Tagyoga practice

Starter kit for Yoga students – what to recommend

Starter kit for Yoga students - what to recommend

Since the Coronavirus pandemic hit our shores life as we know it has changed. Even when we come out of lockdown, the way we practice yoga will undoubtedly be different to how it was before. And having your own yoga kit is going to be essential. Many yoga studios had already stipulated that post-lockdown all students will be required to bring their own kit to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

At the moment, as many students practice yoga at home, they’ll also need to invest in some yoga kit to make the most of their online classes. As a yoga teacher myself, I know that the recent crisis has prompted many of my students to make the step to invest in their own yoga equipment so that they can join in fully with my online classes.

A senior yoga teacher once said to me, “If you were going to play tennis, you wouldn’t turn up without a racket, yoga should be the same.”

As yoga teachers it’s up to us to encourage our students to invest in proper kit so that their experience of doing yoga at home is as good as it can be, and also so that they have the tools to start a home yoga practice.

What is a yoga kit?

As an Iyengar yoga teacher, I have yoga props galore. However, if you’re on a budget, then a basic yoga kit list is:

  • A mat
  • Four blocks
  • Two bricks
  • One belt

These are the basic building blocks of a yoga practice. The mat gives you a surface that grips to your feet, preventing you from slipping in the poses. It also gives you a space in which to orientate the body.

The four blocks can be used to support the body for seated poses, can be used under the sacrum in supported Setubandha and under the shoulders in Sarvangasana.

The two bricks are like extensions of the arms in standing forward bends such as Uttanasana and Parsvottanasana, and can be used in all sorts of imaginative ways, like between the upper thighs to encourage the thighs to work.

The belt is again to allow those who are slightly stiffer to reach the feet in seated forward bends, to allow the hands to grip in Gomukhasana and can be used around the elbows in Pincha Mayurasana.

What products should I recommend?

There are so many fantastic yoga products out there. Yogamatters offers a wide range of well-designed, brightly coloured yoga props. They also do discounts for yoga teachers.

If you’d prefer to go for a more environmentally friendly yoga kit, then Manduka does a very high-quality range, including cork bricks and blocks, as well as recycled plastic blocks. Their Eko yoga mats are eco-friendly and biodegradable, harvested from non-Amazon rainforest rubber trees.

If these are too pricey, then encourage your students to look out for deals in their nearest cut-price supermarkets, such as Lidl and Aldi, and they occasionally sell yoga props in their ‘bargain’ aisle.

Yoga Extras

Once your students become committed yogis, you can encourage them to invest in more than the starter kit above. If restorative yoga is their thing then a bolster (or two) is essential. Bolsters’ rounded shape and supportive filling allow the body to open and relax while holding supine poses for long stretches of time.

A good-quality cotton blanket or two is also very useful for restorative yoga, as well as for use in general yoga classes as an extra level of height (with more give than the blocks), and for covering yourself for śavasana. Yogamatters do a large natural cotton blanket which is great for folding into various shapes for restorative poses – you need to wash it before use though as it’s very fluffy!

If you’re into hot yoga, then an absorbent yoga towel is a good investment to stop you slipping and sliding all over your mat. Manduka sells the yogitoes yoga towel, which is ultra-absorbent, lightweight, and quick-drying.

A yoga chair is also a worthwhile investment once your students become serious about their home practice. There are whole sequences you can do around the yoga chair, and it can be a way of accessing the more advanced poses, such as Kapotasana and Eka Pada Koundinyasana.

Yoga Clothes

Part of a good yoga kit is also having the right clothes. If you’re not comfortable and supported, it can be distracting from the yoga.

Sweaty Betty has a brilliantly well-made range of yoga leggings, which survive endless washing and last for years. They’re not natural fabrics, but they’re breathable and designed to be super comfortable. I have five pairs…and don’t regret a single one.

Their tops are also sweat-wicking and made from a lightweight fabric and are both flattering and well-fitting. They also do a great discount for yoga teachers, that applies even in the sales (hence the five pairs of leggings…).

