A lot of the time people get started with yoga for the wrong reasons. It seems like every yogi is on social media doing incredible splits, backbends and forward bends so new students get these high hopes in their minds that they will reach that “level” too. Pretty pictures are nice, goals are a good thing, and who doesn’t want to wear cute yoga pants? However, there are some really important things to keep in mind while setting goals based around flexibility.
Flexibility takes time to achieve and your muscles really should only be pushed so far at a time. Fast progress is exciting but not always maintainable or healthy. I’m sure you’ve heard that “slow and steady wins the race” and it is equally true in the world of yoga and flexibility.
So, let’s get into the real reason you’re here today. You want to know why you aren’t making the progress you’ve been hoping for. Maybe you’ve been doing lots of stretching and are seeing little results or maybe you’ve just found that you’ve suddenly reached a plateau. Either way there is an unusual reason for this that you might not have heard before. It has to do with the difference between tension and compression.
Tension is stretching. When you reach for your toes your hamstring muscles pull in opposite directions and it creates tension, which eventually eases as time goes by. Tension relates to the flexibility and mobility of your muscles. All of the stretches that you do are examples of how tension works. The only way that you will ever become more flexible is by working with tension in your body and gradually working through it. If you have reached a plateau in your flexibility it is most likely because you have removed all of the tension in the muscle group you have been stretching. Some people will remove all of the muscle tension in their hamstrings and still not be able to touch their toes. This leads to compression.
Compression and Flexibility
Compression is one thing pressing into another thing. Just like how tension was about muscles, compression is about your hard skeletal structure. Keep an open mind when you read this section because you might find some mixed emotions in these next sentences.
Not everybody’s skeletal structure will allow for them to do certain poses. There also is not anything that you can do to change this. Just as some people have arms that hyperextend, some people simply do not. Having elbows that hyperextend does not make you any better at yoga and it also doesn’t make you any worse. It is just the way your body is designed. This can apply to every joint in your body. Backbends are huge for this. All too often people will throw their body’s into backbends and get compression in their spine; that will not make you any more flexible at least not in a healthy way. Backbends should be stretching in your stomach, anything after that is compression in your back and you are just crushing your spinal disks together as if that will change anything. Same thing applies to the splits, forward folds, twists and honestly every other pose. If you are not feeling a stretch (tension) in your body from the pose then you cannot healthily go any farther.
Hopefully you will find peace in knowing that you have reached your peak flexibility and that you should be gentle with any compression that you do. Happy stretching!