How flexible can we actually become?

After a year’s effort getting my legs up in the air with headstand, my new goal is to do ‘Full leg Splits’. Today morning after finishing my yoga routine, I tried to assess my current ‘split’ abilities. I went down on two knees, extended one leg in front as far as I could, took the other leg back, supporting with my two hands on the mat, tried to extend further as far as I could. To my utter disappointment, I realized what looks so easy is actually so difficult. I might be good with one pose, but every new pose is a new journey and this is going to be a long one as I had almost 1ft I had to get down to.

Which got me thinking, what causes stretching? What happens when we stretch? Do the muscles get longer? Can everyone be as flexible as they want? How to be flexible?

  • Our muscles are viscoelastic. Like solid materials, they demonstrate elasticity by resuming their original length once tensile force is removed. Yet, like liquids, they also behave viscously because their response to tensile force is rate and time dependent. When we stretch our muscles don’t get longer but their viscoelasticity increases
  • We can actually stretch more than we think we can tolerate. As a kid we are born to be very flexible, but as we grow older, with our lifestyles we restrict our range of motions and our muscles get used to that level of stretch tolerance. So much so that “Pain” is just the body’s way of telling us we are going beyond our normal limits. We can stretch to a little more after the pain. Hence with breathing in and out and adapting our minds, you can ease yourself into a pose, sometimes significantly within minutes.
  • To improve flexibility, hold stretches for longer time: For a post run “stretch”, you can do a quick dynamic stretch, but to improve flexibility we need to re-train our mind and build a new normal. To do that we have to hold stretches (Just uncomfortable, not painful) for longer time , i.e. 30 sec or more, practice twice a day, regularly, be as flexible as possible

Bend that Cord!

Its only when I was learning how to do headstands that I realized how difficult it must have been for us to learn how to stand up straight on our legs! When I am doing my headstand I can not think of anything else but my breathing, constantly focusing on my core, my legs, my eye movements, and pose correcting to make sure I don’t fall. What we don’t realize after 20+ years of standing straight is that “Tadasana” standing up is actually a balance pose and form matters.

We forget how to “consciously” stand. We forget to take note of excessive pressures we put on our lungs, stomach, hips, knees and ankles. To the extent that we don’t stop to wonder why we get tired within 5min of standing when actually with our years of practice, we should be able to stand straight for hours!

Ever wondered – why slouching, bending forward is the default position for most people? Lifting heavy bags, working on our laptops, reading, writing and reaching out towards things we like, makes our back move forward. It’s of course a little painful in the beginning but we take it as part of the Job. Soon we become used to to the pain and make it a default position. But its not the body’s default position. Our blood flow is unable to adjust to the slouch and gets clogged. Our lungs can’t function when they are constantly compressed.

We need to rebel against what we have done to our bodies. We NEED to consciously do counter poses – back bends and side bends to make the back flexible and return it to its default position. Whenever you feel like you have been sitting for too long do a counter pose. Take a deep breath, exhale and bend your back backward. Give it a sideways twist for fun! Whenever it hurts to stand for any longer, do a counter pose. Move your weight to front and back of your toes till you feel you are balancing it equally on the foot. Take a deep breath, exhale and bend you back backwards. Give it a sideways twist for fun! Inhale. Exhale.