One of the primary comments I hear from yoga students—especially new ones—is that they are not very flexible.
Much of this is the result of modern living: i.e., sitting in chairs, driving or sitting for long periods of time, etc. can all wreck havoc on a body’s flexibility.
The good news is, yoga can help to counteract this.
I’ve seen a lot of former stiffly people become much more flexible in a relatively short period of time.
However, becoming more flexible is not the same as becoming ultra-flexible. Just like some people are hyper-flexible, which by the way is not necessarily a good thing, some people are naturally tighter than others.
Therefore, here are three tips for the not-so-bendy to keep in mind when they are practicing yoga:
1. Less is often more.
It can be tempting to dive straight into advanced poses, especially if we think they are going to cause us to loosen up sooner.
However, this is usually a bad idea. Over-stretching a muscle before it’s ready, often leads to injury, or at the very least, pain. Both of these can end up sidelining us, making us even less flexible when we are able to return to practice.
A well-stretched muscle is different from a pulled one. One way to tell: if it’s painful or we feel it for more than a day, most likely it’s the latter. Time to turn it down a notch or two.
For some reason, many yogis avoid using props, unless the instructor specifically tells the entire class to use them.
It may look “macho” to eschew them, but trust me, props are a good thing.
The instructor should be able to help students understand how to use the different props available.
3. Be aware of the temperature.
Generally speaking, the warmer it is, the more flexible the body tends to be.
While some may see winter as a season to flock to Bikram or hot yoga classes, keep some things in mind before heading to these classes.
First of all, too much heat can cause the body to assume postures it usually would not be able to do. While this may feel good at the time, there is a risk of overuse and injury.
Secondly, some people (like me) just cannot handle the heat as well as others. Some might end up spending an entire class battling the temperature, instead of reaping the benefits of yoga.
On another note, winter is not a good excuse to skip yoga. In fact, the case can be made that yoga may be more beneficial in colder months.
In closing, yoga can and often does benefit the not-so-bendy. However, the key is not to overdue it or force the body into any pose or series of poses before it is ready.
Lastly, do not let a lack of natural flexibility keep you away from yoga classes. Contrary to popular belief, not all people who practice yoga are naturally flexible, nor do the ultra-bendy necessarily reap the most physical rewards from yoga.
Therefore, if you ever felt you were “too stiff” for yoga, it’s time to put that aside and check it out for yourself. Hopefully, by keeping the above tips in mind, it will be a lot of gain and little to no pain.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Ben Sutherland