I've often found that people who are flexible are lacking in strength and vice versa. When it comes to yoga, you can use your flexibility to raise your strength, and your strength to work on your flexibility. The beauty of yoga lies in the fact that these things are closely related and we must find a balance between them.
When stretching, remember to relax the muscle you want to stretch and to use the ones around it to apply weight. Injuries often occur when the opposite is done: too much strain is placed on the muscle being stretched and all the other muscles are relaxed, which places too much tension on your ligaments. The only time you'll need to relax your entire body is after you have stretched.
Here's an example: somebody can push your leg up to your head, but once they let go, your leg falls. While you may have the flexibility to get it there, you lack the strength to keep it in place. It's not just about how much strength you can muster either, but also how well you can distribute it.
How Can Flexibility Improve Your Strength?
It's important to know that strength is about extending just as much as it is about squeezing; it's a Yin and Yang situation. When you squeeze your bicep, your triceps will loosen, when you extend your arm, your triceps will tense; stretching will help strengthen certain muscles.
Once you realize how to use your strength and flexibility, you'll understand how closely related they are. When you see an expert doing difficult poses, you will see that they don't seem to be placing too great a strain on their body. This is because they understand the balance and use it effectively.
People will ask to be taught poses that can help improve either strength or flexibility, but in yoga, you can't have one without the other. I always tell them that in order to do the poses correctly, there should be equal emphasis on both of these things.
What do you think? Are you more flexible than you are strong (or vice versa)? Or have you found the perfect balance between the two?
Image Credit / Yogini: Michelle Lou Lan