EPISODE 17
Breathing & Dancing

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Sue asks:

Five years ago, I had a knee surgery to remove debris from a torn muscle. (I don’t think that’s a torn muscle. I think that’s probably a meniscus.) Although completing physical therapy exercises after surgery, I’ve lost a lot of flexibility and can no longer sit on my heels. Should I keep trying, or am I likely to damage my knees? Are there any poses that you recommend that could gently stretch these muscles to allow me to sit back on my heels again?

Okay, Sue, this is a really complicated question, and for anything knee related, you always want to do this in conjunction with discussions with your doctor. Some knee surgeries are very, very simple, they’re in and out. Recovery can be complete and very, very fast. Other knee surgeries are a quick fix for a problem that’s going to be lifelong. Not really sure what you’re dealing with here. For sure, check with your doctor.

In terms of increasing the flexibility to your knees, a lot of times what we’re dealing with are the tops of your legs, your quads and a lot of other muscles. But, I wouldn’t want to recommend anything until you check with your doctor. We’re actually doing a lot of research into knee surgeries and knee problems, and we’ll be releasing some new videos on that shortly, so please do stay tuned.

Wendy asks:

Why is it we breath in thru our nose and out thru our mouth in Gravity Yoga where it is in and out thru our nose in other yoga?

Okay, first of all, Wendy, if you prefer and if you’re comfortable breathing in and out through your nose, you can do that in gravity poses as well. Gravity yoga poses are the long hold, deep stretching flexibility pose series that I teach, and I always teach breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, and I do this for a couple of very specific reasons.

The first one is, when you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, we naturally tend to extend the exhale, meaning we breathe out longer than we breathe in. This has a relaxing affect on your body, which is very effective for stretching. It also helps you to concentrate, and last but not least, it gives you something to do. And this is very, very beneficial when you get into the intense poses. Releasing the breathe through your mouth can be a way of releasing the tension, and if you’re starting to hold things for three, four and five minutes, it can be pretty intense to keep all that breathe in and out through your nose.

It’s not required. It’s something that I teach and I find beneficial, but, Wendy, if you like breathing in and out through your nose, that is a perfectly correct and great way to practice as well.

Barbara asks:

I have ileotibial band syndrome on my right side. My question is about length of time in holds required for stretching tendons – it says stretch for 30 seconds, release and stretch thirty seconds again. Repeat four times. Yin Yoga teaches to hold steady in a relaxed way for up to five minutes as being the best way to stretch tendons. I wondered if you had any thought on the subject.

Barbara, the first thing is, you don’t want to stretch tendons. You don’t want to stretch tendons and ligaments. You want to use them. What I mean by that, is you don’t want to lengthen your tendons, you don’t want to lengthen your ligaments. These are very, very important in connecting muscle to bone or bone to bone. You don’t actually want to stretch them.

Now, you do want to use them. If you don’t use it, you lose it, in the same way that let’s imagine you had, I don’t know, let’s say you had a piece of rope and you hadn’t flexed that rope in many, many years, 20 years, it would be very, very stiff. If every day you used it and you moved it through its full range of motion, it would stay loose and limber. The same is true of your tendons and your ligaments, but you do not want to stretch them, per say, because unlike muscle, they don’t behave the same way. Once they’re lengthened, you can do permanent damage.

So, we don’t want to stretch tendons or ligaments, per say. You do want to move them through their full range of muscles. You need to be really careful with this. In some forms of yoga, in some forms of body work as well, people work on lengthening tendons and ligaments. I don’t feel comfortable with that. I don’t think that’s a great thing to do, unless you know you have some kind of special circumstance.

But in general, what we’re looking to do is move them through the full range of motion. So, to keep them in use, to keep them active. In terms of long holds on tendons, I wouldn’t do it. We’re focusing on muscle stretching when we’re stretching.

Owen asks:

I’m a professional ballet dancer, so bendy is my business. I started doing the lunge and both legs and Butterfly, 5 minutes every day. I’ve started to see a huge improvement, so I wanted to say thank you for that! Now the only thing that’s holding me back is my back flexibility. Do you have any tips?

Okay, so, Owen, the thing about back flexibility is that most of us in yoga classes, if you’re doing dance, if you’re doing gymnastics, is we use back bends as kind of the last thing, and we put it on the back burner always. The most important advice I can give you, is you need to do more back bends.

Now, there’s a couple of poses in our gravity series that are crucial, crucial, crucial. The first one is hangman. That’s a passive shoulder stretch you do at the wall. Without getting into too much detail, you basically hang from your arms, right up against the wall, and let your shoulders open up. The second one is called lightning bolt, which is where you sit down between your heels and lay down on your back. That stretches the tops of your legs, which allows for more pelvic rotation. And then there’s just straight up back bends – like a full wheel or
a bridge pose in gymnastics.

