Many people come to yoga to gain range of motion (ROM) and flexibility. Having an understanding of how your body gets stronger and flexible may create more compassion, patience and ease on your yoga journey.
The human body is brilliant and can adapt to most anything. Therefore, challenging your body is essential for growth. By manipulating the frequency (how often), duration (how long), intensity (how challenging the practice or pose), and mode (what type) we can enhance all the major components of fitness: cardiorespiratory, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility. In addition, we can positively impact body composition (increase lean muscle mass and decrease body fat) as well as the components of motor fitness: agility, speed, balance, coordination and power.
If you want more upper body strength, perhaps incorporate arm balances. If you want to increase your endurance and are accustomed to 60-minute classes, take on some 90-minute classes. If you want to increase your flexibility you do so through moving joints through a full ROM, consequently increasing your strength and flexibility.
Your flexibility is based on the degree to which a joint moves throughout a full ROM, preferably pain-free. Decreases in ROM or flexibility are usually caused by inactivity, age, gender, injury, and temperature of the working tissues being stretched. There are also anatomical structural differences at the articulations of the joints that effect mobility around a joint.
Inflexibility from inactivity can cause the muscles to shorten, lose elasticity, and therefore become less supple, stiff, and more prone to injury. Contrary to popular belief, increasing your strength increases ROM and flexibility.
Increasing age may make joints resistant to movement as well, a result of rigidity in the connective tissues due to changes in the collagen fibers. Other age-related issues that can limit ROM of a joint include deterioration of the muscles, tendons (connect muscle to bone), ligaments (connect bone to bone), cartilage (connective tissue that covers the articulating surfaces of the bones which reduces friction of movement), and synovial fluid (lubrication secreted by the joints). The best prevention for inflexibility as we get older is to stay active.
In addition, females tend to be more flexible than males due to variations in joint and bone structures. Injury can also decrease your mobility around a joint.
When focusing on stretching, it is most effective to warm up the working muscles and joints. The best way to warm up the body is from the inside out, meaning moving your body. Sun Salutations are a great way to warm up your body before performing poses with longer holds or deeper stretches. When stretching it is appropriate to experience mild discomfort. However, if you experience pain your body will protect itself by contracting the muscle you are intending to stretch; your body will actually do the opposite of the desired stretch, especially in the insertion of a muscle. So listen to your body and stop before the point of pain.
Your yoga practice is designed to support your body and sets you up for the greatest accomplishment on your mat with optimum results! Remember that the more rigid you are with yourself, the more rigidity you will receive. Likewise, the more open and flexible you are in mind, the more open and malleable your body will be.
With ease in mind and body and soaring of spirit!
Courtesy of Bala Vinyasa Yoga.