With Instagram and other social media accounts, it can seem like to be a yogi worth your salt, you should be able to contort you limbs into a variety of improbable shapes. But is achieving impressive flexibility really the be all and end all? The opposite, in fact, may be true. Yoga teacher and author of The Flexibility Myth in this month’s Om Yoga magazine has found herself at the receiving end of injury caused by stretching stress.
When is stretching good?
Stretched muscle and taut myofacial tissue (connective tissue that runs through and encases your muscles, helping to hold bundles of muscle fibres in place) improves circulation and so helps to keep joints comfortable and loose. Often loaded with neurons and nerve endings, the myofacial tissue has important communication links to the brain. Additionally, supple and lengthened muscles are likely to be better balanced, especially for those who run, weight train or do another exercise that can lead to a shortening of the muscles. Having a full range of muscular movement can make you feel much more comfortable in your body (healthy myofacial tissue is a key part of this), although this doesn’t require being able to do standing splits!
Every time we work our muscles, micro tears occur. These are normal, repaired quickly and are essential for the regrowth and building of muscles. The ache you get after a good workout or stretch is due to these tears. However, there is a difference between a temporary ache of rebuilding muscles and that from a more serious injury. Tears in ligaments and tendons are more serious and require rehabilitation and time to heal. Here, stretching weak or damaged areas can result in further tearing and potentially scar tissue. The Yoga Blog has a great article on hamstring tears and why stretching may not be the right thing for your apparently stiff hamstrings. Similarly, the emphasis of heart openers and back bends in yoga can be too much more many people -my pilates teacher thinks that as many as 1 in 5 people should be wary of backbends because if the strain it can put on the lower back. As a guide, a bearable muscular ache is a good stretch, but anything painful or a crunching “bone-on-bone” sensation is bad and should be avoided.Staying in balance and flexible.
A takeaway message here is to take stretching slowly. Be warmed up and practice some preparatory exercises before attempting a deep stretch. Hold for at least seven whole breaths to allow the muscles to relax (where poses are held longer, such as in yin yoga, the fascia is targeted) and repeat three or four times. When in poses such as triangle pose, don’t “lock” the knee joint, which places stress upon the joint and connective structures. Instead, keep the knee soft with a tiny bend and use your muscles to hold the leg in place. This has the added benefit of strengthening your muscles whilst you stretch.
Liked this? In this month’s issue of Om Yoga there is a special on teacher training. If you are looking to further your studies in yoga, these tips really are a must read and are really helpful. You can pick up a paper copy in newsagents, or download a copy for a lower price using the link below.
Disclaimer: I am an Affiliated Blogger with Om Yoga Magazine. Each issue I will write a post on an article from the magazine and share it with you. Have a look here to find about the other lovely affiliated bloggers. All photos in this post taken from the Om Yoga magazine.