And, again, you just need to do more of them. The key thing is that you can always breathe when you’re doing back bends, and you need to do a lot of them. So if you’re a professional ballet dancer, you’re probably looking for pretty serious back flexibility, meaning you want to be able to do a very, very deep, full wheel pose. In order to get to that level, you really need to be practicing back bends a lot, like at least 5 to 10 minutes per day and holding stretches for a long time. You need to be really careful and you need to be really cognizant so you don’t do damage, but you really need to make back bending a huge part of your routine.

So, I’d start with the poses in the gravity yoga series, start working with a local teacher if you can and start doing a lot more different kinds of back bends and variations and holding them much longer than you’d be taught in a normal class, assuming you have no pain or strain.

Dolly asks:

I have never been flexible. I’ve always just assumed it was genetic. How are flexibility training/stretching exercises related to strength training? I know strength training is important for weight-bearing exercises, muscle building, et cetera, but does your program accomplish some of the same goals?

Flexibility is the yin to the yang of strength training. Both are very, very important. It’s important to have impact, to have weight bearing, to have strength in muscle. Flexibility training is extremely crucial to having that youthful agility in your joints, to keeping your joints healthy, to have full range of motion, to avoid injury.

So, they’re both great, they’re both important, and so how do they play into each other? Well, they’re really the balancing act, and we’re always trying to balance our strength and our flexibility, increasing our range of motion while increasing our strength. So, there’s no one is better than the other. They’re both crucial, and I’d focus on doing them both.

A really great yoga practice does work on both. When we teach gravity poses, specifically, we’re usually trying to balance out another practice. So maybe somebody’s a runner or they’re an athlete or they’re a climber, whatever they’re doing. It tends to be yang-focused, even a lot of the yoga practices tend to be yang-focused. And the yin style, deep flexibility stretching poses that we teach, tend to balance that out or supplement that. So, Dolly, both are great. Focus on both, and you’ll get great results.

Trent asks:

: I’m trying to improve my back flexibility for my back bend. I notice when I bend backwards and push body upwards I feel a slight pinching pressure on my back. What should I do? How long should I hold and how often during a week should I practice this pose?

Flexibility is the yin to the yang of strength training. Both are very, very important. It’s important to have impact, to have weight bearing, to have strength in muscle. Flexibility training is extremely crucial to having that youthful agility in your joints, to keeping your joints healthy, to have full range of motion, to avoid injury.

So, they’re both great, they’re both important, and so how do they play into each other? Well, they’re really the balancing act, and we’re always trying to balance our strength and our flexibility, increasing our range of motion while increasing our strength. So, there’s no one is better than the other. They’re both crucial, and I’d focus on doing them both.

A really great yoga practice does work on both. When we teach gravity poses, specifically, we’re usually trying to balance out another practice. So maybe somebody’s a runner or they’re an athlete or they’re a climber, whatever they’re doing. It tends to be yang-focused, even a lot of the yoga practices tend to be yang-focused. And the yin style, deep flexibility stretching poses that we teach, tend to balance that out or supplement that. So, Dolly, both are great. Focus on both, and you’ll get great results.

Debra asks:

I have a reasonable amount of flexibility and have been doing yoga regularly for almost 3 years now. I also have fibromyalgia therefore there is a lot of tight/painful places on the body. Does the YOGABODY Stretch help with this type of tightness?

YOGABODY Stretch is our flexibility supplement that’s really popular with yoga students all over the world. It might help, it might not help, Debra. There’s definitely no panacea. Some things work for some people, some things work for other people. For sure, proper nutrition and stretching is going to give you some benefits. Now, is it going to reverse your fibromyalgia, I don’t know, but maybe. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I would be very surprised if it didn’t help. I’d love to hear your experiences and your feedback using stretching and nutritional treatments, so please do keep in touch with us.

I’ve also been doing the 5-day gravity sequences on and off for about a year, but haven’t noticed a huge amount of difference. I know I have to do them regularly, at least a month to see improvement.

Okay, so here’s the thing, Debra. Whenever anybody’s been doing gravity stretches regularly and not getting results, there’s a couple of things. The first one is, really the biggest thing is, you need to meet or beat your hold time. Almost nobody times their poses. I don’t know why, they just kind of want to flop on the ground and do the stretches. It’s a natural human tendency. You need to fight nature by using a stopwatch. You’ve got to time your poses.

So if you’re doing, let’s say, the noodle pose and you’re doing a passive back bend over a chair and you’re holding it for one minute every day, you’re not going to get any results. You need to constantly, gradually, progressively increase your hold times. We call it meet or beat your hold times. You have to do that, or you won’t progress. Your body will naturally move towards inertia. Your body will stay in the status where it is. It will do all of these little things, like your mind will distract you, you’ll remember you have to send an email or answer a phone call and you’ll come out of the stretch too soon. So, meet or beat your hold times.

You said you’ve been doing them on and off. Consistency is absolutely crucial for stretching progress, so just commit to 15 minutes per day. Don’t be a weekend warrior. Don’t try to cram it all into one day. Do a little bit each day, and you’ll see great results.

Lena asks:

I observed something. If I forget to take YOGABODY Stretch before yoga, I do find that my muscle is not soft enough to stretch deeper. Why? Will it make me so dependent?

