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Are you a Bendy Wendy or a Stiff Cliff? How flexibility works…

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

This is how the conversation goes… ‘what do you do for a living?’ ‘I’m a yoga teacher’ ‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga…’

Saying you're not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty for a bath lol but I guess it stems from the misconception that we need to be ‘good’ at something in order to practice it. But see that word…practice… thats the key. AND there’s no such thing as being GOOD at yoga anyways...

Lots of people come to yoga for a variety of reasons but the two main ones are

  • to release stress, anxiety and improve sleep

  • To become more supple and feel good in the body

I prefer to use the word suppleness than flexibility.. Suppleness for me means keeping the muscles and joints moving through their range of motion so we can create space in the body for our bones to be where they should be, as well as removing tension, restrictions and blocks. But why should we do this?

When then body is supple it increases

  • Range of motion and therefore health in the joints

  • Ability to go about our daily lives with ease and without strain

  • Prevents injuries which may occur due to shortening of the space between joints

  • Improves healing of injuries by increasing range and getting blood flow there

  • Improves flow of prana (vital life force or yoga energy)

  • Improves flow of hormones, lymph and blood

  • Improves the tone of muscles (yes stretching can help firm them up too)

  • Supple in the body helps us to be flexible in the mind. What we learn on the mat regarding patience, awareness and energy transfers helps us move more easily through life

However, did you know that it's all in the mind? Literally your brain sends the level of sensation to the area of the body you are moving in order to keep you safe. Think about an extreme example. You put your hand in the fire. Your nervous system sends a message up to the brain to assess risk - HIGH ALERT = brain sending strong pain quickly to that area so you get your hand out quickly. And this feedback system is the same for other things we do where the body/mind may perceive risk - like ouryoga postures.

Your brain also works on a ‘risk assessment basis’ based on past experience. Say you have an old back injury that is long past healing. Chances are your brain still has this connection to past pain stored there so you feel more sensation than is perhaps needed to keep you safe. And as a result you move this area of the body less, and if you move it less, it has less mobility and blood flow and so the pattern continues...

The ability to go about our daily lives with ease and without strain and connect to our body is something we all want but there are some variables here - chances are there’s some stuff that you inherited from parents such a longer hamstring muscles, more collagen or elastin in the body and ‘muscle types’ (think how people from some parts of the world excel at certain sports and often this is down partly to muscle type), what we eat and drink, our hormones, temperature and even the seasons and moon cycles for some! Then there’s your past injuries, scar tissue, muscle memory.. and then there’s what we do on an ongoing basis (physically and mentally )

Your mind 'allows' you to do what you do regularly. Think about those repetitive tasks that might have seemed impossible once upon a time but are automatic with practice like playing an instrument or driving a car. All just programmes of the mind and repeated til they are fixed. The brain will try to help you find a way to do the tasks you keep asking it to do, but on the flip side, it won’t bother using the muscles and joints that are not needed as you never use them.

Sit down a lot? Then the muscles will be happiest in this position. Never raise your arms above your head? Eventually the range of motion will be restricted by adhesions.

We don’t actually 'stretch' a muscle anyway really - we lengthen and shorten it by moving the joints

around … imagine if your hamstrings stayed the same length as you stood up after a forward fold…you’d fall over! They shorten again…so how do we gain range of motion over time? The stretch movement helps to remove adhesions and re-programme the mind to the length you need that muscle to be to help you do what you do regularly…

SO in summary - what’s the best way to improve suppleness and mobility

  1. A little and often - build movement and stretching into your routine particularly if there's an area that needs more focus (although the body works as a whole).

  2. Don't over stretch. Your brain will sense danger and send strong sensation to that area perhaps even feeling tighter the day after. Instead go to the ‘edge’ of the stretch where you can feel something but it’s not too much and breathe slowly and calmly to send the ‘I’m safe’ message to the brain. Only increasing the stretch once the body relaxes and gives permission over time

  3. Strengthening of the muscles (yes … I know it doesn't seem right) but a strong muscle will give your brain the confidence to go further in your stretches without risk of harm

  4. Strengthening the opposing muscle. Muscles work in pairs (well a bit more complex than this but…) as one contracts one relaxes and lengthens.

  5. Re-programme the body mind connection. Really feel the stretch but don't wince or tense. Breath into the area and notice if its pain or just strong sensation. This helps train the mind too to sit with discomfort

  6. Mix up your movement - a combo of dynamic and static, relaxed and engaged stretches is the best way to go.

  7. Celebrate and measure ‘success’ - that feeling when you can one day touch your toes! Means its working and there’s more 'give' in the body

  8. Don’t get attached to the results or compare yourselves to others. Sometimes there’s just not gonna be much movement for years (I have a few poses like this…) and thats fine. Enjoy the ride, the feeling and as long as we feel good thats the main thing

  9. Remember, you may come to yoga to get supple but its about SO much more… I guarantee you’ll leave with so much more…

So whether you're a beginner, a Bendy Wendy or a Stiff Cliff - Join us!

Want learn more about how all this works with your own body? Contact me and I can give you a free consultation over the phone and a FREE class. Or perhaps a personal session might work to go through your personal goals and niggles…

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