If you’re into cotton yoga wear then yogamatters do organic cotton ‘pune’ pants which are the traditional Iyengar yoga choice of yoga bottoms.

Again, these are quite pricey options for your students, so feel free to recommend that they buy some basic cotton leggings online, just as long as they feel comfortable and can move easily. The most important thing is yoga after all!

 

 

PS – none of the above links are generating any money for us, they’re honest-to-goodness, real recommendations 😉

Poppy Pickles

How to improve your well-being during this crisis

How to improve your well-being during this crisis

In these strange times, many of us are struggling with navigating our normal lives. Everyday things have changed; shops have closed, exercise is limited, we can’t hug our parents or friends – and we can’t go to yoga classes.

As the weeks go by we have started to adapt, but every now and then the loneliness, uncertainty, and financial worries can hit home.

So here are some ways that we can look after our wellbeing during Coronavirus.

Limit your news intake

Be intentional in the way that you consume the news at the moment. If you have a news app on your phone, turn off the notifications. One news story can lead us to another, and before we know it, we’ve been pulled down into a dark spiral of fear-inducing news.

Yes, the world is dealing with a pandemic and, of course, there are things to be frightened of. But stoking our fear doesn’t help. It just increases our stress levels, which in turn reduces the strength of our immune system.

Connect with your body

As yogis, we know this. Doing a considered yoga practice when we’re stressed calms us down, brings us back from anxiety. But it’s easy to know this, sometimes less easy to do. If you’re working from home, as well as home-schooling young children, then fitting in a yoga practice will seem laughable.

But it doesn’t have to be a whole hour of practice. It can be as simple as sitting straight and tall on your chair; feeling the sitting bones and backs of the thighs on the seat of the chair, pressing the feet down, then stretching the arms up towards the ceiling.

This simple exercise will connect you to the earth, open the lungs and heart, and bring the mind into the body.

Think about others

This is a cliché, but a true one. The more we think about others, and consider how other people might be feeling, the less we focus on ourselves and how we’re coping, or not.

If you’re feeling at a loose end and it’s driving you mad, there’s plenty of ways to be useful. Check out nextdoor.com to see if you’ve got any elderly or vulnerable neighbours that need medication or shopping picked up and delivered. Or give your elderly relative a call every day to have a chat and see how they’re doing.

Get to know your family

If this situation has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t usually spend much time with our family unit. In a normal week, my husband and I have about 20 minutes a day to have a proper chat. Weekends were usually just as busy with yoga and work commitments, time away, kids’ activities, and so on.

Without all this frenetic activity, we are turning to look at each other, and now have the time and space to have proper conversations. On the daily walks there is a chance to really connect with our children and partners, with no distractions such as popping into shops or grabbing a coffee.

If you feel like you’re still more annoyed than connected to them, then try this exercise. Taking around 45 minutes, ask your partner these questions, and see how many surprises you get.

Do a daily meditation

Meditation has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety, calm the nerves, slow the heart rate, and increase feelings of contentment and well-being. If you already have a yoga practice, adding in a ten-minute meditation every day will come easier to you, as your body will be more receptive to sitting or lying still.

Why not choose a subject to meditate on? You can set an intention for your meditation, such as focusing on compassion for others, acknowledging your resilience, and being grateful for health, home, family, and friends.

If you’re not sure you’d know what to do, or might not have the motivation to do it on your own, there are plenty of apps out there, such as calm, headspace, Aura, and Smiling Mind – and we’re currently holding a free guided meditation on Friday morning, so why not join us?

Read more

We all take books on holiday, but as soon as we’re at home, we find we don’t have time to read anymore. With the uncertainty of how much longer we will be in lockdown, now is the perfect time to get back into that pile of books. Rather than buying a whole load more, check your bookshelves first. I found at least three books that I thought I’d read, but actually hadn’t – free books!

It could also be a time to release your inner yoga geek and do a bit of yoga philosophy reading. There is a vast wealth of knowledge out there, which deepens your yoga practice.