So first of all, YOGABODY Stretch is not a performance enhancer. If you’re noticing that if you take it before class you’re feeling like you can go deeper, it very well might be affecting you on a very deep level, it might be psychological, it might be both, I don’t really know. But, no, it will not make you dependent. This is not a performance enhancer. It’s a nutritional support product. It provides you with vitamins and minerals that your body needs to be loose and limber.

Now, in some cases, when people are very deprived of certain minerals, specifically things like magnesium, YOGABODY Stretch can be really helpful, and you might notice results right away, like Lena is. Your body is not dependent. If anything, it’s having a really great affect, so don’t be concerned.

My Rag Doll is bad. (Rag Doll is a passive forward bend.) Can’t hold it for longer than 30 seconds. My question is, do I need to suck in my stomach when I do Rag Doll?

Lena, no, don’t suck in your stomach. Don’t do anything. Bend your knees a little bit and just hang there. If you’re having trouble getting past 30 seconds, here’s what I want you to do. Go right up against a wall, so your heels are touching the wall, and rest your bum against the wall. Sometimes that added support will help you get way over two minutes right away, and just keep timing. And again, use that same thing, meet or beat your hold times, and you’ll see great results very, very quickly.

Trent asks:

I need some insight into my Lotus pose. Even in a half Lotus pose, it feels like my knees are turning out but not my inner thighs. Why am I feeling this pain? And what can be done immediately to prevent injury? What beginner exercises lead up to this pose?

So, Trent, full Lotus pose is a really complicated pose, because it involves your hip flexibility. It involves the health and flexibility of your ankles, which most people don’t realize, and also your knees. And it’s quite a complex pose, even your hamstrings are involved.

So the best thing to do is a comprehensive stretching routine. If you’re doing a yoga practice, keep doing that. If you’re supplementing with gravity yoga poses, keep doing that. I’m going to put together a series on how to prepare for Lotus pose, but the truth is, it’s a fairly advanced pose. Now, doing Lotus is a pretty good practice for advancing your Lotus pose as well. That is only if you don’t have knee pain. If you’re doing Lotus and you’re getting knee pain, I wouldn’t recommend long holds of Lotus pose. But if you can do Lotus pose without knee pain, I’d recommend holding it every day and doing meditation. That’s a great way to increase your Lotus flexibility as well, particularly with your ankles. Ankle flexibility can be developed fairly well doing Lotus pose itself. We talk about this a lot.

Some poses develop, and other poses demonstrate flexibility. Lotus pose does a little bit of both. It’s not going to help your hip flexibility sitting in Lotus. It will mostly demonstrate hip flexibility, but it will develop ankle flexibility. So again, be very careful with your knees. Keep practicing a range of different poses, hip poses, hamstring poses, ankle and knee flexibility poses.

Annika asks:

I do at the moment focus on opening my chest in backbends. I am very open and get into deep backbends like the full bridge on one leg, dropping back from camel pose. I don’t feel any pain getting in or out, but afterwards. Can you give me some ideas about it please?

Okay, so she’s saying she’s getting pain afterwards. Her back bends are deep. It sounds like she’s a natural back bender. I don’t really know. The key thing is, if you’re starting to feel pain and you’re a natural back bender, you can go back really easily, but afterwards you’re feeling pain, maybe perhaps you’re dropping in too carelessly. Maybe you need to slow down. I’m not really sure. I’d for sure check with a teacher, and you also need to take a look at what that pain is. If it’s just temporary discomfort, maybe it’s not a big deal. If you’re finding pain after practice, you need to take a closer look.

Can you give me some ideas about the basics of bikram yoga? What do you think about ashtanga, iyengar, bikram, hatha yoga?

This is a huge question. What I always tell people is do what you like. If you go to a bikram class and you love it, keep going. If you go to iyengar and you love it, keep going. Everybody has a very different approach and interest in what they’re looking for in yoga. Ashtanga yoga is very much about energy. Iyengar yoga is very much about alignment. Bikram yoga is very much about the heat, and hatha yoga is a really general term for lots of different styles of yoga. So just find what you love and do it, and don’t worry so much about what other people say. And that’s
kind of the best advice I could give you.

Is swimming an exercise like any other cardio, which stiffens you up, or is it somewhat “lighter”?

Annika, that’s a great question. Swimming is one of the most amazing exercises. If you look at the overall body, muscle, tone, cardio benefits of any exercise, swimming comes up number two, with running being number one. The only problem with running, is about 80 percent of people tend to get hurt. Some of those injuries can be chronic or even lifelong.

Swimming is zero impact, so it’s kind of second in terms of the overall benefits. It’s one of the most amazing things you can do, and interestingly enough, it doesn’t stiffen you up, the way other exercises do. In fact, it’s one of the best complimentary exercises for yoga that exists. It’s very, very lengthening, just in its nature. When you’re doing a freestyle stroke, for example, it’s very, very lengthening and opening in your shoulders and you can be very, very limber and a very strong swimmer. I’m a huge fan of swimming. I grew up swimming, so I’d
highly recommend it.