What is your definition of flexibility? The ability to touch your toes, fold into a pretzel, contortion your body into ridiculously twist asanas? Well...I have news for you. The real definition of flexibility is found in the root of the word, FLEX. If i tell a four year old to flex his muscles, he bends his elbows and shows me his biceps. He certainly doesn't touch his toes. We need to revisit the actual definition of the word flexibility.
1. the quality of bending easily without breaking
2. the ability to be easily modified
3. willingness to change or compromise
There is nothing in the definition above about being able to reach a certain part of your body and hold it for a long period of time. In fact, the answer suggests movement in each definition - bending without breaking, modification, change, compromise.
In order to perform an asana safely you have to know if your discomfort is valid or a pain telling you there's a problem. Any pain, pinch, or cramp in a folded joint is a problem and must be addressed before proceeding with the intended movement. Problems can also present themselves as “pinpointed” localized pain or even a good stretching feeling in the wrong muscle. In these cases, the targeted stretch will not be effective because more work needs to be done to allow the body to fold.
Imagine you are trying to open a door, but there is a chair stuck behind it. You can't see it but you feel the movement go from easy to open to suddenly stuck. If you continue to push the door, you're either going to break the chair or rip the door off its hinges. Neither is a good option, especially when there's a very simple answer: Remove the chair and then open the door.
The analogy relates to biomechanics also. Many people feel this way when they try to sit on their heels - they want to reach their heels but their knees just won't bend all the way. Often people believe if they continue sitting that way every day or try to force it, they will eventually become flexible enough to sit comfortably.
Unfortunately, it will never work. The hamstrings have created a barrier just like the chair and until the tightness in the hamstrings is removed, the knees will never bend. To try to force it will either create cramping in the hamstrings or will damage the ligaments in the knee joint. Just like you can't open a door with a chair behind it, you can't bend at a joint when there is a muscle behind it that is unable to fold.
How do we remove these barriers? The technique in Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching, like we do a StretchChi, removes muscle adhesions (or knots) from the cellular level of the muscle, creating not only the ability to lengthen, but also to shorten.
A Ki-Hara trained muscle folds whereas a statically stretched muscle, like in a yoga pose, does not. To remove the barrier, you have to do a resistance stretch.
First find your barrier which is usually the muscle directly across from the muscle you are stretching. In the case of quads, it would be the hamstrings. Performing a Ki-Hara Resistance Stretch on that muscle will allow it to fold. Then you can return to your original asana. With the barrier removed, you should feel the stretch quite differently. You can now perform your asana without feeling stuck.
Through the years, yoga has become a photographer's dream. An internet search will show you all varieties of beautiful asanas on mountains, in the
forest , on ocean rocks; but rarely do you see now the yogis get in or out of these poses. The reason yoga is so easily photographed is because it is static. We are instructed to get into a pose and hold it, allowing our body to subtly adjust while allowing our muscles to relax.
The problem is that the body doesn't work that way, specifically when trying to gain flexibility. Movement is dynamic and stretching is a product of finding stability within our range of motion. In order to perform a stretch in a healthy and efficient way, you'll need to keep the muscle active while lengthening. In regular human movement, we naturally add resistance to stretches in order to slow down our arms or legs to avoid injury.
For Instance, when you catch a ball, your arm extends, but the muscle contracts to stop the ball (and your arm) before any damage happens. Another example is when you're holding a railing on a subway train. The subway jerks, slows and speeds up and your resistance keeps your shoulder safe. Our bodies naturally want to resist when stretching.
When you do any sort of static stretching, including many (but not all) poses of yoga, you allow your muscles to stretch passively without resistance. The benefits gained are short term and the muscle creeps back to its original tension in 24 - 72 hours. During that time, your muscle's recoil force is diminished, which makes you very vulnerable to injury. It gives you short term relief from tension, but you'll need to go back to yoga within a few days to regain it. It's no wonder people spend and average of $62,000 in their lifetime on yoga. Static stretching is great for the yoga industry, buy not so great for your body.
Clearly, this is a limitation on Yoga, but it has many benefits as well. You don't need to stop your practice, you just need to make your stretches active. Below are 3 ways to do this:
Identify the muscles you are working and establish a long and short position.
