I love the English language. You can make a verb out of every noun, and it is so vividly descriptive and visually compelling. You can mold it, toy with it. It is so bendy and flexible. I feel the same way when it comes to the human body and its flexibility range.
I was not born flexible. In fact when, I wanted to sign up for the Rhythmic Gymnastics team in Primary school, the teacher told me “Don’t waste your time. You were not cut for this, you’ll never get flexible.” Well, I proved her wrong. At 21 I started Yoga and today at 42 I have a wide flexibility range that allows me to enjoy really advanced asana. But the truth is, I attained physical flexibility only when I was able to stretch my mind in ways and levels that I had never imagined before.
Getting flexible is not a goal in yoga. It is a natural extension of the mind and spirit. As you commit to a regular yoga practice and you open space for inner growth you suddenly notice how your mind encompasses other realms of perception and how your body naturally becomes resonant and supple. I would love to share my journey into getting a limber body, offering simple tips on what to avoid and what to embrace. And it all started from being able to “elastify my mind”. Getting a flexible mind and a cognitive body. Sounds exciting, right. Are you ready?
So the first stumbling block on my way to gaining a “flexible mind” was to try to fit my body into the asana. Most ambitious practitioners set clear goals and do everything to mimic the masters. They get up at 4:30 am for the morning prana. They go for a three-hour practice. They try to carve time for the 30-minute meditation and they watch their diet and life style religiously. In the end, there not much left to do in the day, but Yoga. The practice becomes an obsession. You begin to push into poses or you get psyched about chanting and breathing, and you miss the real treat of the practice – to be with your self. It took me 12 years and a couple of chronic conditions and surgeries to realize that there was not need to do all that in order to be a true yoga follower. All you had to do was to follow your heart. And to luxuriate in the practice no matter what!
As soon as I became flexible with the practice, my mind shifted and I noticed how my hips and hamstrings began to open. Then I became more creative in the flows and began to change the order and transitions a little bit. I still had a structure for my home practice, but allowed it to flow with my needs and moods.
Then I discovered the power of transitions. And these were not the regular “vinayas” of standard sequencing, but actually micro-shifts in the body and direction that really facilitated an opening in the joints. Next, I started to tweak the classical asanas and add different bind variations that felt releasing. And finally I began to create new asanas that had compound stretching effects. For example, I would combine forward, bends, transitions and inversions in one single asana. It felt really liberating and gratifying. Only when I stopped pushing into poses and I found dynamic ways to transition was I able to juice up my joints and tendons. Holding the pose for an extended period of time, can have a centering and strengthening effect, but it does not necessarily promote flexibility. Dynamic, sometimes rep-driven stretches do. Bouncing in and out of the pose, as well as twisting, contracting and releasing at once, really does the job. Transitions are really the glue between the poses and if you get a fluid quality of transitioning, then you alignment will improve, as so will your suppleness. There is an inherent logic in transitioning and if you have the grounding you will be able to glide in and out of poses gracefully and with a smile. Your practice will be seamless and you will open room for insight and transformation.
And the most important thing – honor your body’s edge. Some poses are just not suited for every anatomy and structure and it is useless to fit in. That will only lead to injuries and exhaustion and will undermine the other valuable benefits of each pose.
When you strive toward a limber body, you should also consider tweaking the practice once in a while. You can still stick to a structure that you are comfortable with, but make sure it offers different sequences, transitions and variations so you can forge new neural pathways in the brain and delight in the body’s opening and deep release.
I had practiced both ways. I repeated a classical home practice for more than ten years, only to realize that I was “stuck in the mud” – physically, mentally and spiritually. It was only when I began to diversify the sequencing and to bring in new poses and transitions, that I really experienced inner and outer growth. I started to explore new ways in and out of poses; new ways of sequencing and breath integration. My practice grew leaps and bounds overnight. This kept me alert, on the look out, attentive to detail and attuned to the energy of each day.
As you give yourself room to experiment you hook up body and mind in unseen ways. This spirit of enterprise suddenly trickles into your relationships, your vocation informs your life anew. Then you really find that your intelligent body has made your mind flexible and open to everything that each moment offers.
Yoga Routine for Flexibility: Elastify (open level)
This Yogea sequence for flexibility juices up all the tendons, ligaments and joints and releases tension build up in the muscles – rendering the body elegant and supple. Comforting shoulder openers alternate with forward and side bends to promote flexibility both through the front and back. Externally rotated standing poses wrap into innovative binds that open the hips and elongate through the sides of the spine. Grounding lunges pair with neutrally rotated poses to work out the abductors, adductors and gluteus. Forward bends swirl into deep twists to facilitate myofascial release. Seated hip-openers couple with meridian crossings and toe hooks to rinse off toxic emotional residue from all joints. Invigorating backbends stretch the body in the opposite direction and open the mind to ingenuity and innovation. A standing meditation provides stability and reinforces the vertical connection to Spirit. The result is an elastic mind and a lucid body, always open to the wonder of the moment.