Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Day 302 of 365: How Improper Yoga is Making You More Inflexible

This is the part where I should start breaking down why, scientifically, improper yoga is leading to a decrease in physical mobility. Well, sorry: no can do. If you need something scientific or else you're ready to yell, "Click bait!", then here you go: here's a fascinating article on the science behind flexibility, which points out that fast, abrupt stretches will actually hinder your ability to gain flexibility.

Well, now that we have that out of the way, let's get to the meat of this essay: let's talk about how improper yoga is making you inflexible.

When it comes to increasing physical mobility, yoga cannot be beat. From the balance of strength-building and stretching to the long, slow movements paired with long, slow breaths, to the repetitive postures and a keen eye for alignment, yoga has the potential to transform you from the inside out.

But the key word, here, is "potential". It's time to pay attention to the classes your taking, the attitude of your teachers, and -- most importantly -- your own attitude, because improper yoga can lead to an increase in mental inflexibility.

We've all taken that class before: the one where the instructor immediately jumps into the hardest possible poses without taking any time to show the modifications. You can downfeel feel the air of competition in the room, and all you can do is think, "If I could only get my leg to do this... if I could only make my arms to this..." Without even knowing it, we put a value on the fullest expression and berate ourselves for not getting there.

I once heard a yoga instructor talk about people with enough bendy-stretchy going on that they could join Cirque du Soleil, but with a mind that was as rigid and immobile as a plank of wood. How easy it is to get into the habit of pushing ourselves past our means, purely because we feel like yoga is supposed to "look" a certain way.

I mean, if we can't gracefully flow into dancer's pose without a hint of imbalance, what are we doing there, am I right?

A proper yoga class is for the mind and spirit as much as it is for the body. This includes allowing your brain to be flexible, accepting your limits without judgment. This means letting go of competition -- especially that competition with yourself -- and modifying a pose until it suits you best. Maybe that's the fullest expression of the pose. Maybe not. Maybe some days one variation works and some days it doesn't. A common saying is, "Yoga without breathing is just kalisthenics." I'd go one step further and say, "Yoga without the right mindset is just a set up for injury."

So look around you -- at the class, at the video on your laptop or TV screen, at the teacher leading the sequence, and at yourself. Is there anything going on that is making you lock up your brain, feeling like you must get into bakasana or else your practice isn't "real" yoga? It might be time to see if we can let go of more than just the tension in our body as we go into our stretching postures.

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