Did you ever ask a new student in your class their reason for trying yoga? I have. A lot over the years. And in almost every case, people have said, “I need to be more flexible.”
While this is one aspect of practice for sure, it’s not the only benefit you get from yoga, as you most likely know. There are lots of other reasons to practice, chief among them one of the “opposite” goals from an anatomical standpoint and that is, to strengthen your muscles. And, you probably have heard of all the meditative and stress-reducing aspects of yoga that are tied to the rhythmic breathing.
But if students come to class with stretching as their main goal, where does that come from? In my view, it comes from a somewhat misguided notion that the path to better physical health lies in having a very “moveable” body. And, it comes from the very real physical feeling in many people that they are quite stiff, immovable and “tight.”
So, fueled with this notion, they come to yoga class. Their desire to increase their flexibility is behind how they approach each pose. This can sometimes result in “over-efforting” in each posture, especially those that they believe will help them increase flexibility.
Think of an overzealous student in a Forward Fold. It might look something like this:
We’ve seen this, heck this might be BE us in a yoga pose. The body is pretty smart though; it’s only going to let us go as far as it’s ready for and something ELSE is going to happen as a result of our pushing ourselves in the pose. In the case of the picture above, the tight hamstrings will prevent the student from folding from the hips and instead will result in the student rounding the back.
There is something else at work when we push too hard in a stretch and this also has to do with the intelligence of the body. It has to do with the muscle receptors in our muscles, both at the junction of the muscle to the bone and in the body of muscle itself. These receptors communicate with our nervous system which will trigger a relaxation response in the muscle when we overdo it. I wrote about it in more detail here.
So, if the physical feeling of tightness and inflexibility is real, but overdoing stretching is not the answer, then what is?
Moving Smarter. How about instead of focusing on ONE thing, we focus on the WHOLE thing. This starts with stretching AND strengthening. It also means we use techniques like foam and ball rolling to keep the fascia that surrounds the muscles supple. It means that we integrate movements into our day that are geared towards taking us in the OPPOSITE direction from how we are all day- which for most of us is hunched over our computer. It means we cross train, rather than doing the same thing (even yoga) all the time. And, it means we work mindfulness into our day so our mind is more geared toward working with us rather than against us.
The more I dove into this idea, I was inspired to write about it and share ideas with my students. I created a one hour presentation on the topic and started sharing it in different speaker-event-type settings here in Boston. I taped one of those talks and made a few quick clips of the talk, one of which you can see here.
I then took the presentation, recorded it and inserted it into an online course. I included additional related content, information and some PDF’s and just released my latest online course called, “Moving Smarter in the Digital Age.” This course, one of my 4 online courses, covers all of what you just read and more and gives you the actions you can take during the day as well as on the mat to “move smarter.”
If you’re a teacher, it gives you the specific ways you can share this philosophy with your students. If you’re more of a gym goer, it will give you the anatomical and workout related tips to ensure you’re working towards balance rather than overdoing the strengthening aspect of a gym related strength workout.
To check out the preview of the course, you can click here for the page and scroll down to buy online courses. If you want to get it, it’s only $20.
The most recent time I presented this was to a healthcare consulting group. This was what the host had to say:
On behalf of the healthcare practice, I just wanted to personally thank
you for the fantastic session this morning. It was informative, fun, and
highly relevant to our team. Your knowledge across so many dimensions of
wellness and ability to translate it in educational and actionable terms
(as well as make it fun and dynamic) is truly impressive. We are so glad
this session worked out, and we will certainly keep you in mind for
potential future events and opportunities to leverage your knowledge and
I love sharing this information with others and would love for you to take the course too!
Thanks for reading. Comments welcome!