Write things down

I always think the word ‘journaling’ is really smug and slightly intimidating. You don’t have to keep up a relentless daily diary to do a bit of writing – of course, if you do, well done. But we all have a spare notepad somewhere, dig it out and start a lockdown diary. It doesn’t have to be every day. It could be just one sentence. Or you could keep a yoga practice notepad, and write how you felt before and after your practice.

If you’re struggling with your emotions, you can try ‘expressive writing‘, which is a safe way to express your feelings, and see them objectively.

Try not to compare

We all do it all the time, and it’s never good for any of us. But right now there seems to be some sort of ‘who can do lockdown life the best’ competition on social media – especially Instagram. Some people seem to be baking, gardening, doing DIY jobs, homeschooling, setting up new businesses, and making floral wreaths, all at the same time.

This sets up a feeling that we’re not making the most of this time and can trigger all sorts of self-criticism. But it’s important to remember that everyone who posts on social media is only posting the edited highlights, and that they too are having days when they feel scared, stressed, or angry.

Be Kind to Yourself

It’s easy to forget to be compassionate and kind to ourselves. We are in an unprecedented time within living memory, and it will inevitably affect, shape and change all of our lives. Well-known author Matt Haig has a note to himself in his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive‘, which includes these sentences that feel very apt:

Keep allowing yourself the human privilege of mistakes. Keep a space that is you and put a fence around it. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep your phone at arm’s length. Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Keep breathing. Keep inhaling life itself.

 

 

Poppy Pickles

What are yoga Props, and how to improvise them for home practice

What are yoga Props, and how to improvise them for home practice

Props are really, really great. They are SO useful to keep you safe in class and help you to move deeper into a pose than you could without them. They open up a world of possibilities for making poses more accessible AND more challenging. But let’s start from the beginning…

 

What ARE Props?

Props come in in a range shapes and sizes.

Blocks tend to be flatter with one long edge, one medium edge and a short edge – imagine a big book shape. Bricks tend to be smaller blocks with one long side and 2 pretty much equal length sides – yup, a bit like a brick… Blocks and bricks can be made of dense foam, wood or cork.

Yoga belts are usually woven cotton or webbing and can be a single length with a buckle at one end or can be sewn into a loop or figure of eight.

Meditation cushions, or zafus, come in a variety of shapes and sizes with all sorts of fillings from spelt to foam. Bolsters are similar but tend to be long, round and sausage-like.

Then there are yoga wheels, head up stools, eye masks, weights, blankets… All sorts of things that yogis use in their practice. I guess the modern yoga mat is a prop too, really.

Why use them?

Props can be used to improve alignment in a pose when a yogi has yet to develop sufficient range of movement to achieve the full expression of that pose.

An example would be using a brick under the hand in trikonāsana (triangle) when a student can’t reach the floor without folding the trunk forwards. Placing a brick under the hand at a height where the trunk remains rotated upwards gives great alignment for that student and teaches a good movement pattern that can be maintained as the pose deepens with practice. Using a block like this usually makes the pose safer for the yogi, too, as it prevents over stretch and uncontrolled movement.

Props can also be used to teach specific muscle activation in a pose. Think about placing a block between the knees in setu bandhasāna (bridge). By squeezing the block as you lift the pelvis, the inner thigh muscles activate to prevent the knees rolling outwards. Learning to activate these muscles with the block is the first step to being able to activate them in the pose automatically in future.

Another really useful prop is the belt. This is saviour in paścimottānāsana when your feet seem to be just too far away. Here, the belt is basically an arm extension – loop it round the feet and pull to fold. Another way to use a belt is to encourage one element of a pose that is often hard to achieve. Think about prasaritta padotanāsana (wide legged forward fold with hands on hips), with the belt looped round the elbows. This encourages the elbows to stay drawn together to open the chest. Delicious!

Sitting is another time where many yogis gain SO much from using a block or cushion under the seat. This lifts the hips above the knees and allows the pelvis to roll into anterior tilt. Without this movement of the pelvis the spine is often unable to lengthen and opening the hips and chest are a real struggle. Sukāsana (easy pose) is anything BUT easy for most of us without that prop!

