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Finding flexibility and ease within the body, we come across the preconceived notion that yoga requires flexibility and strength.

However, it is almost the reverse.

Yoga cultivates flexibility and strength within the physical body and mind. 

As a society, we are beginning to re-awaken to the awareness that what happens within the body reflects what is happening in the mind. Therefore, it is worth considering how our daily habits impact our mental well-being and vice versa. 

Yoga is an ancient wisdom that holds this communion between the body and mind at its core. The practices and lifestyle of Yoga seamlessly intertwine flexibility and strength to unlock the body’s unique inherent potential. 

Yoga for Flexibility and Strength

Flexibility and strength might seem like two opposing forces, one requiring a softness and the other requiring engagement, yet in the world of yoga, they are beautifully entwined.

A mindful yoga practice enhances flexibility by gently stretching and lengthening the soft tissues while also building strength and awareness through the synergistic engagement of muscles.

Furthermore, in the consistency of practice, flexibility to meet the body where it is at is cultivated, as is the inner strength and resilience required to challenge the body beyond its perceived comfort zones.

What is Flexibility?

Flexibility is the range of motion in a joint or group of joints without restriction or pain. A joint is the meeting of two bones.

Each joint is supported by soft tissues:

  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Muscles
  • And fascia.

Understanding this, we can realize that flexibility is specific to each joint and every person’s unique musculoskeletal structure.

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It’s a myth that some people are innately flexible throughout their whole body. Being flexible in one area does not necessarily imply being flexible in another.

Our range of motion is determined by the mobility and elasticity of our soft tissues, among other factors,

And a lack of stretching or mobility in general, especially when combined with activity can lead to a shortening of the soft tissue and inflexibility which can feel like tightness within the body. 

▶️ Factors affecting flexibility

Restriction or shortening in the soft tissues is not the only reason for limitation in joint movement. Several factors impact flexibility, including:

➡️ The type of joint

Some joints are designed to be more flexible (like the knee joint), while some are less flexible (like the vertebrae of the lumbar spine), and some joints are immovable (like the joining of the cranium).

➡️ Elasticity of muscle tissue

Muscle tissue that is scarred due to injury is generally not very flexible.

➡️ The responsivity of the nervous system

In allowing the muscles and spaces in the to contract and relax.

➡️ Body temperature

Joints and muscles offer better flexibility at body temperature or 1 – 2 degrees higher.

➡️ External temperature

For the same reason, a warmer climate is more conducive to flexibility.

➡️ Time of day

Most people have greater flexibility in the early afternoon.

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➡️ Age

Pre-adolescents are generally more flexible than adults.

➡️ Gender

Females are generally more flexible than males.

➡️ Hydration

Studies show that hydration levels directly correlate to mobility. 

The combination of mindful movement, body awareness, and connection within a yoga practice offers the space for a natural cultivation of flexibility. 

✳️ Importance of flexibility

Enhanced flexibility aids the body’s mechanics so that joints can move within their full range of motion. This supports proper posture as well as enhancing moveability within the body.

This creates more ease in day-to-day activities and lessens the likelihood of injury or strain on the body. Flexibility cultivated through continued stretching can also alleviate muscle tightness, reducing muscle and joint strain. 

As the old saying if you don’t move it, lose it. 

What is strength?

Strength can be categorized in a few different ways:

  • In the power of a physical movement (such as weightlifting)
  • In expressions of stamina (such as tennis)
  • In achievements of endurance (such as marathon running).

In consideration, we understand that different types of strength can be achieved. Yoga is often associated with gentle stretching and calming practices.

However, strength is a fundamental component of yoga. Yoga is equally as effective in building strength throughout the body as it is in building flexibility.

Yoga practices often require longer holds within the body for prolonged and repeated periods. This involves the isometric engagement of the muscles, which are engaged but neither shortened nor lengthened in faster-paced practices such as vinyasa, ashtanga, rocket, etc.

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Repeated movements of a vinyasa move from isometric to concentric contraction (where muscle fibers are shortened and then lengthened again). This stimulation of the connective tissue cultivates strength within muscle fibers and builds stamina and endurance.

The repeated action allows for the lubrication of the inner network of fascia to function more effectively.

Strength is a fundamental component of yoga, and it goes hand in hand with flexibility to create balance between proper function and ease in being.

✳️ Importance of Strength

Strength is a crucial component for stabilizing the body by ensuring proper engagement of muscles to maintain a proper alignment and posture.

While certain postures within yoga will target specific body areas, a complete practice cultivates strength and flexibility throughout the body, including the mind.

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Through our yoga practice, we can cultivate an understanding of how various muscles can be activated and engaged to promote functional strength and coordination both on and off the mat. This awareness translates into improved performance in daily activities and a reduced risk of injury.

A consistent practice of yoga should be progressive. As practitioners become more proficient in certain poses, they can challenge themselves by increasing the duration of holds, transitioning to more advanced variations, or incorporating props for added resistance and muscle engagement.

7 Best yoga poses for flexibility and strength

Yoga finds the balance between flexibility and strength, between effort and ease. While flexibility allows for a wide range of motion, strength provides stability and support.

The interplay between flexibility and strength in yoga ensures that the body is supple and capable of holding and maintaining postures with control.

In this way, Yoga is a sustainable practice that can serve one through a lifetime. Here are some ways to think about fostering flexibility and strength in your yoga practice. 

1. Static Stretching

Holding yoga poses for extended durations gently stretches the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, gradually increasing their length and flexibility.

2. Dynamic Movements

Flow-based yoga practices like Vinyasa or Ashtanga involve a sequence of movements that promote flexibility by dynamically stretching and strengthening the body.

3. Balanced Approach

Yoga poses focus on various muscle groups, ensuring a well-rounded approach to enhancing overall body flexibility. Consider incorporating different postures, some that are more activated, like standing or balancing postures, and more passive stretches, like seated or reclined poses. 

4. Variety in practice

Experiment with various yoga styles and poses to challenge different muscle groups. This will also keep your practice engaging and evolving as it develops and changes as you do.

5. Mind-Body Connection

Emphasizing mindful breath control, yoga encourages a deeper connection between the mind and body, allowing for a more effective and safe approach to increasing flexibility.

6. Progressive Improvement

With consistent practice, yoga aids in gradual and sustainable improvement in flexibility, allowing individuals to push their boundaries in a safe and controlled manner.

7. Consistency

Regular practice is key in cultivating strength and flexibility. Even short sessions can yield significant results. Yoga is a journey, not a race. Allow yourself to be curious about the changes and developments of your practice, and be patient, compassionate, and encouraging with yourself within your practice.

Cultivating flexibility and strength within a physical yoga practice is about improving the overall quality of movement and enhancing the body’s functional capabilities. Through yoga, one can embark on a journey toward greater awareness of the living body and begin to understand the body’s full potential. 

Embracing Your Body’s Potential improving your strength and flexibility with yoga

As we tune into the cultivation of flexibility and strength in physical practice, we explore the potential of the physical and mental body to grow.

Remembering that yoga is more than pushing the body to its absolute limit, nor is it about spending the whole time in savasana.

Yoga is the cultivation and embodiment of awareness for your physical being. Through consistent practice, we become more aware of our potential and more open to exploring our boundaries.

This becomes mirrored off the mat when a yoga practice encourages us to hold strong in the integrity of our own being and remain flexible and open in the mind to embrace life’s challenges.

Yoga is a holistic practice that stands as a guiding light, offering not just physical prowess but a holistic approach to unlocking your body’s true potential.