“Flexibility” of course! It’s a common misconception that you have to be flexible to take a yoga class. If you are naturally a noodle, you will find it easy to move yourself into some asanas (postures) but if you’re not then that’s fine too.
I am not naturally flexible. After years of working at a desk and training at the gym (or not training at the gym!), when I took my first yoga class I had the typical combination of tight hamstrings, tight quads and tight shoulders. I couldn’t understand how fellow students could find downwards facing dog restful, it was such hard work! So I have so much empathy with newcomers to yoga.
Over time, your body adapts to fit your life. If you play lots of sport, your muscles shorten to give you power and speed. If you sit for long periods, key postural muscles weaken and shorten. The cold of the long winter months seems to make all of this worse. Just as time tightens muscles, it takes time and practice to lengthen them.
Things you can do in yoga class if you are feeling inflexible:
1. Keep a small bend in the knees.
In any forward fold, including Adho Mukha Svanasana (downwards facing dog), if you have tight hamstrings, bend your knees a little. This has two benefits; firstly it takes pressure off hamstrings, secondly it takes pressure off the spine. Hamstrings must be treated gently, they take time to lengthen and if overstretched they can tear (ouch!). A slight bend in the knees will allow you to lengthen the spine, taking pressure off discs and helping shoulders to open.
2. Take a shoulder modification.
– If holding arms out wide in Virabhadrasa II (warrior II) introduces burning tension in the top shoulders and neck, take your hands to your hips.
– keep the arms wider than the shoulders or take ‘cactus arms’ in Wrksasana (tree pose) or Virabhadrasa I (warrior I) if shoulders are tense.
3. Use a block, a brick or a strap where offered.
Props help you to find correct alignment and the true benefits of the asana if inflexibility is holding you back.
4. Practise yoga or stretch regularly.
Muscles have to grow new cells to become longer and studies have shown that you need to stretch at least every three days to make a difference. With time, change happens.
Check in and notice if you are holding your breath. If you are, the chances are your body will be holding onto tension. Or maybe you are pushing into pain which is never a good place to be. Overstretched tissues do not become more flexible. Continually observe and keep the breath flowing during yoga practice.
P.S. Warm up on Saturday morning, the hall at St Michaels has a heated floor 🧘🏽♀️🧘🏽♀️🧘🏽♀️.