Purpose-made Props

Many yoga classes have props available for you to use as you want or need to, while some yoga teachers insist you bring your own. Purpose-made yoga props are available in stores and online, ranging in price from a few pounds to positively eye-watering amounts. It is well worth shopping around to find something to suit your budget if you are going to buy your own.

Having your own props is great if you have enough spare cash and the space to store them. But not everyone is in that position. Or maybe you are practising away from home – hotels and hostels are not noted for their plentiful supply of yoga props, I have found… But that does not mean props are not available to you. No matter where you are, there are things you can use as props: you can improvise, adapt and overcome! Here’s how.

Improvised Props for every occasion

With just a little imagination, most of the common props you find in a yoga studio can be very effectively improvised from normal household items.

1. MEDITATION CUSHIONS

So many options for this one… Try a normal sofa cushion. Or maybe 2 piled up. Or fold a pillow and place the folded end under the buttocks with the free ends supporting the thighs. Folded blankets or towels piled up can work well too. Or I have been known to sit on the edge of our garden decking with my lower legs rested on the grass in sukāsana – this is SO lovely for an impromptu early morning breath session or meditation in the open air.

2. BLOCKS AND BRICKS

If going under buttocks, then folded towels and blankets work well as a block. If needed for under hands to support weight, then positioning yourself near a step or low stool might work. In the trikonāsana example above, placing your hand on your own lower leg gives a point of fixation but it does make balancing more of a challenge, so it doesn’t suit everyone.

3. BELT

The easiest way to improvise a yoga belt is with the one out of your trousers! As long as it is not stretchy, any normal belt will do. Alternatively roll up a towel to tea towel length-ways and use that for looping round feet on paścimottānāsana.

4. HEAD REST IN BALĀSANA

If you usually need to rest your head on a block in balāsana (child pose) then try making fists and place one on top of the other with the thumb side uppermost. Resting the forehead on this platform can be just as good as a purpose made block and SO much easier to move out of the way as you transition into the next pose of a flow sequence. Result!

5. PARTNER BALANCES

Practising alone when the online teacher says ‘reach for a partner to balance’? Never fear – go to the nearest windowsill or kitchen units. These make perfect stable partners for any home practice. I love to use a windowsill to support my hands in a modified virabhadrāsana 3 (warrior) as it lets me REALLY focus on activating my legs in the balance.

6. BOLSTERS

See meditation cushions above and think BIGGER… Try 3 or 4 towels or blankets rolled up into a sausage to make a bolster. If you have a foam roller to hand, you could try that – though I do recommend wrapping it in some padding or putting a pillow over it if you are going to spend any amount of time resting on it. They can be SO hard and uncomfortable.

And finally

Purpose-made props are a relatively recent addition to the yoga world. Generations of yogi’s practised prop-free for centuries.

Did you know that the first yoga mats were born when someone tried pieces of carpet underlay to stop their hands slipping in down dog? Improvisation at its best! And I suspect that the first blocks used were just that – blocks of wood.

I love the idea of connecting to our yoga roots and practising more simply using what is to hand. It opens up the possibility of yoga any place, any time, anywhere. It brings freedom and simplicity for me. I hope it does for you too.

 

 

 

 

 

Sally Schofield

Perfect Poses to Prep for Headstand

Perfect Poses to Prep for Headstand

Headstand is one of my favourite poses. A headstand demands much. It requires strength AND flexibility, but that is not all. Turning upside-down and balancing on your head takes courage. And self-belief. A headstand is a mental and physical challenge that, once mastered, continues to be a highlight of time spent on the mat.

Though many of us effortlessly stood on our heads as children, it seems that it is a skill lost to us as adults. So often life robs us of the physical attributes and self-belief that a headstand demands. For me, a headstand requires four things – four things that can be relearnt and woven together to become the joy that your first adult headstand will be. And it is truly a joy.

So What is a Headstand?

