How to Get Flexible

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Hi Friends!

How can I be more flexible is a question that comes up a lot in our Strala Yoga classes in yoga, tai chi, and qigong, as well as in our Strala Yoga teacher trainings. I think it’s because most of us want a little more flexibility in our lives. We’d like a little less feeling of stuck-ness and tension, a little more feeling of relaxed, and even better if I can stay relaxed when things are tough.

This is also a question that comes in many forms.  Most recently, “Should I follow the stretching strategies used by dancers and gymnasts? These people work and push massively hard to be flexible, clearly it works, shouldn’t I do the same?” I think this question is double-important.

Always people are wanting to be more flexible. And, always people are wanting to get there with the kind of force that keeps them from getting there. Because it’s kind of programmed into us this way.

Enjoy this FREE Big Stretch Practice

If you’re teaching it’s good to explore here, you want to give people what they want. And if you’re practicing it’s also good, because there’s a very different program for how you approach challenges, that will always give more of what you want, and less of what you don’t.


We are programmed to push

If you’re a performance artist like a gymnast or dancer, it’s not only the movement that matters. It’s what it looks like. And it’s also not time or sustainability that matters. It’s just, can you do it right now?

So you’ll probably do things with your body to achieve near-term results, without so much focus on longer-term impacts. Forced lengthening of tendons and ligaments can be useful for creating the right appearance in these arts. But, the longer-term result isn’t so good, including joints that are less stable and capable, more open to injury.

It’s a strategy that gives your fastest path to becoming an X: ex-dancer, ex-gymnast, ex-runner, athlete, climber, ex-anyone whose body still goes along for an easy and pain-free ride, in whatever you want to do. And this isn’t just about sports.

It’s also worth noting that adult bodies don’t work the same as children’s bodies. One of our Strala friends in New York was an olympic gymnastics coach in the 1980s, and regularly remarked on this one. You can force a stretch on a child, and their body will hold the gains over time. Adult muscles don’t work this way. There can be lengthening within a stretching session, but it’s not sustained over time the way it is with a child.


Try less pushing, more moving

Pushing and forcing for flexibility isn’t likely to work. Maybe for a little while but not sustainably, and also not without injury that turns you in the opposite direction from what you want. Does this mean we should just take it easy and never work hard? Not exactly, not even close.

As a start, this isn’t about “not feeling any stretch.” If we sit on a couch and flop a little from side to side, it’s good we won’t get injured this way, but we also might not see much progress with flexibility. Instead, there’s a general guideline for movement and healing practices that works really well:

Move easy, everything you’ve got, in every direction you can. 

It’s a guideline followed alongside of many practices like softness so you’re movable, connection so you move as one whole body rather than isolated parts, unweighting so always you’re entering challenge rested rather than depleted. So we’re not avoiding challenge or sensation, but following a way of practice that keeps us safe, and also leads to sustainable progress.

Moving easy is a helpful guideline that protects vulnerable areas like joints, from a harmful practice of using force against resistance. You’ll see this in usual yoga practices, when people try hard to put feet behind their head, or push for the opening of hips or lengthening of hamstrings. It’s why we see so many yoga teachers with a strap around their thigh, to remind them of this problem. I was told in my Jivamukti days that this kind of injury was good, simply karma coming to fruition. That’s one way to see it. Another is, don’t do things that harm, just to get in a pose.

There’s always a better way. And for all kinds of reasons, it’s good for me to learn how to find it. It’s how I each learn to explore around challenge and find my own best solution, rather than go to war with it. Which would mostly mean going to war with myself!

So moving easy, everything you’ve get, in every direction you can move it, is also a guideline that brings you to a really good place: where you want to go. You get to accomplish this in a way achieves more of what you want, and less of what you don’t. More good, less harm.


How to build a new program for flexibility

What does a good practice for flexibility look like?  It begins with heading toward a stretch, say a forward fold, without using the muscles of your arms to combat resistance in your hamstrings. Here are a few steps to get you started:

1) Be movable, before you try to move. This means not holding yourself rigidly, by locking knee joints or bracing muscles for battle. Instead, make sure from wherever you are, it’s easy for you to move in every direction you might want to move. First, you can be moved just by breathing. And second by using your center, and allowing the rest of your body to follow.

