Is it possible to get stronger and more flexible with less effort? After many years of teaching Yoga-based movement, I’ve observed that some standard postures and exercises that seem very difficult for some people, might just to be due to a lack of form and/or technique.
In other words, it’s not necessarily a lack of physical ability or potential. Rather, it’s something that could improve drastically just by regaining some body awareness.
Consistent Yoga can certainly rectify this – unless of course, a person has reached a certain point in their life where the damage done to their body is irreparable. Yoga also improves range of movement, focus, performance and many other physical and physiological health markers.
Want More Energy?
We all want more energy! But lack of form and somatic awareness means precious energy gets wasted. This is especially so when we tense muscles out of habit for no particular reason. And of course, we are all at the mercy of gravity, so if we do not make the effort to lengthen and strengthen, we are essentially squashing our joint spaces as we go about our day.
The point is, when we exercise without paying attention to form, we have to work two or three times as hard in order to get the same result.
Breath, Posture & Tension
Lack of strength and flexibility can be linked to habitual breathing patterns and posture as well an inability to connect movement with the breath. Other times, feeling weakness in particular areas can be due to inefficient weight distribution.
Strength and flexibility can also be related to all the conscious and unconscious tension we hold on to. For example, chronic abdominal tightness limits range of movement. It’s often the source of back pain and stiffness generally.
Unfortunately, 21st century chair culture means it’s become difficult for some people to activate certain muscles at all (for example, Glutes), while others might be impossible to relax (For example, jaw, abdomen, neck, shoulders hip flexors).
This is just some of the stuff that drains energy and can make exercise – and life – feel much harder than it needs to.
What’s the Secret of Twisting Dragon Fly Pose?
Obviously the pose I am demonstrating in the image is quite advanced. It might even seem kind of impossible if you don’t know how to get into it. Truth is though, with some suppleness, it’s not necessarily as hard as it appears. This is because the posture has far more to do with flexibility in the trunk combined with weight distribution than just brute strength.
Why Your Centre of Gravity Matters!
You could compare the idea of weight distribution to a “see- saw” that can’t balance evenly on its pivot point if one side is longer than the other. Think about it; if I want to balance a see-saw in this instance, I would need a heavier weight on the shorter side. Make sense? Body weight distribution is something we may need to work on in order to conserve energy and get better results.
Another important factor is this: If I squeezed my tummy really tight while executing this posture, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would be stuck. Unable to utilise my diaphragm or able to do the twist that’s required.
Think of it like a piece of elastic that’s been pulled taut and becomes weak. When the core is tight and weak, we cannot utilise those powerful “tantien” muscles.
Naturally then, whatever we are doing is going to feel a lot more challenging.
Core Weakness & SNS Response
Core weakness happens when we habitually squeeze our belly because we want to look nice in our clothes. Somehow or other we’ve ended up mistakenly believing that tension and tightness equates to strength.
This chronic abdominal tightness affects our immune system. How so? Well, when we squeeze, our abdominal organs can’t function optimally. The blood vessels contract, blood flow is limited and the messages being sent to the brain suggest we are in danger and need to get away.
Even mild fight or flight over a long period could lead to a lower immune response, digestive problems, headaches and tingling, hyper-ventilation, excess of glucose in the blood, higher blood pressure, faster heart rate, etc etc. This is disastrous for our health and could eventually lead to serious illnesses.
It’s the least of our problems really, but physically, locking and tightening the core muscles causes extra strain in the shoulders, elbows, neck and wrists.
So What Does “Engage the Core” Mean?
Good question! When most teachers and trainers ask you to “engage your core” in a gym or Yoga situation, they rarely explain exactly what they mean. It’s entirely possible they don’t actually know. But when that instruction is given, most people in the room just squeeze everything.
And, as stated previous, this action diminishes strength and flexibility, form and power, as well as compromising physiological and physical health.
You Don’t Need to Squeeze, You Need to Activate!
In my classes, we work on specific tweaks and postural adjustments that create organic muscle activation and engagement without squeezing and tensing.
This is the healthy way and it’s also less exhausting!
Neutral Spine is Not the Elixir
Most Yoga arm balances cannot be executed from a “neutral” spine. It’s not possible. Can you think of any?
Sometimes, it’s just another instruction that doesn’t make sense and can’t be explained by a facilitator.
Observe how Yogi masters and monks sit for meditation/pranayama; how boxers and martial artists hold themselves. Generally, it’s not in neutral spine because it’s not always useful.
In fact, when we sit for long periods in neutral spine, it shortens the hip flexors even more. It might even squash an already-squashed lumbar region.
In the end, if we want to be stronger and more flexible, unless we are sitting for work or meditation, our bodies should be moving constantly. It means we have to utilise our entire range of movement in various ways for the majority of each day.
A consistent Yoga practise with a qualified and experienced teacher who understands applied anatomy and exercise physiology could change everything you thought you knew about your body.
The fact is, when specific techniques are understood and applied, the long term positive outcomes in terms of fitness, strength and flexibility as well as performance, cannot be underestimated.
Give it a go. You might be surprised.