A yoga headstand is usually salamba sirsāsana or sirsāsana 1- ‘the king of all poses’ and one of the twelve original poses of hatha yoga.  Here the weight of the body is supported on the forearms and head, with the legs in line with the body. Having said that, there are a whole host of variations to headstand – sirsāsana 2 (tripod headstand); mukta hasta sirsāsana (no hands) and any number of leg positions from padmāsana (lotus) to garudāsana (eagle) legs. The world is your oyster.

Preparation Pathway

The journey to a headstand is a long one path paved with many smaller goals. It is a wonderful journey – full of achievement and self-awareness. For me, it took two years. Twenty-four months of patient, mindful practice, then one day it just came together and there I was upside-down. Have I persuaded you to step on to this path? I hope so. And this is how you can get there.

1. LONG HAMSTRINGS

To be able to get into a headstand you need a whole lot of length down the back of the body. Particularly in the hamstrings. Short hamstrings draw the pelvis forwards from their ideal position directly over the shoulders and head before you lift the legs. This forward pelvic position makes balancing incredibly hard when you lift the second leg.

The solution? Working on hamstring length within a practice before attempting the pose can work if your hamstrings are nearly long enough.

forward fold yoga headstand prep
Image Credit: Jen Armstrong via Zenarmstrong.

But for most of us, it will be a case of working on hamstring length over weeks or maybe months before you can achieve that ideal of hips over head. My favourite poses for this are parsvottanāsana (intense side stretch), janu sirsāsana (head to knee pose) and every version of uttanāsana (forward fold).

2. SUPER SHOULDERS

While balancing in headstand, the forearms are actively pushing down into the mat to allow the body to grow upwards from a firm base. All of the muscles around the shoulder blade are engaged to stabilise the actual shoulder joint. It takes time and effort to build enough strength in the right places to achieve this action. This is where arm balancing poses will help – adho mukha śvānāsana (down dog) and any plank variations are a great place to start. As your shoulders strengthen up move on to ardha pincha mayurāsana (dolphin) and maybe bakāsana (crow) as they will really reap further benefits for your upper body strength.

3. CORE CONTROL

Headstands need core strength in spades. Your core is what provides the stable foundations from which you can lift your legs. It is what gives the inversion stability and balance. Core strength can even compensate for lack of hamstring length or upper body strength.

plank core prep headstand yoga
Image Credit: Li Sun via Pexels.

My favourite core strengtheners are side planks and planks in any variations you like. They are great for static strength. But what about the dynamic strength needed in the core as the legs leave the ground and float overhead? For that, you need a dynamic workout. I use forearm plank into dolphin and back. Repeated 5, 10, 20, 30 times – starting with just a few reps and gradually building up by adding one or two reps each week. As a strength and conditioning workout this exercise is best done on alternate days – not every day. It is fabulous at getting a strong and toned core – what’s not to love?

4. COURAGE

For me, this is the keystone of any inversion. You can have all of the physical elements of a headstand in the bag, but if your head won’t let you turn upside-down it will never work. It takes nerve to balance on your head. It is natural to fear toppling over and hurting yourself. So how can we work to build the courage up to try our first headstand?

Spend time in dolphin – stay there for a few breaths at a time. Try lifting one leg at a time to get the body used to the action needed to get into headstand in the future. Try using the headstand arm and head position in a variation of dolphin and walk the feet towards the head to work on getting the hips over the shoulders. This also helps you to get used to being upside-down. One day you will feel a delicious lightness in the body as you reach the point of balance. Here is where leg lifting is possible. If you find this point – practice lifting one leg at a time in line with the body into one-legged headstand. And when you can do this you are almost ready for the full expression of the pose.

prep headstand yoga inversion
Image Credit: Dane Wetton via Unsplash.

But most importantly – imagine yourself floating into the perfect headstand. Picture yourself poised on your head as you breathe deeply. Explore how it will feel and what you will see in your mind’s eye. Did you know that imagining an activity actually lights up the same parts of the brain that we need to physically do an activity? This sets up the neural pathways needed to succeed. It makes that activity familiar and altogether less scary when you try it for real. Isn’t that amazing?

