Top 10 Tips for Flexibility
1. Alignment: Before you even sidle onto your yoga mat, you can help to keep your body flexible throughout the day just by paying attention to your alignment. Monitor yourself often for holding/tensing patterns. Lengthen up and sit tall in your chair. This will help to keep a broad chest so that you can fill your lungs with deep flexifying breaths as well as maintaining full range of motion in your joints, which is a big part of what defines flexibility. Also, paying attention to the lines of your body while stretching is crucial! Your body is a smart cookie and won't do something it does not deem safe. So if things are not lined up as they should be your body will put the brakes on! Thanks body!
2. Gravity and the breath. If you find that you are holding your breath, or that your breath is becoming ragged or uneven in a pose, it means you've gone too far too fast.
This is like slipping on ice to the bod. It tenses right up! The thing to do is slow down, back out of your stretch just a little, relax, and let the breath and gravity (using gravity means letting your muscles relax so that your weight can work for you rather than against you)) do the work for you! Only a relaxed, breathing body can gain flexibility! Breath is awareness. By tuning into the breath, proper form for every pose becomes self-evident. Proper breathing will keep your body feeling safe and willing to go just a little further (and, very soon, a lot further!) into your poses!
3. Emotional release (Transformer Workout). Tension in our bodies keeps us prisoners of the past. Flexibility is the future, in which all possibilities are open to us. How to let go? Open yourself to opening. As you do your Kundalini Yoga practice give breath and movement free reign. Practice the art of fearless surrender. Let energy weave its golden threads through your body, nerves, and psyche. Kundalini Yoga is the science of angles and triangles. Free up tension in the joints and project out from the core through the extremities.
One of the most important aspects of flexibility is an open solar plexus. This is where flexibility begins! The solar plexus is called the "seat of emotions." In the warm-ups on all of our DVD's we focus on opening the solar plexus (Solar Power Workout) before anything else. This is where flexibility begins. Then it expands out through the extremities. The Solar Plexus is the hub of the nervous system. This is the center from which we developed in the womb. Yoga says that a developing fetus/baby performs all the basic 108 yoga poses throughout the cycle of gestation. In addition, when the solar plexus is open we are able to breathe properly and "take in," new information. For true flexibility, monitor your solar plexus constantly.
4. An alkaline body is normally a happy, healthy, energized and flexible body! The ideal would be to eat a diet which consists of about 75% alkanizing foods (water rich i.e., greens, fruits, etc... ). An acidic body tends to be rigid and tight with an increased propensity for everything from inflammation and arthritis, to premature aging and weight gain!
A. We need to balance our flexibility with equal amounts of strength. That's why yoga is so special because that equation is exactly what yoga does so well. Take for just one example the Up Dog to Down Dog flow in our 5 Tibetan Rites (Kundalini Yoga for Beginners & Beyond). You are working on upper and lower body strength, conditioning the core, and stretching/lengthening every muscle of your entire front and back bodies, as well as your fascia and nerves (hello life nerve!). As an added bonus you are building bone density and massaging your digestive system and internal organs. This one exercise is actually a snapshot of all yoga! Don't you love yoga??
B. Some machines are programmed to automatically shut off if they're not on level ground. Our pelvis is designed to keep us level. Many people are certain that one leg is shorter than the other, when in fact it's really a pelvic misalignment. Quick check: When on your back, check that both sides of your pelvis are touching the floor equally.
There is a Posure Primer on our Yoga for Beginners & Beyond: Stretch, Strengthen, Be Stress Free which is very helpful for guiding you towards a balanced pelvis.
C. Also, work complimentary muscle groups. Back bends plus forward stretches equal suppleness (although sometimes a twist is the perfect transition between the two to calm & equalize the spine). Extend this concept into your life: work/play, activity/rest, celebration/discipline, talking/listening, going after things/letting things come to you, control/surrender...you get the idea.
golfer6. It's common myth that age makes us less flexible. It's what we do, or don't do, over time which makes like either a palm frond or a piece of beef jerky! If we're sitting all day, our bodies forget that they have a full range of motion. We are as flexible as our spines our flexible, and as young as our spines are flexible. Our propreoceptive nervous systems represent the set point for our range of motion. Long periods of being sedentary disrupt our range of motion. Our body forgets its capacity and resists when we suddenly decide to ask it to do more. Then we have to be brave and be persistent to get back to where our flexible state.
7. Stay hydrated. The fascia, the body's network of connective tissue, has been called liquid crystal. The fascia depends on a moisture balance. If it dries up, our bodies get tight (remember the beef jerky visual!). When we get sick or stressed, our fascia tightens. Counter with lots of water and a water rich diet (see #4) and stay younger longer.
8. Careful!: we can over-stretch, hyper extend, or become contortionists and still not gain any real flexibility. Contortionists go the extra mile by actually popping their joints out of their sockets. Unless you are planning to join the circus or really want to put on an exciting show for the relations during the holidays, we definitely advise against this! We can stretch ourselves right out of our sockets and then we are only decreasing stability in the joints! We advise thinking "length" instead of "stretch." This means, for example, extending out through the heels while sucking the thighbones into the sockets (the arms work likewise). Feels sort of like pulling on long stockings...pulling up strongly while pushing the foot away...This will also engage the core and give you the longest most beautiful lines.
9. Intention: Energy follows intention! Just as our flexible golfer demonstrates above, the body will do what is required of it if our intention is strong enough. A baby becomes expert at forward bending in the womb. When its born, its curiosity and desire that has a baby developing its back bending by pushing up into cobra pose to see whats going on! A baby gradually pushes into Down Dog and in fact goes through the whole range of poses in sun salutation as it learns to walk! You can bring this concept of curiosity and intention into your own practice. Remember, energy follows intention! So set your intention and go for it!
10. Keeping the above principle in mind, cultivate a regularKundalini Yoga practice (should've been #1 on this list!)! Ultimate Stretch Workout, Yoga for Beginners & Beyond: Stretch, Strengthen, Be Stress Free, Yoga Bliss Hips, Yoga Quick Fixes (So Long Sciatica), and Yoga House Call(Anti Arthritis) Yoga Beauty Body, among many others which are superb flexibility enhancers.