Moving in and out of the stretch will help you find the short to long position. Check out this video to understand this principle.
Recruit the muscles you are stretching to keep them active.
Keeping tension in the muscle during the stretch will allow you to feel the muscle you’re working on. Check out this video to understand this principle.
Identify if the right muscles are stretching by feeling a sensation of stretch in the proper muscle.
An effective active stretch will produce a clear sensation in the belly of the muscle. If you have any pain at all, the stretch is unsafe for your body. Focus more on the muscle activation or skip the stretch to avoid injury. Keep reading for more solutions!
If you use these three
the asanas you do will
be safe and effective.
Fascia: A flat band of tissue below the skin that covers underlying tissues and separates different layers of tissue.
Fascia also encloses muscles.
Definition on MedicineNet by Medical Author, William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
There is one consensus about fascia that researchers agree with, no one really knows what it is. Fascia, being researched now, is known to be a sheath of skin-like collagen that either connects, separates, or keeps our muscles, organs, nerves, vessels, etc. in place. It is part of our body's connective tissue. Damaged or bound up fascia needs to be stretched too, but activating fascia also requires resistance. We are missing a huge opportunity to stretch our fascia during yoga classes.
When you add resistance to a stretch, like I introduced in the last segment, you felt the muscle activate deep in the belly of the muscle. Fascia stretching feels a bit different. In order to feel a fascial stretch, perform a resistance stretch, but this time stop at the end range and continue resisting, while you find movement somewhere else. Fascia connects all tissues ending at the tips of your fingers, toes and head. The best way to find a fascia stretch is to change the movement of your stretch to a wrist circle, a foot circle or a gentle head nod.
When you feel a pinch in your hip, you'll need to stretch your hip flexors. In this lunge activate the hip flexors by trying to pull your back leg towards your chest. Use your front leg to pull you forward by scissoring both legs. This stretch works best when you tuck you tailbone and keep your weight on your back leg. If the pinch is still in your front leg, alternate sides. Do about ten repetitions. Move, Resist, Stop if there is pain.get started!
Often this dull pain between the shoulders is felt in downward facing dog. Interlock your fingers and raise your hands over your crown chakra. Open and close the elbows while pretending there is an inflated balloon between them. Be certain to keep your hands hovering over your head, the elbows may not close all the way. Move, Resist, Stop if there is pain.get started!
If you feel a pinch when doing a side stretch on the folding side, try stretching your lats on the pinching side. In this stretch, bring one leg out to the side while grabbing your wrist over your head. Resist by trying to pull your arms apart while also pushing your straight leg into the floor. Use your arms to pull your body from the right to the left. Alternate legs if there is still pinching in the folded hip. Do about ten repetitions on each side. Move, Resist, Stop if there is pain.get started!
Pain in the wrists is a common complaint during many yoga stretches. This Ki-Hara Stretch is a great way to build strength and flexibility in the wrists. Kneel with your fingers facing your knees. Push your fingers into the ground, allowing your body to shift forward. While keeping your hands and forearms active, carefully shift your weight back until you feel a stretch in your forearms. Continuing moving back and forth slowly for about ten repetitions. Move, Resist, Stop if you feel pain.get started!
To allow your arms to lift up to the ceiling, you'll need to remove tightness in the in the neck and deltoids. Bring your elbow in close to your side, resist by grabbing your wrist with your opposite hand. Push up towards the ceiling while resisting, then continue to resist while you pull down towards your hip to get a stretch in the top of the shoulder. Add a slight pull to the opposite side with the head for an added bonus. Do about ten repetitions on each side. Move, Resist, Stop if there is pain.get started!
Begin in a position like a one legged happy baby grabbing your big toe with your same hand. Your knee will drop slightly to the side. Add resistance by kicking your heel towards your glutes as if doing a hamstring curl, but fight the movement by pulling up with your arm. Keep resistance while allowing the knee to bend as far towards the glutes as comfortable. Then unfold like in the photo as far as comfortable. Move back and forth for about ten repetitions. Move, Resist, Stop if there is pain.get started!