3 Flexibility Secrets You Won’t Learn in Yoga Class
There’s much more to yoga than flexibility, but that’s easy to say when you can sit in full lotus for an hour without moving, do a backbend with straight arms, and bind your wrist behind your back in Marichiyasana D.
As any stiff student will tell you, when you’re tight, a huge part of your yoga practice involves struggling with your stiff body—and I’m here to say that it’s a worthy struggle indeed!
Greater flexibility is associated with reduced risk of injury, increased circulation, nervous system health, and general youthfulness. In essence, life is richer when you can squat, twist, touch your toes, and sit comfortably on the floor; and even if your ultimate goal is less physical and more in line with meditation, this too becomes much more accessible when your body is open and your energy is moving freely.
For all those reasons, I always encourage students to stretch outside of class to improve the flexibility of their “stiff spots”, and here are 3 flexibility secrets that are rarely taught in classes (but should be).
#1 – Many Yoga Poses Demonstrate Rather than Develop Flexibility
The perfect example of this is a full lotus pose. For meditation or any seated practice, it’s the ideal pose, but learning it can be a real challenge. Lotus pose demonstrates the flexibility of your hips, ankles, and hamstrings (and more), but it’s a terrible pose for developing that flexibility.
If you’re super stiff and practice full lotus for long stretches, you’ll inevitably end up with sore or even injured knees. In this way, when you’re practicing yoga for flexibility, you want to do poses that clearly develop (rather than just demonstrate) the posture. In the case of full lotus, for example, poses like Marichiyasana B & D from Ashtanga Yoga, Blaster Pose, and Butterfly Poses are all excellent.
#2 – Your Biggest Flexibility Come from “Passive” Postures
Most modern yoga classes tend to be very athletic. Whether you’re doing Hot Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga, or any other dynamic style, most of these practices involve a lot of muscular contraction, strength, and active movements. While you can (and will) absolutely develop flexibility in these classes, you’ll achieve much bigger gains doing passive “Gravity Yoga” or yin-style poses simply because your muscles, facia and connective tissues all stretch better when relaxed. The takeaway? If you’re working on your tight hips, supplement your athletic yoga practice with long-hold, deep stretching, passive poses at home before bed. It can make a world of difference.
#3 – Nutrition Really Matters with Flexibility
As a yoga teacher, I lead a “yoga detox” workshop where we do 3-5 days just on liquids, and everyone reports they feel more flexible on day 2, often dramatically more so. People like to think it’s because they’ve suddenly flushed all the toxins out of their body, but the reason is actually much more simple: their micronutrient stores are through the roof (we focus on green vegetable juices and sulfur-rich broths), their inflammation has dropped way down, and they’re now super hydrated lubricating all their joints.
Yoga asanas involve your body, and the food you eat is what that your body is built from. This sounds obvious, but as you might know, many yoga students try to live off a coffee, wheat and dairy-based diet. These traditional “yoga foods” are a train wreck when it comes to your nervous system health, your flexibility, and your overall wellness. Your connective tissues want mineral-dense goodness, particularly sulfur-rich and magnesium rich foods, and also inflammation-soothing foods like turmeric and Omega-3 fats.
With all that in mind, to get the flexibility gains you’re looking for, make sure to practice passive, long-hold poses, practice “developmental” postures, and make sure to eat great food. These 3 simple steps can help you transform the flexibility of your body making your yoga practice all the more enjoyable.