Why Locking Joints Locks Doors

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Hi Friends!

This question comes up so often in yoga – “Should I be locking my knees and elbows – arms and legs held stick-straight – in all the poses?”  It’s a good question, the kind that opens a few good doors.

I think the short answer might have to do with, it takes some time and practice to replace old habits with new ones, even when the old habits don’t work so well for us. And, it also takes progress. We need to see that change leads us to greater ability, to something more. We all want this. So it takes a bit of structure here, to create this path to expansion.

Once we see this new path, we can also see something about locking, and about rigidity.  It’s kind of like spending our time going around locking every door we see.  It might be better to stay open.  This is a very different kind of practice.


The practice of softness is something common to nearly every form of East Asian art, from tai chi to calligraphy to healing.  But it’s not so much in yoga now, because it’s not so much in our lives now.  Yoga in the last many decades is more focused on rigidity, tension.  It’s reflecting our life, not fixing it.


Of course it takes a long while to get really good at softness – to be movable without always moving, bendable without always bending. But on both chemical and neurological levels, this is central to the results we want, to the progress we want.

Locking our joints I understand, I’ve been there. It’s a show of strength, and this feels like it keeps us safe. But what we want is real strength, not a show. And holding tension generally leads to aggravation and injury, along with reduced ability to do what we want to do. So locking, flexing, engaging, extending, rotating – all these things don’t so much give what we’re looking for.


So much thinking and manipulating our way into our bodies just gives more stress and tension, by disconnecting one part of us from another, immobilizing and then trying to move.


Which is really what most of us are already too good at – tension and stress. It’s kind of like that old saying “Bringing our neuroses into our cure” – something we do pretty often, just being human.  So I think East Asian arts have this better, a practice that leads to harmony rather than rigidity and disconnection. And if you’d like to read some more about the science on this, here’s a link for you.

Of course all this takes practice – much more than a few hours of training. It takes this ongoing cycle of education, practice, and experience, to get really good at what we want to be good at – so we can begin replacing the old habits, like tension and rigidity, with new habits of moving well, in harmony with our whole selves.

Tara and I have been listening to as many Dalai Lama podcasts as we can lately, there’s so much here.  And it brings to mind now something he said.


If you want to do something, if you want to change something big, don’t be in a hurry.  Don’t be impatient.  Being impatient will create failure.  Because anything big takes time.  At least a few years of practice.  So first be sure that you want to do this, that it’s important to you.  And then take your time with it.  Be patient, with you.


– by Mike


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