It is common to hear yoga teachers encouraging their students to keep coming back to work on those tight areas in the body. Promising their students that by returning to class they will increase their flexibility and in turn, range of movement. What most students don’t realise is that flexibility is not achievable if these classes are dynamic in nature.
Most asana practices are dynamic in nature (yang). The word dynamic is defined as constantly changing, moving, growing, vigorous, active, lively and powerful. In yoga terminology, dynamic translates to constant moving of the body and changing the asanas often. Therefore, this means most practices including vinyasa and ashtanga will not improve your flexibility. These types of practices cultivate energy flow and muscle strength among other benefits; however, flexibility is not one of them.
So why don’t these popular yoga practices help us increase our flexibility?
Dynamic yoga practice targets the muscles by warming them up through movements. Like an elastic-band, the muscle will stretch and will always return to its original shape. To increase flexibility, we need to focus our efforts on the fascia. The fascia is a stiff sheet layer of tissue that is between our skin and muscle. Fascia can only change in shape by holding it in poses for longer amounts of time. Over time, it is this firm plastic-like sheet will be remolded allowing more space and flexibility. Yin yoga is a practice that holds asanas for 3 – 15 minutes and specifically targets the fascia. This means that over time, Yin yoga can provide us with greater flexibility and range of movement.
Anatomy is another very significant aspect to consider when you ask why your flexibility hasn’t increased. Maybe yin yoga is already in your routine and you are still questioning ability to move into certain asanas. The truth is, we may never be able to move into the full expression of asanas due to our anatomical structure.
Scientific evidence proves our physiological differences limit certain ranges of movement. Many students practicing yoga do not appear to be made aware of this limitation, despite the knowledge of differences in anatomical structure. This reason provides a possible explanation as to why you might not be able to create an “Instagram worthy” bird of paradise, pigeon pose or wheel pose (for example).
If you have questions surrounding your flexibility, ask yourself two questions:
What does my yoga practice look like?
- Do you spend most of your time focusing on yang practices such as vinyasa and ashtanga?
- Or does your practice include yin yoga where the fascia can be slowly changed?
What is your anatomical structure?
- Are your hips internally or externally rotated? Is your pelvis posterior or anterior tilting? Etc.
- Consult with an appropriate medical professional if you wish to gain an accurate understanding of your anatomical structure.
The next time you catch yourself feeling frustrated that you can’t do those crazy yoga poses you see on Instagram, ask yourself this; Would rather look aesthetically pleasing (and potentially injure yourself) or provide your body with a sustainable and healthy range of movement?