(And Yoga IS NOT About Stretching..)
It’s certainly not difficult to see why so many people think Yoga is all about “stretching”, something they cannot do, that is only for “flexible” people.
Not surprisingly, social media platforms such as Instagram have helped to cement this idea because every single day, gorgeous people, from all over the world will post aspirational photos of themselves in very challenging Yoga postures.
What Yoga is..
But Yoga is an ancient lifestyle philosophy akin to Buddhism (of which physical postures are one tiny aspect). So really, most Instagram Yogis are pretty much just posing for photos or performing for a video while demonstrating an incredible level of physical prowess that is in no way typical.
Some may have a dance background, some are circus performers and some are gymnasts. Some have just been practising Yoga for many years. And let’s face it, we all get better at something when there is consistent effort involved.
Natural Ability is a Thing!
Truth be told, it’s likely that the majority of these people had a bit more physical ability in the first place than the average person. It’s fair to say that we are all drawn towards the things we naturally have a talent for!
Natural Lifestyle Helps
It’s also the case that historically, traditional Indian Yoga practitioners had a very different lifestyle to us. They sat on the floor as opposed to chairs in a cross-legged position to eat (lots still do) while reaching for food and condiments. They would generally squat to go to the toilet or to pick crops or to chat with friends on street corners and were / are able to balance heavy items on their head!
Not surprisingly, this kind of lifestyle equates to a superior amount of strength and range of movement.
Traditionally, it’s more likely that Yoga was a way for people to connect with their idea of the divine, while massaging internal organs and maintaining a healthy physiology.
Change Your Mind…
Instead of getting stuck on the idea that Yoga is something that it isn’t, at least research it, try a few different classes and be open to the idea that your 21st century body/mind could absolutely benefit from some form of it.
This, if you want to be able to do all the things you love doing right now, and many of the things that you need to be able to do for as long as you live. Imagine how horrible must it be to shuffle around in pain for 30 years, unable to put your own socks on or walk the dog? People who practise Yoga regularly, generally maintain their fitness and health for longer.
Take Steps to Avoid Chronic Pain Now!
Look, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Yoga or exercise therapy or something else. Research your teacher! Find someone with lots of experience and training. Check their background. A nubile, well-meaning 20 year old with a 200 hour teaching certificate and background in circus arts may not be suitable for where you are at!
If you really do want to empower yourself, alleviate some of those niggles, improve your strength, flexibility and range of movement, then trust me, there’s a limit to the kind of results you get when you simply torture your body with strong stretches. This stuff doesn’t make any difference whatsoever because it’s just not possible to stretch a short and tight muscle. And not surprisingly, it feels horrible!
What we really need is to release stiff muscles. In fact, that painful feeling when you “stretch” is a sympathetic NS warning? Put simply, that muscle you are desperately trying to stretch is responding by trying to shorten! This is a natural reflex response when your body is trying to prevent injury. In more serious instances, that is, when you “pull a muscle” the muscle has shortened completely in the body’s attempt to avoid injury and you now have to waste weeks recovering!
What a waste of time and effort!
Here’s What Works:
Let’s start with a tight hamstring. The pose at the top is called “Janu Sirsasana“ (Head to Knee Pose). Try it carefully and stop the moment it feels stretchy. Notice how you habitually move from your head.
- Make a mental note of when that happened and how it felt.
- Now, lie on ground anchoring the opposite foot and lift the SAME* leg you just tried to stretch off the floor about 10cm. Hold this for 10 secs or so.
- Now try doing some one-legged bicycles – same leg, maybe 7 or 8 in each direction.
- Then, sit up and try the same pose again with the same leg (without moving from your head).
I guarantee it will different and slightly easier yet neither of those two exercises I just suggested are stretches. Still, you get a result; the hamstring releases slightly and feels a bit longer. Yes?
This means that while Yoga Postures like Janu Sirsasana offer many benefits for SOME people, for the majority, safely lengthening the hamstrings isn’t one of them.
And Yoga is not about stretching
*Images just demonstrate the postures, not the left/right.