Bringing it All Together

The path to a perfect headstand is not always smooth. You may find some of the elements come easily but others elude you for months. Be patient. Do not rush. Headstands are worth waiting for.

And of course, not every yogi will be able to achieve a full headstand. Injuries may make it impossible. Headstands are traditionally contraindicated for folk with high blood pressure or hiatus hernia amongst other things. I would also add that anyone with neck problems should think carefully before attempting the full expression of the pose. This is where a headstool still might be worth considering if you want to invert but not put pressure on your neck.

I really hope you enjoy your journey to headstand as much as I have enjoyed mine. It has been one of the most satisfying yoga poses I have, as yet, accomplished. I wish you happy headstand-ing!

Sally Schofield

Yogi’s Guide: Flexibility and What Limits it

Yogi's Guide: Flexibility and What Limits it

We are not all bendy. Even if you are born bendy, that flexibility tends to reduce with age – unless you do something about it. Every yogi knows that yoga is a GREAT way to maintain flexibility as you grow older. And even if you have the flexibility of an ironing board, yoga will help to regain mobility that you have lost over the years. But why do some joints open up more easily than others? And how do you know when to keep working on opening, or when to accept the range of movement that you have? It’s easy when you know how – let me explain.

It’s About How You Are Built

No two people are built the same. Yes, we tend to have the same number of bones in roughly the same places but nature makes us all subtly different. Many people have the same length legs but if you look at the lengths of their femurs (thigh bones) and tibias (shin bones) some will have long femurs and short tibias and others will have short thighs and long shins. Similarly, some folks will have long bodies and short legs but be the same height as people with long legs and short bodies.

If we look more closely at individual joints there are also differences in how they are built that influence their range of movement. The hip is a

hip joint opening yoga flexibility
Image Credit: Annie Spratt via Unsplash.

great example of this. Our hip is a ball and socket joint. If one person’s hip socket (acetabulum) points a bit more sideways they will find it SO much easier to take a wide-legged stance in prasaritta padotanāsana (wide-legged forward fold) than someone who has downward facing hip sockets. Both down and sideways facing hip sockets are perfectly normal and natural, but the one you have will be part of what determines how wide your legs can go. And no matter how hard we try we cannot change how we are built.

Super Important Soft Tissues

Bones are not the only thing that limits the range of movement in a joint. Every joint has soft tissues holding it together – capsules and ligaments go from bone to bone like guy ropes. They are designed to prevent too much movement in a joint. A healthy joint that has no injuries or disease will have a certain range of movement before the ligaments go tight and stop further movement. This prevents the joint from damage and is a good thing. You would not want to stretch these tissues so much that they no longer protect the joint from damage.

However, ligaments or capsules that have been damaged and shortened can limit the range of movement. For example, the shoulder can get very stiff and painful if the capsule becomes inflamed and tight after an injury. In this instance, as a physiotherapist, I would teach someone to stretch those structures back to regain the range of movement and reduce the pain.

Marvellous Muscles and Fabulous Fascia

muscles facia body yoga
Image Credit: Jasper Graetsch via Unsplash.

The human body is SO much more than bones and joints. Arguably the most important structure in the body is now thought to be the myofascial system. Traditionally we have thought about muscle tightness being the major factor that limits the range of movements. How often do we hear the hamstrings (back of thigh muscles) being blamed for someone not being able to touch their toes? But this is all rather unfair because the muscles are only part of the story.

Muscles are made up of muscle fibres. These fibres are held together in bundles by thin sheets of connective tissue called fascia – imagine cling film and you are pretty close to what fascia looks like. These sheets of fascia all link up to each other to wrap around the whole muscle AND they join up with other soft tissues above and below. For example the fascia in the hamstring muscles links with soft tissues in the buttocks and behind the knee into the calf.

If we look even wider, the fascia links a whole series of soft tissue structures through the body from fingertip to fingertip across the chest; from head to foot; and spiralling round the body. These are called myofascial planes or anatomy trains and a search on YouTube brings up some lovely, gruesome videos of anatomical dissections of them if you are interested.

