining. This is very discouraging because I know I'm strong enough for more advanced poses, I just can't physically put myself into them.
I mix up routines daily and try to do at least 30 minutes dedicated solely to flexibility—to no avail! Tips? Tricks? Just keep stretching? ~Rachel M.
Ahh, flexibility. I remember the first time I did yoga and I couldn’t even touch my toes. I was so used to muscling through everything, that I didn’t know how to be flowy or bendy or resilient.
It took time for me to learn exactly how to move my body in an intelligent way, instead of forcing my hamstrings into Hanumanasana when deep down I knew I wasn’t ready for it. I know a lot of people begin their yoga practice to become more flexible, and it makes a lot of sense. For some people, however, it’s not that simple.
There is a science to flexibility, a concept that I couldn’t even explain, but I’ll give you my two cents on the issue. Here are three major tips.
1. Take your time.
It’s plain and simple. The more you hyperextend, the more you reach to get to a certain spot, the more chance you have of injuring yourself. There’s no yoga police. You don’t need to “achieve” a specific pose by a specific time. Instead, listen to your body and treat it right.
2. Hold the poses for longer.
Holding your postures for an extended amount of time will undoubtedly help you get deeper into them. When we visit poses for only a second or two, we’re not giving our bodies enough time to adjust to the position. Take a Forrest yoga or Yin class, and notice how your body feels after holding poses for longer.
3. Don’t stretch when you’re not warm.
Doing any serious static stretching before doing any kind of warming up sequences isn’t the best thing for your muscles. The minute you sit on your mat, don’t get discouraged if you can’t go as deep as you have before. Do a few Sun Salutations and let your muscles heat up.
All in all, learn how to listen to what your body really needs. Bend your knees when you fold forward, back off when your muscles feel strained. Close your eyes and let your practice become more internal.
When you allow your mind to come to a place of deeper flexibility (i.e., not becoming frustrated when you don’t reach your desired destination), your body will follow.