2) Head for where you want to go, but not as an endpoint. You won’t get to sustained flexibility by going to war with your hamstrings, then retreating when it’s done. Instead, head toward the challenge, while remaining soft enough to be movable. And once you get somewhere near this challenge, rather than hold a stretchy endpoint and wait for it to be over, keep a relationship between your body and breath.

3) Allow your whole body to go along a bit for the ride with your breath. For this, you simply need to be movable, head where you want, and stay movable once you get there. We steer clear of going to war with our own bodies this way, and move instead toward real flexibility and mobility gains.

There are no endpoints this way. Every inhale picks you up out of where you are just a bit. Every exhale takes you someplace that is completely new. It could be right back down, it could be someplace else, maybe a little left or right, forward or back. You don’t need to decide, just breathe deep, listen, and respond through how you move.

Want more? You can learn more practices and teaching approaches for balancing strength and flexibility, stability and mobility, in our online and in-person Strala Yoga Teacher Training Programs.

Your breath is always there, ready to carry you. Take a moment, soften, and let your breath move with you.#stralayoga #softness #taichi #wellbeing
Just as much as this can be in your yoga and tai chi, softness is an all day, everyday, everywhere practice you can carry into your kitchen, meeting room, or wherever you’re getting around each day. It takes practice, to replace all our old habits like tension and rigidity, with new habits of moving well, in harmony with our whole selves.
#stralayoga #wellbeing #yoga
Grateful for each and every breath. Let it all go. 🌟  #stralayoga #yogaflow #wellbeing #meditation
Guide @mar.moreras shining with the sun 🌞
When things are easy, relax. When things are hard, relax even more. Your neurological and chemical state determines the impact an event will have on you. So when things get hard, it’s even more important that we support ourselves to stay easy inside. It takes practice, it’s important in so many ways, and we can do it. 🌿 #stralayoga #wellbeing #meditation #yoga
Guide @juliackrebs reminding us to soften and connect with nature 🌿 #stralayoga #yogaflow #yoga #wellbeing
It was a tough lesson for me to learn that I was doing hard things, the hardest way. Like so many of you, I want to do a good job, help people be happy and have a good life as well. We all have a breaking point and hopefully it’s while something is repairable. I noticed things were hard and felt like I needed to work harder, when I really needed to learn how to be softer. I leaned into my family of guides, dove into #shiatsu with #samberlind and #taichi with Mike. Hard to learn from your partner so I read all the books and practiced on my own for a long time. I took what I learned into everything and everything improved. I learned how to move better when I practiced and led yoga and every other moment. I learned how to soften myself and allow my breath to move me. I realized how silly and not useful is to be so egotistical and jump ahead of my breath when all the while the breath is right there, waiting for you to soften so it can lift and actually carry you with every inhale, and take the pressure off and make it easier to be right here, with every exhale.
Once you experience softness you don’t go back to force. There is no fight, no argument, no opposition. It is just irrelevant and not useful. Something to back away from. Force creates isolation and disconnection in yourself and makes hard things harder. Yes you can do hard things hard, but you will break, and you are spreading force around as you go. It’s not your fault.
Softness creates connection, harmony and possibilities for you and the world around you.
If this is new for you and pulls you in a bit, here is a simple practice to experience.
Move yourself around from your middle until you are actually comfortable.
Soften yourself physically, mentally, emotionally.
Notice how you feel.
Notice your breath moving you like a big ball, globe, out and in. Notice up and down become out and in.
Take a big inhale and lift your arms up. Wait for your inhale to do this for you. #softness #taichi #yoga #stralayoga #wecandohardthings
Exhale and relax your arms down.
Notice how you feel.
Hang here for a bit. Don’t jump up.
Big hugs and lots of softness.
Tara#stralayoga #wellbeing #yoga