Motion is Lotion

So, myofascial planes are made up of muscles and fascia, cover large areas of the body and sort of hold us all together. So far, so good. But how do they affect movement?

Myofascial tissues love movement. If you don’t move your myofascial system regularly it loses its ability to move. If myofascia stops moving, the joints also stop moving as much. And this is how we lose flexibility as we age – the old saying of ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it’ is SO true.

The good news is that myofascial mobility is REALLY easy to get back. All you need to do is move. And keep moving. Fascia will gain length and regain its ability to move pretty quickly. That is how we become more flexible in the short space of a yoga class. And, we all know that if you practice every day for a few days your flexibility will improve day on day. But, if you then skip a few days the next time you get on the mat you will have stiffened up again. That is the because not moving means the myofascia loses the ability to slide and glide – it actually dries out and the layers stick together until movement ‘oils’ the system again and it gets moving again.

But What Is Stopping ME Moving?

Each of the structures we have talked about has a distinctive feeling when they limit movement. By listening to the body and responding to what you feel you can work out what is stopping you. By practicing mindfully we can work with the body to open joints in directions that are safe and beneficial. And, more importantly, we will know when to stop pushing into a direction that is never going to change.

All you need to do is ask yourself three simple questions as you practice. And have the humility to take the right action …

1. WHAT AM I FEELING?

childs pose muscle yoga
Image Credit: Form via Unsplash.

Most people will describe either a stretching feeling or a squashing feeling. Stretches tend to be on the side of the body that is lengthening, for example, the back of the legs in uttanāsana (forward fold). Squashing feelings tend to be on the opposite side to stretches – think front of hips in uttanāsana. Squashing feelings are caused by something pressing on something else. It may be your belly on your thighs in uttanāsana or thighs on calves in balāsana (child pose). Though this squashing of soft tissues can be uncomfortable it will not usually cause damage to the tissues that are compressed. You may still want to modify the pose to ease the discomfort though.

BUT, if the squashing feeling is a pinching sensation and over a joint then it is likely that the joint has gone as far as it will ever go. You are pressing bone against bone. This will not damage your joint if you do it occasionally but it could do if you keep on doing it again and again and again over weeks, months and years.  So what should you do? Ease off, come away from that extreme range of motion until the pinching goes away. And, more importantly, accept that your joint will never go further than that.

2. WHERE AM I FEELING IT?

Generally feelings in tissues that are lengthening are good and have the potential to increase range of movement. Feelings in tissues being squashed are at best uncomfortable; at worst damaging and in all cases not going to result in increased range of movement so are best avoided.

3. WHAT HAPPENS AS I HOLD THE POSE?

You have decided this is a good sensation so it is most probably a stretch feeling. That stretch feeling may stay the same (good); decrease (really good) or increase (bad). So what does that mean? And what should a good yogi do?

  • Stretch stays the same – this is not a damaging stretch and will increase length in the tissue. Hold the stretch as long as it is comfortable.
  • Stretch gets less – this is great and means that the myofascial tissues are starting to lengthen in response to the stretch. Go with it – feel free to ease into the range of movement until the stretch feeling comes back.
  • Stretch is painful and/or increases – this is bad. It is your body telling you to ease off. Basically you have triggered the damage sensors in the tissues. They have raised the alarm and muscles are starting to contract to protect the body. This will never result in lengthened tissues. It actually gives short, tight tissues and reduces flexibility. You need to ease away from the extreme pose until the stretch is mild and comfortable. Then hold it there.

The Last Word

So, joints limited by bony architecture will not move further and pushing them risks damage. Accept it and move on!

Joints limited by soft tissues have a HUGE potential to move further but be kind to them. Ease into greater ranges of movement slowly, keep the stretch sensations comfortable. Enjoy the feeling of release and the openness that greater flexibility brings. It may take months or years to achieve your full potential in terms of range of movement – so enjoy the journey!

Sally Schofield