Wednesday musings, 10/19/16: on flexibility and strength

I have never been terribly flexible. In fact, when I taught yoga regularly, I often felt like the least bendy person in the room, which as the teacher was sort of funny and made me feel slightly inadequate, as though flexibility were the hallmark of good yoga teaching. 

In the last 16 months, I have gained significant flexibility, more flexibility than I would have ever thought possible for my body and my personality type. I have been able to attain this not through stretching, but by following these basic principles:

  • I have a weekly somatic practice that teaches me how to soften, rather than force, movement.
  • Instead of sitting in a stretch, I do something. I am active, I work on lifting a foot or closing the gap between my hip and stomach. I find the work and I focus on an external cue, rather than on what I’m stretching.
  • I do the same shape in different positions. Standing, supine, seated, on yoga blocks… It makes the shape more of an exploration and keeps me mentally engaged.
  • I learned how to isolate joints. This is critical for overall mobility.
  • I made it a practice. Rather than gut through a sequence of poses that were supposed to magically make me more flexible, I work on poses and movements that will allow me to access joint motions necessary to make that shape. For instance, I work on the front splits twice a week. Before moving into the splits, I warm-up my hip flexion, hip extension, ankle dorsiflexion, and ankle plantar flexion. It takes 5-8 minutes and makes my splits work much more enjoyable. 
  • I use my mobility. This keeps me strong and integrated, rather than overstretched with a sense of instability.

If you think you need to stretch because you are “tight” remember, tightness is a sensation that can be caused from many factors, not all of which are caused by a tight muscle. Ask yourself why you want more mobility, and don’t limit yourself to stretching in order to achieve it. Instead of seeking looseness, find ease and strength.