*A note to keep in mind before reading this post: Doing yoga, stretching, strengthening, using your body is not bad. It far outweighs not using your body. Don't be afraid to move your body. Ok, read on.
As a former professional dancer I had a LOT of flexibility. Nothing felt better than being in straddle/middle splits while laying my chest on the floor. It would have garnered many likes on Instagram if it were around back then, but that's another post. My flexibility definitely exceeded the amount of strength I had to control it. When I began practicing yoga I continued to stretch and stretch, and 'go deeper' because I thought that's what it was all about and because, it felt good. Before long this stretch focused practice led to injury. As soon as I healed something else would begin to hurt, sometimes I was managing more than one injury at a time.
To heal I started focusing on strength, not a major overhaul of my routine, but adding it in where I could to improve and support my movement practices. Injuries ceased; I felt more agile, nimble, engaged. My body-mind felt smarter. Muscle, tendon and ligament were working together, pulling their respective weight. There was synergy and it felt amazing! Engaging muscles around joints held way more value than I once knew. At a certain point there is diminishing returns on what flexibility can do for you. Where are you actually going when you go deeper? Control yourself
Today I view my physical movement practice like a cake recipe, it includes a nice balance of ingredients to create a great, cohesive sponge (body)! We have to do more than just push our joints passively to end range if we're going to build and sustain a useful yoga practice. When I think about the ways I move and stretch my body I consider if it will be useful to me for the long term. Yoga teacher, Alex Crow says it this way: "I won’t pretend ever again that perfect visual alignment is wise or healing for the body. Even if the mechanics of the body are taught properly and intelligently, at the end of those instructions there still must be the option to personalize and modify the shape based on what the pose is aiming to accomplish and the students individual traits.” Amen to that! Be willing and curious about the value of the movement you are doing.
I want my movement to be useful and relevant to health for the long term. I want my strength and flexibility to be in symphony to one another.
The other day, after all these years of practicing and teaching movement, the words came and they rolled easy out of my mouth while leading a class. Words that muscle, bone, tendon, ligament, CELLS have always known to be right and true and waiting to be acknowledged. It's less about perfecting the pose and more about finding the right amount of that pose for your body. The amount that’s useful to YOU. Today and always. Because why else are we doing it? Who is your yoga practice serving?
"Going deeper" in the physical sense of the word is never-ending. Where are you going and what are you going to do when you get there? If vinyasa yoga is your main movement practice, your go-to exercise format, then I encourage you to discover ways to build strength within your flow on the mat. There are a growing number of teachers on social media raising the bar around this very topic.
Join me on IG where I share my favorite yoga hacks for creating an accessible, sustainable vinyasa yoga practice. @ohtrisha